Larger Than Life

Editor's Note: Bud Hadfield, the founder of Kwik Kopy Printing, passed away on April 11, 2011 at the age of 87. A former employee – who was a Quick Printing columnist for several years – submitted this reflection about one of the industry's most colorful legends.

Back when I played a lot of golf, our group – which often consisted of 10 guys flying down the fairway in 10 separate carts, trying to get in as many holes as possible before total darkness ruined the fun – had a saying, “Hit when the golfing gods move you.” That meant to heck with protocol about honors from the last hole, first ones to the tee let it rip. Often there would be the sound of ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ as three people swung consecutively.

I adopted a similar philosophy about writing. If the inspiration comes at 8:00 at night, sit down at the keyboard and start the words flowing. This morning I awakened at 3:45 a.m. – which is an hour-and-a-half early for me – with memories of the most complex man I’ve known swirling in my head. It’s 4:15 as I type this. Somehow that seems fitting because, in his prime, Bud Hadfield would have been starting his workday right about now.

 

A Chance Meeting

My path crossed with Bud when I read a Dallas Morning News article about him in 1998. In the accompanying picture, he stood in front of the Alamo, except this one wasn’t in San Antonio; it was in Cypress, near Houston. I learned he and wife Mary started franchising Kwik Kopy Printing in 1967, and nearly 20 years later – after growing to more than 1,000 locations – recreated the historic Texas mission on a wooded property they named Northwest Forest.

The article mentioned Bud handed out his autobiography as a business card, so I wrote him a brief letter requesting a copy. Three weeks later he called and asked me to come spend a day with him. In his typical ‘why put off until Monday what you can do on Friday’ style, he wanted me there in two days. I flew down and was driven to his house in a Northwest Forest Conference Center van. Looking at the tall pine trees along the way, I said to the driver, “This is Houston?”

Bud was confined at home after falling. That was one of many injuries and illnesses he endured in the last decades of his life – including twice beating cancer. Sitting in a leather recliner with a blanket and small dog on his lap, he looked like Lionel Barrymore in It’s a Wonderful Life. Continuing the Capraesque moment of the entire ‘I must be dreaming’ experience, outside the window behind him hummingbirds swirled and whitetail deer roamed among the trees.

After asking about my background and family, Bud spoke at great lengths of Mary and their children Jim and Katherine, each of whom has had numerous roles in the company over the years. Then he wanted to know what questions I had for him. I came prepared, so I said: “I read in the article that you failed at more than a dozen businesses before Kwik Kopy Printing. How did you ever have the courage to start the second one after the first one didn’t make it?”

He looked me straight in the eye, smiled a devilish grin I would see often over the years, and said: “David, that tells me one of two things about you. Either you’ve never failed at anything – which means you aren’t willing to take risks – or you’ve failed at many things, and discovered that’s not so bad. Failing means you learned and will do better next time. Failure means you quit. I’m guessing David isn’t a quitter.” I don’t recall saying much the next two hours.

Instead I sat in awe as Bud shared stories of: operating a printing press from his basement during high school (he was eventually expelled); serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II (he got seasick the first time out); being an amateur boxer (he got beat a lot); starting his own print shop (he achieved minimal success); campaigning to be mayor of Houston (he was trounced); seeing a new printing technology in 1966 (he thought, “If this works, it could be big.”).

 

Genius Among Us

Bud’s hunch was right. Combining the Itek camera with the A.B. Dick duplicator was a defining moment in the industry, and became the launching pad for Kwik Kopy Printing. Over the years, under the umbrella of ICED, he created three other brands, acquired five, and learned some more important lessons by failing at a few endeavors. One of his oft-repeated, self-deprecating lines was, “There is a lot of money in picture framing, and $300,000 of it is mine.”

When it came to franchising, Bud was brilliant. While he was only average at running a printing business, he was a master at setting up an organization that excelled at training franchisees how to start and nurture their own locations. Having taught Dale Carnegie for 30 years, Bud knew how to read and motivate people. Many times you’d leave a conversation with him thinking “I handled that well,” only to realize he’d skillfully led you to the answer he wanted.

Franchisees of the ICED brands admired Bud for his tenacity. Many talked about hearing speeches at the annual conference, and being inspired by his passion and brought to tears by his stories. Yet, they were frustrated by his ‘we do it my way’ approach and disappointed when he remained at the helm into his eighties as energy and interest waned. There is truth in their sentiment. During our initial meeting, he told me, “The bloom is off the printing rose.”

Three days after signing my copy of his book “Wealth Within Reach”, Bud called me with a job offer. One month later I relocated. My first year at ICED included four different roles. Soon after starting the second position, he again had me changing directions. When I reacted with, “Bud, I just took this on, and my family’s not moving here for two weeks,” he replied, “Great, you start the day after they arrive.” Eventually, I settled in and spent five years in charge of marketing.

Of course, Bud told me a while later the reason I was ‘promoted’ to senior VP was because he got mad at something I did and didn’t want me reporting to him anymore as president of a brand. He had asked me for an analysis of the next two years. I dutifully met with our CFO, researched the industry, and suggested in a one-page summary – with Bud everything had to fit on one page – that it was going to be tough sledding. He didn't like my findings.

 

Early to Rise

Bud held weekly meetings with his management team. During my time, they were scheduled for 7:00 a.m. (Earlier regimes endured 5:30 starts.) For my first one, I showed up 10 minutes ahead of time and discovered the boardroom locked. I waited, wondering when others would arrive. In five minutes the door opened and everyone walked out. I learned my first lesson: Bud Time – the meeting begins when Bud is ready and ends within 15 minutes. I was never late again.

The monthly company meetings – at 7:00 a.m. – were like pep rallies. Amidst recognizing employees with Eagle Compliments and Bud Bucks, introducing new franchisees, and reporting financial results, one lucky team member would ‘choose a number and spin the wheel’. The pot increased $100 each time it missed, and eventually someone would hit and win a lot of money as her peers yelled wildly. Bud had worked at a midway carnival, and he liked games of chance.

The first year I worked for him, I’d receive calls on Sundays to come to his house to “discuss an idea I have.” One time as I was leaving, Bud gave me a prohibition-era numbers game in mint condition. These were lotteries where you’d pay $1, punch a hole, pull out a tiny slip of paper, and hope you were one of the few winners out of 1,000 chances. That gift is one of my prized keepsakes. (Those weekend requests stopped once I said Sundays were for my family.)

My Dad, with whom I had a terrific relationship, died suddenly four years before I met Bud, so it was natural he would serve as a father figure. When the first plane struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, I went into his office to inform him, and said, “I don’t know what to feel or think right now.” My Dad enlisted in the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor, and I needed someone to add perspective. “When you’re attacked,” Bud said, “you do what you have to do.”

On my last day at ICED, I handed him a list of 100 Lessons from Bud. “You’re a journalist, so I figured you’ve been taking notes,” he said.

“Just so you know,” I replied, “about half of these – the bad ones – I intend to forget first thing tomorrow.” He smiled, looked me in the eye and said, “Thanks for always shooting straight with me.” I reviewed the list in preparing to write this reflection, and many are keepers that only a man who learned from failings could know:

• On franchising: “Do for them what they won’t do or can’t do for themselves.”

• On Northwest Forest: “Make them feel at home, like a letter from grandma.”

• On lawyers and CPAs: “Tell them we’re doing this; you job is to show us how.”

• On selling: “A confused prospect seldom becomes a buyer.”

• On leadership: “Don’t pay others to watch you work.”

 

Final Visit

About a year ago, I returned to Northwest Forest at Bud’s invitation. He was feeling good, and his mind was as sharp as ever. We reminisced for an hour in his office. He asked about my wife and three kids. Wanted to know how my coaching business was growing. Brought up that first meeting at his house. Told me how proud he was of me. Then he said, “Well, are you hungry?” It was 10:45 a.m., but I knew the only answer was yes. We slowly made our way outside.

With me in the passenger seat, Bud drove his special golf cart to the Log Inn dining room, while ICED president Steve Hammerstein, his saintly assistant Debbie Clifford, and right-hand man Perry Hillegiest hung on tight in the back. As we walked inside, employees waved at Bud and he took time to smile and call them by name. We ate at his reserved table, and in about 30 minutes – after Mary served him frozen yogurt – he said the company motto: “Let’s go to work.”

Many years in December, Bud would ask employees for ideas on how to improve ICED and Northwest Forest. There was always a New Year's Eve deadline, and you didn’t want to be late with your written response. My guess is, as the rest of us spent New Year’s Day visiting with family and friends, eating too much, and watching college football bowl games, Bud sat at his desk and read through the pages of recommendations while considering possibilities.

The first time I participated, one of my suggestions was to add a six-hole golf course … figuring that would give business leaders who stay at the property access to an amenity they are used to having at first-class conference centers. It might also generate revenue. Seemed like a no-brainer – so I included sketches and volunteered to serve as the designer. Bud called me into his office a few days later and said, “I don’t play golf.” The subject never came up again.

Following his memorial service, a few folks asked me, “Did you know his birth name was Frederick Cordingley Hadfield?” I replied to each one: “No, and something tells me his grandchildren just learned that.” To everyone he met – including employees – this larger than life Virginia native and transplanted Texas legend was simply Bud. He was a man with many faults, yet you couldn't help liking him. Even more, you wanted him to like you.

 

David Handler is the founder of Success Handler, LLC, an executive coaching firm that helps leaders understand attitude and approach are as important as strategy and tactics. From 1998-2004, he served in a variety of roles at ICED. David's email is coach@successhandler.com.

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