The exact moment I met Jack Covert, who retired this past weekend as the founder/president ofÂ 800-CEO-READ, is lost to history, but I know that moment came at the beginning of my eight-year tenure at Schwartz Bookshops.
800-CEO-READ began in 1984 as the business books division of Schwartz and Jack made it a big-ticket item for the dearly departed Milwaukee independent bookseller. Later, when the full frontal assault on the shops was made by Barnes & Noble and, later, when Borders came to town and Amazon became king -- forcing Schwartz to scrape by as it was compelled to offer excessively deep discounts on bestsellers and other books just to compete -- Covert's acumen in selling large quantities of books to corporations would keep the shops afloat for years.Â
No less than Seth Godin recently wrote this:
"Jack Covert is one of the most important people in my little village of book publishing, a single individual outside the normal circles of New York, someone who cares and does something about it. Jack Covert relentlessly sees possibility when other people are ready to shrug their shoulders and walk away."
When anyone in the industry has had a question about the business of business books, Jack is the person they've called.
One of the enduring images of my years at Schwartz is seeing Jack, with his telephone headset on, playing solitaire on his desktop computer and making deals on the phone. But don't let the computer card game fool you into thinking Jack was mailing it in. Not for a second.
No, Jack's a killer salesman and a smart manager. He assembled a great team around him and those folks helped create the division's success. But he didn't merely delegate -- he was there and he was engaged and working hard, right alongside that team.
"A table, a chair, a phone, and a Rolodex. David (Schwartz) hired Jack, put him in front of a phone, and told him to start a business," remembers Carol Grossmeyer, Schwartz's widow, who is still a partner in 800-CEO-READ.
"Jack didnâ€™t know a thing about business books or publishing, but drew on some kind of innate idea of business he had and ultimately became who he is today -- a great, self-made businessman."
At some point, likely early on, I also learned about how Jack honed the art of the sale. It was at his Dirty Jack's Record Rack, a vinyl emporium on the East Side of Milwaukee that remains legendary among local music geeks.
Long after his hair turned white and he ditched the "Dirty" for a suit, Jack was still on the cutting edge of music, often suggesting new bands and lending me CDs. And he was curious to know what I was listening to, also. I like to think we're kindred spirits that way. While most people stop seeking out and enjoying new music once they've collected a diploma, Jack and I are have remained fans, as eager to hear a great record by a new band as a familiar one by an established artist.
And, if you ask me, that's been the secret to Jack's success. He's never thought the game was won, that everything good had already been done. He was always interested -- nay, eager -- to find out what was coming next.
I know that Jack is only "retiring" in a certain sense of the word. Because, really, Jack will never really kick back and coast. Not his style.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Bobby Tanzilo
Published June 29, 2016
The more I fly, the less I enjoy it. Sure, I like the feeling of freedom, of being out roaming and seeing the world and experiencing new places. But last night's attack on Istanbul's Ataturk Airport really shakes me.
Published June 28, 2016
Tis the season for 11 days of nearly non-stop music at the Henry Maier Festival Park. Here, Bobby Tanzilo scours the Big Gig schedule to make some suggestions for some must-see acts at Summerfest 2016, starting, of course, with Sir Paul.
Published June 23, 2016
Today, I spent a little time with architect Craig Eide and Fernwood Montessori School principal John Sanchez touring the Bay View public school's new addition, which is expected to be complete by mid-July, for a Sept. 1 first day of school.
Published June 21, 2016
Recently, we visited Engine Co. 6 on Brady Street, a firehouse that, in addition to being well-known in the neighborhood, has a long history on the East Side. The first station was built here in 1875 and was replaced with the current building in 1946.
Published June 15, 2016
On Tuesday, Milwaukee Christian Center's Neighborhood Improvement Project "dropped" another modular home for low-to-moderate-income families into place on Milwaukee's South Side, in the shadow of the St. Josaphat dome near Lincoln Avenue.
Published June 14, 2016
More than a century and a half after the opening of the first brewery in Milwaukee, the city's identity is still drenched in beer. At Forest Home Cemetery, many of the men who made the beer that made Milwaukee famous lie in repose. You can "meet" them at Brunch with the Barons.
Published June 13, 2016
Last October, Marquette University opened a new Jesuit Residence. But one reader knew I'd be more interested in the building the priests formerly called home. So join me as we take a last look at the old Stratford Arms Hotel before it is razed in July.
Published June 9, 2016
"American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood" is at Milwaukee Art Museum from June 10 through Sept. 5. Here are seven works that especially caught the eye. But, rest assured, in a show with about 100 Benton works, there's plenty more.
Published June 7, 2016
Milwaukee as it could be. That's how artist John O'Neill approaches his unique, colorful, engaging and action-packed Milwaukee Envisioned series of drawings of the city, which mash up the past, present and potential future of the Brew City.
Published June 3, 2016
The Maryland Avenue Montessori School building has been growing periodically ever since the first school was opened on the site in the mid-1860s. With one of MPS' most successful and popular programs bursting at the seams of the building, a new addition is coming.