By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Nov 04, 2011 at 11:08 AM Photography: David Bernacchi

David Gruber is arguably one of the best-known personalities in Milwaukee. Thanks to his abundant advertising, his "One Call, That's All" slogan is top of mind for nearly anyone in the area.

Walk Downtown with him, as I did last week, and almost everyone turns their heads, points and says, "Hey, it's David Gruber" or, of course, "Hey, it's the 'one call' guy!"

The New Jersey native has more than made Milwaukee home. After graduating from the University of Delaware, where he was co-captain of the men's basketball team, Gruber attended Marquette University Law School, graduating in 1983.

At Marquette, he met his wife of 27 years, Nancy, who was born and raised in Milwaukee. Gruber says it was her that kept him here.

Today, Gruber leads Gruber Law Offices, LLC and has built one of the most well-known accident firms in the area.

He's a huge sports fan, personally involved in many charitable organizations, including the MACC Fund, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Operation Dream and United Way of Greater Milwaukee. And, like many men his age, he's a proud father and happy that his kids have found success and are following their dreams.

But, does being the high visibility come with a price? What about Aaron Rodgers? How'd Gruber strike up that partnership? A Superbowl MVP and an accident attorney? It's either marketing genius or odd couple.

Just because someone's on TV "all the time," it doesn't mean you know him. But maybe you will a bit more after this latest edition of "Milwaukee Talks." OK. I'm just going to get it out of the way right away. Why don't you just give me a good "one call, that's all," please?

David Gruber: One call, that's all!

OMC: Very nice.

DG: (It's) my identity.

OMC: Give me a little background on it. Did you come up with the slogan – what's the "Behind the Music" story here?

DG: It's an accident. The success – how people relate to me – it's an accident. In the late 1990s, an advertising agency, one of my advertising agencies, came up with it, and others started using it, and it developed a life of its own. (Hear the rest of the answer to this question at the podcast link here or at the top of the article.)

OMC: You're not a Milwaukee native, correct? You grew up in New Jersey?

DG: I am a Jersey guy. I came to Marquette Law School, and that was an accident. I grew up in Northern Jersey, and I relish my upbringing. I grew up in a city called Passaic, about six or seven miles outside of New York City.

Pretty tough school – in the '70s, we had – let's start this way. I used to play my high school basketball games most of the time to an empty gym. When people ask me (about) the environment I grew up in, people relate to "Lean on Me" Joe Clark, the movie, that was our arch rival where I was playing basketball games, and our bus would be attacked after the game – things knocked over.

In 1975, the year I graduated, we had five full-time officers, police officers assigned to our school. But, the good news was, nobody had guns, in those days, except the cops.

That being said, I got a really, really good education, because while I went to this rough high school, I went to honors classes. The interesting thing about it was that my father was a police captain in my town, so I was relatively well-behaved compared to my peers.

My education, the first 17-18 years on the streets of New Jersey were pretty interesting. We lived "The Sopranos," let me just put it that way. One little tale: when my dad retired as a police captain, I believe he was one of the four – my wife was shocked – superior officers that had never been criminally indicted. So, that was the environment we grew up in. Very, very blue collar.

OMC: And your wife got you to Milwaukee, or was it Marquette Law School, or was it a little bit of both?

DG: Well, after high school, I went to the University of Delaware. I was a basketball player at the University of Delaware, and those were five great years especially with my love for basketball. I went there with the promise that I would be able to play baseball, too, but of course they changed their mind on me, but like everyone else, I dealt with coaching changes, but it was a great education.

OMC: Division one?

DG: Yes, D1. I was a Political Science and Criminal Justice major. I spent five years in college. I was ahead of my time, inadvertently red-shirted, but it was a tremendous time. One of my college roommates applied to the Medical College of Wisconsin. A year ahead of me, and he graduated in four years and I graduated in five. So, he was out here and he said, "Why don't you come to Milwaukee? We'll get back together. We'll reunite. Milwaukee's a great town. I love it."

And, the interesting thing about it is that I just wanted to get away from ... I needed to get away from New Jersey. I needed to get away, and that's what's funny. I didn't know what I was getting into when I went to Marquette, because I was trying to get away from basketball. I just had to pull myself away from basketball and concentrate, because I had a pretty easy time in college. I also had a pretty good time in college. I believe a case of Rolling Rock was $2.99 at that time, and we were very close to Latrobe, Penn. (the home of Rolling Rock makers Latrobe Brewery).

So, I could've gone to California, I could've gone to Rutgers, I could've gone to someplace on the East Coast, but I decided to come out here. And, probably the funniest thing that ever happened here was, I drove out here, I'd never been out here before. Threw everything I owned in my '71 Camaro and drove the whole distance – a drive I ended up taking about 15 times.

I got to a mile away from my destination and my car's on fire. I can't believe I drove all this way in my '71 Camaro and my car's on fire. And I'm literally in tears, and I pull over by County Stadium. I'm going to live on 6th and Wisconsin – I've never been there.

I pull over at County Stadium, open my hood and I can't find anything. Open my trunk and I can't find anything. So, I'm standing outside, it's like Aug. 28, I'm going "sniff, sniff, sniff" in the Menomonee Valley, and at that time, everything stinks terribly from beer. So that was my first memory from Milwaukee. I'll never forget it.

My first day at Marquette Law School was pretty interesting, because I didn't know anything about the school. So, I walked into this intro session where everyone was being introduced, and half the kids have on suits, half the kids have on sports jackets, as Marquette was a very different place in 1980, and I walked in at 8:01-8:02, because I was at a liberal university, and walked in and everyone was there already.

Everyone's wearing ties and suits, and I walk in wearing flip-flops, gym shorts, a cut off. I have a bandanna around my head; I've got this tan from the Jersey Shore, and I have my bags and a backpack, and my first thought afterwards was, "What in God's name have I done? What am I doing here?"

That one, people talked about when we graduated three years later. I didn't know what I got into. I was very unsophisticated, uneducated, and I was very much out of my element. I was just a raw Jersey kid when I arrived, and I was not very mature.

OMC: What year did you graduate from Marquette Law?

DG: 1983 – three years. And I graduated. That's my claim to fame. I graduated. I won't tell you where I graduated, but I can tell you one of us graduated, over 100 in the class, and my wife ... one of us graduated in the top five. I won't tell you which. I'll leave that to you. Somebody graduated over 100 and somebody in the top five.

OMC: I want to go back to "One Call" a little bit. Obviously, your ad program has made you one of the most visible people in the Milwaukee area. Is there any downside to that? From a business perspective? From a personal perspective?

DG: Well, I've embraced it. I've embraced it completely. I'm very comfortable with it. I try to make everything that evolves from it positive. People come up to me all the time. Of course, I've become a pseudo celebrity in Milwaukee because of (my) advertising, and everybody recognizes you.

It's sometimes not that easy to be me in the eighth inning at Miller Park, when everybody is drunk at the urinal and ... it's easier to be me in the second inning than it is to be me in the eighth inning.

That being said, I meet hundreds of people there and they all have very positive things to say and I'd say, literally, the only negative thing is my kids are always saying, "Hey Dad, people are listening to you. Hey Dad, people are taking pictures of you." There are people listening to me, taking pictures of me. So, I behave well.

OMC: So, do you counter whatever issues, lawyer jokes, being called an ambulance chaser, with being yourself and having fun?

DG: I'd say that 98 percent of the feedback I've gotten has been positive. Literally, 98 percent.

I don't have to tell you, I mean, there are haters everywhere. We try to put a positive spin on everything. What I do is, I meet a lot of very nice people under very unfortunate circumstances, and we're dealing with peoples' misery.

We're just trying to make them think positive. Make their lives a little easier. Some of these people lose their job. It's just difficult, so, we try to be ourselves. We honestly try to be ourselves and bring a little positivity to what is not a very pleasant circumstance.

I'm talking about people losing limbs, people having surgeries ... often times I have to deliver a speech when somebody's very badly hurt, and there's no insurance and there's nothing we can do. That's one of the things that separates us. We try to be upfront with our clients. One of the few mottos I have is that we don't tell people what they want to hear. We are very candid with them and sometimes it's very difficult.

OMC: Obviously the work stands for itself.

DG: Well, going back ... there are 11 attorneys here, and the people who work with me are very, very good, and they buy into it. We have really good relationships with our clients, where we're tremendously involved in the community.

We sponsor dozens of basketball teams because I'm there. We're involved. Susan Komen because it's personal to us. We're involved in the MACC Fund because it's the greatest thing there is. We're involved in the festivals because we want them to continue. We don't want them to fold. And, we truly understand – the majority of our clients are blue collar, but our demographics have changed drastically over the past few years as our success rate and our reputation have gotten better.

OMC: Can you talk a little bit about the typical types of clients and cases? Is the majority still accident victims?

DG: The majority of what we're doing is car accidents. We're not cute. We're very, very good at what we do. The vast majority of what we're involved in are auto accidents.

OMC: Now, this is a tough question for anyone to answer, but what's a typical day for you?

DG: Well, let me put it this way. I pride myself in being a serial tasker. You know, when I interview people or I talk to people, or I prepare lawyers ... I tell them that multitasking is for the weak, and we are serial taskers, as attorneys.

I'm a problem solver. I prefer to be a problem-preventer, but we become a problem solver, because when somebody comes in here in the span of a few minutes their car has been wiped out, they can't go to work, they hurt and they have absolutely no idea where to turn or what to do, and we're able to guide them through every step of the way.

Sometimes they're fine in a couple of weeks, sometimes a couple of months, sometimes they're never back to where they were. So over the last few years, I used to spend all of my time in court. I'm not in court as much as I was, but I'm literally involved in hundreds and hundreds of cases, and when I say ... spend a lot of time teaching and mentoring, and a lot of time helping people get their lives back together.

That's what we do. We are lawyers. We are doctors. We are counselors. We are shrinks. We take a team approach, and you might understand ... much of what I've learned involves sports. I don't think there are any shortcuts. We're about hard work. We're about long hours. We're about discipline. An unusual amount of people that work in my office and for me are college athletes or have been athletes. It's a bias I have. We don't take shortcuts.

Again, you've asked me what time it is and I've told you how to make a clock. I apologize, but every one of my days is different, because I may have the three most important things I have to do that day, and by 9:30, two or three things may have come up involving clients, change of circumstances, so I do whatever needs to be done. I'll repeat, I'd much rather be a problem preventer than a problem solver, and it's not that easy.

OMC: Let's talk about the community a little bit. What are your thoughts on Milwaukee today?

DG: That's a good question. I love Milwaukee. I have taken Milwaukee to my heart. I travel all over the nation because my son plays basketball all over the country, my daughter's played tennis all over the country – I go to see them whenever possible. My friends coach, my kids play. I figured it out the other day – I've been to about 120 campuses just over the past six years, and I've been all over the country. The more places I go, the more I can't wait to come home to Milwaukee. I love the restaurants. I love the feeling. I still have trouble with our seven-month winter, but I do disappear for long weekends to Vegas, South Beach – my favorite spot – and I go to New York City.

Those are three of my and my wife's spots, but Milwaukee is a unique place and I have a very, very strong comfort level here. My parents moved here – neither of them are alive anymore, but when my son was born and I was the baby, I was a mamma's boy and my mother was clearly the biggest influence of my life – it's why I'm a lawyer. She moved here and they loved Milwaukee and these are New York / New Jersey people.

Of course we're suffering some of the problems that all big cities are, but I think a lot of people are trying to do their very best to fight through tough times.

OMC: Anything you'd change about the community if you could?

DG: I'd like there to be a little more positivity, a little less divisiveness. Politics has become a dirty business. I know all of these politicians and I like them very much and respect most of them, but I think the current leaders around Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are terrific. Well-intentioned, but there's a little bit of divisiveness, and this is a tough time to be so divisive.

Even TV coverage. People don't like to watch the news. There are a lot of good things going on out there. There are many good people doing good things. If I had a magic wand, yeah, I'd like to see a few more people look at the cup three-quarters full instead of three-quarters empty.

OMC: Let's talk a little bit about the Aaron Rodgers relationship and how you met him, and how the spots came about.

DG: Well, I guess we met Aaron a couple of years ago. Initially through the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund. After a couple of outings, he was good enough to come to my office and talk to and meet some of the people here.

I developed a very good relationship with him and a great relationship with his business partners, H. Koal and Carla Cossy (RBSH Enterprises, Inc.). They're really good folks, and again, of course, this was before Aaron got big.

We knew that Aaron was a winner – very positive. A role model, and that's something that we wanted to be associated with. The fit was natural, and of course I get hundreds of questions from people about how this happened, and it happened pretty naturally and I'm happy about it because they did their homework.

A lot of people ask why you would want to be involved with a personal injury lawyer, and it just became personal. They did their homework, and I think they really liked what we and I do in the community and really what we're about. That being said, Aaron is a tremendous college basketball fan, and an enormous fan of Wisconsin, an enormous fan of the Wisconsin people.

He's a big wrestling fan, too (as am I), and people ask me all the time, is he really as nice and sincere as he comes across? He's the real deal. He's never been spoiled. He had to work his way up. He's not arrogant, he's quietly confident, because he's extremely prepared and he's a hard worker. So, that's my thoughts on him and pleased as punch with the relationship and everyone is very proud of the relationship.

OMC: Are there new spots coming there?

DG: Of course! There will always be new spots. In the near future, in the coming months, and there will be spots in the years to come because it's a pretty solid relationship and we have a lot of respect for each other.

Stay tuned, but more importantly, what we agreed on is what we're going to emphasize – education and the consumer. And without making this a commercial, Nov. 1 all of our automobile insurance laws change which is a very, very bad thing, and we're trying to educate the consumer so that they are protected, and they understand things. Without being political, it's extremely important for the consumers to realize it.

OMC: Back to sports for a little bit. You're around town at many games.

DG: It's my life!

OMC: You're a big fan. What are your favorite teams and your favorite sports?

DG: I might miss only two UWM (basketball) games a year. Love the team, love the program. Love Coach Jeter. I went to Marquette Law School. I try to go to as many games as humanly possible, particularly the Big East games. They're fantastic.

We go to Admirals games. Harris Turer is a big-time major league owner in a minor league sport, and the top of the food chain. I love the Brewers. I'm just fascinated in what the Brewers have done. I mean Attanasio has done incredible stuff for the city. I might add, he's a Brown graduate.

The only problem I have is the hours in the day. I don't sleep much. I work out like a lunatic, and I try to go to as many games as possible. The good news is I don't have to go to Tennessee games anymore, under bad circumstances. I don't have to go to Brown games (my son) anymore, and this is the last year I'll have to travel with my daughter for tennis (UW).

As a couple of friends of mine who are high school coaches can tell you, which you may get a kick out of, I like guys who play hard. I like kids who play hard. So it's not unusual for me to go to a high school basketball game and scream at a kid I don't know, and, of course, I know their coaches.

More than once their coaches come up to me and say my star player is asking, "Why that lawyer from TV screaming at me? What's that about? Why is that lawyer from TV telling me to hustle? To bust my ass!" And my buddy would look him in the eye and say, "Probably because he knows something."

I love high school basketball, and I'm rooting for the Bucks. I sure hope positive things happen. I'm a crazy Badgers fan in football – I've been to a couple of games this season.

My problem is the hours in the day, because I go to all of these events, and yes, just so somebody doesn't get nervous, yes, I do work 12 hours a day minimum. So, do the math! It becomes very difficult! I've earned this gray hair!

OMC: OK, a couple of "People Magazine," one-shot questions here. What's your favorite media site or magazine that you read?

DG: I have many. Men's Health, is what I read. I read dozens of things, and locally I listen to ESPN Radio when I have an opportunity to, as they're very good.

OMC: Any TV shows on the DVR on a regular basis?

DG: I watch live sporting events. Sometimes I have to tape them. I don't miss many games. I'm a Packers fanatic, I'm not even sure I mentioned that. We're Packers fanatics. I quietly whisper how I do watch wrestling all the time and have to fight with my wife for the channel changer when that comes on, particularly when the divas come on – she's not too happy with that.

OMC: What about a live concert you saw?

DG: I'll clean this one up a little. I'm a Jersey guy – I've gone to many, many, many Springsteen concerts and I've been to many, many Billy Joel concerts, and Elton John concerts. I am stuck in the '70s, but I did see some of the bands coming back, but when Springsteen plays or Billy Joel plays, considering he's lost his voice, but anyone in the '70s, I have a problem. I'm stuck in the '70s. Bad Company, you know. Things like that. Summerfest shows, too.

OMC: Do you have a current book you're reading? You have your iPad out on your desk.

DG: I'm reading a lot of instruction manuals (for my new iPhone and iPad). I read "The e-Attorney" a couple of days ago – that's the Entrepreneurial Attorney. Most of the reading I do is very, very boring legal stuff to people, or very sports related stuff. I've read wrestling books. Mick Foley's book. Chris Jericho's book, who I believe both of them at one time were probably were 1 or 2 on The New York Times Bestseller List. My secret life again.

OMC: What should someone need to know before they hire an attorney? Because I'm guessing it's different for different types of people.

DG: Let's assume they're very capable, which is a very big assumption. Most attorneys I know are very capable. Trust is the most important thing. You have to trust. One of the problems we have is that fewer and fewer people want to come in. They actually see our commercials, and the trust figure is there, but trust is important. Because if you trust the people and they're working hard, and they're compassionate ... I try to teach people to listen.

Many attorneys, including myself sometimes, you want to show people and tell people how smart you are. But the important thing, to separate one person from another is to listen, which is a lost art. And as you've figured out, I can be for both at times, that's how I've made my living.

I'm an advocate. People hire me to speak on their behalf, but the most important thing is to listen. Find out what the client's need is, because the needs are very different. But, it's difficult because we have tremendous resources. We have investigators. We have property damage people. We have medical consultants. We have the resources that many people have. It becomes more difficult for a general practitioner or somebody who dabbles in personal injury. It's become a little dangerous, but that's what separates three or four people or three or four offices in the city. The fact that you have the resources and it's all we do, so darn right we'd better be the best at it.

Darn right we better be the best if it's all you do. I don't know if that answers your question, but I mean, that's pretty much our philosophy. We try to be different and caring, but I think that just developed. I think that just developed, because I try to hire compassionate people. It's interesting, as I have a relatively young office. I like the energy. I like their compassion. I like their lack of bias. And it really pays off, so I like the karma in my own office because it's pretty energetic.

OMC: Define success.

DG: Define success? I'm successful because I have a wonderful family. The most important thing to me is my family. Also my friends. It's pretty hard to define success. When I see my kids, when I see my wife ... it's fulfilling. There are a lot of temptations and a lot of silliness in this world, but that's what I consider success.

We're very good at what we do professionally, but that's another story. To me, contentment, success, involves my family and the effect we have on others. You know you asked me before about "One call, that's all," and some of these other things. The best thing about it is that I have personally been able to turn it into kids listen to me, groups listen to me. And I can tell you, look you in the eye, I can tell you that made the difference in a lot of kids lives.

If you could do that to one person, you're really, really lucky, and that's why we're involved. I'm on the board of directors of Operation Dream. Fantastic at-risk kids. We're involved with a lot of these groups, and that's my passion outside of my family, and my kids are involved in all of this. My kids have never been sheltered. My kids are not pampered. My kids are not spoiled, and that's what is very important to me. To share. To give back, and not to use clichés, but to live it because again with karma, good things happen when you get with the right people or you help a kid, or you save a kid.

The saddest thing I see in Milwaukee and the saddest thing I see in this country is you've got all these kids raising themselves. All these kids raising themselves. And all they need is one break, a little guidance, a little help, a little advice, and somebody to tell them that's not right, you know?

OMC: Anything else you want to talk about? I may do a follow up on the new auto insurance regulations.

DG: It's very, very, very important. If you see my latest commercial, it's called "1982." It's interesting, I put it together in anticipation – I'm an optimist – many, many months ago when I thought the Brewers were going to make the playoffs. I'm an eternal fan, an eternal optimist. I called it 1982, because we've been brought back to the insurance limits that existed in 1982. As my commercial says, the last time the Brewers were there, a new car cost $7,000 and a gallon of gas cost 91 cents.

We have the people trying to educate the consumers. Does this seem right? Is $25,000 enough? It eats up people's medical bills and people are not protected. Again, without going into it, stacking has been taken away. If you pay for three policies – you used to be able to stack the policies – use them all – if you paid the premium.

As of Nov. 1, 2011, you can't, but I guarantee the consumer doesn't know that. These are some of the (newer) spots that we're doing including with Aaron. So, there are enormous changes and yes we're going back to 1982, which is why I named my commercial 1982.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.