Occasionally in life you’ll meet someone you’ll remember forever. Someone who takes you under his wing and teaches you everything he knows simply in an effort to see you succeed. Someone who will engage you in heated debate if you challenge his position, yet be the first to buy you a beer at the closing bell.
Ed Lemco took a chance and hired me in 2000 on my passion and willingness to learn, a philosophy that he preached from Day 1 when hiring new employees.
He’d say, “When you hire experienced people, what are they experienced at? Finding the easy deals, that’s what.”
In the years that followed, I was floored by the grasp that Ed had on the industry and the respect paid to him from the dealers. However, being directly mentored by Ed for five years (and usually carrying his bags), there were times I did not see eye to eye with him.
Having “retired” from the business after selling Lemco to the owners of RideNow, Ed recommended that I take the reigns in running “his” company. Rest assured, for the four years that followed, there was no shortage of heated emails from him letting me know that I was “… deviating from the deviation.”
But Ed had a sixth sense about the industry, and his feedback to me was usually spot-on. He had a way of being in front of the curve and posing solutions to problems dealers had not yet faced. His solutions didn’t always work, yet he’d fine-tune them relentlessly until they did work, and then they went in the books as an absolute.
Ed Lemco gave 40 years of his life to the powersports industry. Prior to Ed, the powersports industry was a hobby; he was the pioneer that brought the business side into play. Ed’s name is synonymous with the 20 group industry, as he solely introduced that model into powersports from the automotive side in 1981 under the auspice of Kawasaki.
The group was called K-1, and was focused on one thing — survival. He realized quickly that dealers needed to prioritize the business in the order of “dealer, customer, staff, OEM.” He was famous for telling dealers which bills to pay first (electricity, rent, etc.), and that the others had to wait.
As a result, Kawasaki bailed out of the program, and Ed created some adversaries with the OEMs through the years. He was always a dealer advocate first, and it was no secret that through the 20 group environment, the 300 client dealers that he tracked monthly data for were some of the best in the country.
In these 20 group meetings, he pushed the notion that the members were your “board of advisors.” As a result, the (often-times painful) peer review that followed was pressure enough for dealers to change their sub-par numbers for the next round. He was famous for quotes such as:
In the years following his departure from Lemco Management Group, Ed never embraced retirement. He spent his time assisting in dealer acquisitions (more than 100 of them), but his true love was helping younger operators flourish with a new sales process.
Just days prior to his death, he was focused on a meeting with senior-level execs at Harley-Davidson. He was set to propose the idea of a mentoring program to assist talented young industry operators to overcome financial hurdles, allowing them to get into the Harley-Davidson business. He simply never stopped.
My father died during my tenure with Ed, and in some ways, Ed filled that void. In an email string the he and I bounced back and forth just two weeks prior to his death, Ed responded to a note I sent him that mentioned all the battles he had overcome, including OEMs, hang tags, arrogant dealers, lawsuits, nonfunctioning airplane radios, the St. Croix government and me.
His reply: “Thanks Sam. Yes, the list of battles is a long one, starting as a 17-year-old paratrooper in 1962. I have never backed down and won’t now. Hardest part is when you feel helpless when events get beyond control. But I'm making progress and hope to be an outpatient by the end of the week. …”
The man, the myth, the legend — Ed Lemco. Godspeed, my friend. psb
Sam Dantzler owns his own consulting company in the powersports industry, and is the former president and CEO of Lemco Management Group. Sam worked directly for Ed Lemco from 2000-05, then took over running the company from 2005-09.