by Harvey Paul Davidson
The 1960s were good business times in the United States. However, there was very strong consumer advertising urging the American public to buy American made goods. Talented people were in demand in all business sectors and this created many challenges for recruiting good sales representatives and others for Olivetti which was a European manufacturer and distributor.
In 1960 Irwin Davidson answered an ad in “The New York Times” placed by Olivetti indicating it wanted to hire and train sales representatives in its methods of selling its products. Davidson was interviewed by Marco Colombo*, New York Personnel Manager, Riccardo Berla*, National Sales Manager, Olivetti Worldwide and Ugo Galassi*, President of Olivetti, and asked to join the company.
After a one month training period in Hartford, Connecticut, Davidson was assigned to the New York Fifth Avenue branch whose Manager was Richard Sassi. This was the branch with the Lettera 22 portable typewriter mounted on a pedestal in front of the entrance on the street for the public to type on.
At that time sales of Marchant, Monroe and other rotary calculators were the main competition to the newly introduced Divisumma 24 printing calculator and IBM’s electric typewriters were becoming more popular than the Underwood 5 manual typewriter and capturing a large segment of the typewriter market.
Davidson’s territory included upscale and advant garde type businesses, many involved with advertising and graphic arts and he was able to successfully sell the Olivetti Underwood Raphael with proportional spacing and a polyurethane (carbon) ribbon against IBM’s Executive model pointing out the advantage of proportional spacing and the steel fluted shaft activating the keys as opposed to the rubber power roll in the IBM.
The key selling point of Olivetti electric typewriter was the continuous straight line of write on paper caused by the steel fluted shaft versus the rubber power roll which wore unevenly in the IBM and caused some printed individual letters to be misaligned. IBM then introduced the Selectric model with the rotating type ball. Davidson was promoted to the Agency Division as a Sales Agency Supervisor (SAS) where he supervised office machine dealers in Alabama and the “The Panhandle” of Florida. Joe Roberts** was his supervisor and the division was managed by Max Friedmann*. Eventually, Matt Meek** became the head of the Agency Division.
Davidson was then promoted to Branch Manager in Louisville, Kentucky. While there a humorous event happened involving Enrico (Mezi) Miserendino*, National Sales Manager and Davidson’s supervisor. When asked by a dealer where Miserendino was from he answered in his Italian accent, “Salta Laka City.”
Davidson’s success there got him promoted to Branch Manager in The Bronx which was one of New York City’s five boroughs. His fellow branch managers in New York were Marv Rosenbaum in Queens, George Brodt in Brooklyn and Howard Weston at the Fifth Avenue branch.
Continued success saw Davidson promoted to Branch Manager in Newark, New Jersey. This branch was later relocated to Mountainside, New Jersey. At the time Angelo Colombini* was Director of Sales for the New York Metropolitan Area. Roberto Benvenuti* was the 23rd Street Sales Manager it was rumored that he was a former naval officer in the Italian navy who lost a torpedo and was still being billed for it by the Italian government. Guido Lorenzotti* was President at the time.
David Napell and Jack Gillen, two Department Managers of home goods and typewriters respectively at Sterns Department Store in Paramus, New Jersey, USA were visited by Robert (Bob) Blumberg, Sales Manager of Olivetti’s Consumer Products Division. His goal was to increase Lettera 22 sales at Stern’s. Blumberg was very impressed by them and he invited them to lunch. During lunch Blumberg extolled the virtues of Olivetti and what a fine workplace it was. They asked him how would one get a job at such a fine company? His response was, “You must be interviewed by Dan Rosenberg, Director of Human Resources” located in Manhattan” (New York City). A follow up question by both was , “When can we see him?”
Blumberg excused himself to telephone Rosenberg and when he returned said Rosenberg could see them that afternoon. Blumberg then drove back to Manhattan followed by Napell and Gillen. They were offered sales positions and were hired that day and went back to Stern’s and gave their two weeks notices of resignation.
While Napell and Gillen were interested in being assigned to wholesale selling positions, Olivetti’s policy and procedure required all incoming sales people to prove their worth selling from local branches to offices and consumers for retail use. This involved a sales representative pounding the pavement with a Divisumma 24 printing calculator on his hip to place a trial in an office and then make a sale.
Sales representatives in New York did not use autos, they went on foot and used subways and public buses to go to their assigned sales territories. Within three months they both proved their mettle and were promoted into the Consumer Products Division. Their promotions increased the sales force of this national division from two to four people. Their task was to cover the entire country and sign up office machine dealers to carry and promote the Olivetti portable typewriters.
After Olivetti acquired Underwood it inherited a full sales force of its dealer sales representatives. Napell was relocated to northern California, a territory in need of sales help. After some difficult months he turned the area into the number one territory in the country. For his success he was promoted to West Coast Manager of Consumer Products. After two years, he was promoted again to be the National Sales Manager, Branch Division, Consumer Products and transferred back to the New York headquarters office. Napell was responsible for the sales of the Lettera 22 portable typewriter, the portable Prima Manual adding machine with a paper roll, and the Studio 44 typewriter to dealer outlets and department stores across the country.
In 1966 Olivetti ran a sales contest for all U.S. sales divisions. The prize for winners was a ten day all expenses paid tour for two, to visit Olivetti’s headquarters in Ivrea, Italy and tours of Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples.
At the time both Davidson and Napell were each engaged to be married and were planning autumn weddings later in the year. They both won their respective sales contests and immediately moved their wedding dates up to April 30th and May 1st so they could honeymoon in Italy with 300 of their closest Olivetti friends. Napell married Elsie Beslanovits who worked at Olivetti Underwood in New York as Manager of Accounts Receivables.
They recently celebrated their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary as did Irwin and Vivian Davidson.
One of the highlights of this trip was an Olivetti group audience with Pope John Paul. While waiting in the grand hall with the group, Elsie felt ill and was escorted to a seat in the passageway next to the hall. While sitting there, the Pope passed this way to meet with the group. Seeing Elsie, he stopped to inquire about her health and blessed her. To this day she boasts about her “private” audience with the Pope.
Another incident occurred while the group was in Venice. Howard Weston, the Fifth Avenue Branch Manager, being the kind and courteous gentleman he was, attempted to assist the Napell and Davidson’s wives into a gondola. He wound up stepping into the Grand Canal and had to be rescued by members of the group.
Harvey Davidson, Irwin’s younger brother, after completing a mandatory tour of duty with the U.S. Army was encouraged to apply at Olivetti Underwood in 1962. After finishing his training in Hartford, he was assigned to the New York 23rd Street branch for lower Manhattan. There were two branches at this address. One was managed by Sid Waldman and the one Davidson was assigned to was managed by Grover Land**.
Davidson’s territory was the Fulton fish market and Chinatown areas. The Fulton fish market started its operations around 3:00 AM when the fishing vessels brought in their catch. The fish were bought by merchants with stalls and put on display for wholesale buyers for restaurants and supermarkets who would make their purchases. By 9:30 AM they would close their stalls.
It was difficult to make sales calls to closed businesses unless he arrived very early in the morning before other business offices opened. In Chinatown retail shop merchants would use an abacus to do all their accounting which made it difficult to sell adding and calculating machines.
His first sale was an electric typewriter to the Chinatown Museum to replace its manual typewriter. In the entrance to the museum there was a glass cage mounted on a pedestal with a live chicken. A sign on the cage indicated that the chicken would provide a fortune if a 25 cents coin would be deposited in a slot. When this happened a light would shine on the chicken who then pecked a lever and a slip of paper, similar to one found in a Chinese fortune cookie, would slide out with the fortune written on it. A kernel of corn would also be released for the chicken to eat.
It was a typical Pavlovian experiment. The office was in the basement and there were several chickens walking around. Davidson asked the manager why and he informed him he had to constantly change the chickens in the cage because otherwise they would get too fat from eating all the corn because the cage drew a lot of attention and many people would pay to receive their fortune from the chicken.
Another sale was to a small company owned by an Irish businessman who loved the color green. Just about everything in the office was green including green tinted fluorescent lights, window shades and furniture. The gentleman could not be convinced to buy the Divisumma 24 because he favored the green coloring of the Multisumma 22. In closing the sale Davidson wore a green suit and a green tie and provided a green tinted paper roll for the Multisumma 22.
Harvey Davidson was later promoted to the Agency Division as a Sales Agency Supervisor where his territory was southeast Michigan, except for the city of Detroit. His supervisor was Peter Antonacci and the division was managed by Max Friedmann*. Afterward, Massimo Pomella* succeeded Friedmann. Davidson’s success there returned him to New York’s 23rd Street branch in 1964 where Stan Hochfeld was the Manager and Angelo Colombini* was the Area Sales Manager. Gianluigi Gabetti* was the President then. Davidson was involved with special accounts (large users of office machines) and eventually assigned to a new copy machine division as a sales representative for the Copia II managed by Bob Blumberg, Director of Marketing.
The Davidson brothers and David Napell, as well as others claimed Blumberg had the most creative and innovative mind they ever encountered at Olivetti. There were two sales representatives at first selling the Copia II copier. The joke was Harvey had Manhattan as his territory and the other sales representative, Eugene (Gene) Friedman had the rest of the USA.
At that time Xerox had an overwhelming share of the copy machine market as almost all other copy machines used either liquid or powder toners to make a copy, except for the 3M Company which used a thermofax (heat) process to make a copy, and a large commercial piece of equipment usually found in print shops and not in offices made “photo stat” copies. Davidson made a major sale to the American Stock Exchange which received a lot of attention.
At one time two Olivetti sales representatives were discussing the sales antics of another sales representative named Davidson. Unbeknownst to each one until later in the discussion one was referring to Irwin and the other to Harvey.
Highlights of Harvey Davidson’s sales career included winning the first major agency sales contest in 1963 along with other winners for a trip for two to Italy and seeing the factory in Ivrea, Adriano Olivetti’s home, and spending 10 days in Italy visiting Olivetti offices in Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. This was similar to the sales contest his brother Irwin and David Napell won three years later.
Davidson was also elected into the President’s Club for achieving sales quota in the Branch Division and winning a sales contest with other sales representatives and a trip for two to Los Angeles and Disneyland for ten days in 1965.
There were many good times, friendships and fond memories working for Olivetti and Olivetti-Underwood. Should others who shared these times be contacted, both Davidsons and Napell are confident they would have similar experiences and stories to tell.
Irwin, David and Harvey enjoyed their time at Olivetti and Olivetti-Underwood. It was not just a “job” but a “mission” to place Olivetti office products in offices and homes across America.
Looking back, they can honestly say their work experiences at Olivetti were the best in their careers. They thank Olivetti for giving them the opportunities to learn and to grow among supportive and knowledgeable colleagues and look back with smiles and satisfaction.
* Olivetti executives sent from Italy.
** Underwood executives.
Irwin Davidson (1960-68) – David Napell (1961-69) – Harvey Davidson (1962-67)
Thank you and best of luck.
I’have read with pleasure your interesting article onthe period you spent in Olivetti-Underwood.
I’m Nico Osella and I lived an exciting experience at OCA in the 70s with the Alhadeff, Samaia and Gabriele team. I wrote a book on this period : “a lifetime in Olivetti”. I would like to deepen and share your memories toghether with those of David and Irwin.Please contact me on : firstname.lastname@example.org we will have fun remembering the good old times.