Pittsburgh, Pa. – Lee Guttman, founder, president and director of the Nationwide TV and Appliance buying group, died of a heart attack on July 18. He was 65.
He was 65 and had no prior history of pulmonary disease.
An ordained rabbi with a background in CE and majaps retailing, Guttman founded Nationwide in 1969 and helped it grow to more than 2,000 members with $8 billion in annual sales.
Indeed, much of the success of Nationwide has been attributed to his strong relationships with vendors and his passionate concern for member dealers. While a succession plan was reportedly in place for the 65-year-old president, it remains unclear how his passing will ultimately impact the buying group. Senior executives at Nationwide were unavailable for comment.
‘It’s a big loss for us. We have some big shoes to fill,’ said Jay Lebowitz, coordinator of the NECO Alliance chapter of Nationwide and principal of Mr. Jay’s Appliance. ‘He was an industry icon.’
Lebowitz, who grew up with Guttman in Pennsylvania, described the buying group leader with the signature beret as a deeply moral man who applied his religious principles to his work. ‘He never lied, and was respected and loved by everybody,’ he said. ‘We shall miss him.’
Guttman’s passing comes two weeks prior to Nationwide’s bi-annual convention and buying show, which remains set for Aug. 3-6 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. At his final PrimeTime! meeting, held last February in Dallas, he delivered his customary pep rally in which he outlined market opportunities and big-box retailer weaknesses, and exhorted members to guard against complacency.
‘The man was absolutely amazing in his ability to communicate with his dealers,’ observed major appliance distributor Marty Friedman, president of Eastern Marketing Corp. ‘He taught them how to compete very favorably against the giant retailers, and his PrimeTime! speeches were the highlight of Nationwide’s conventions.’
A former MARTA chapter chief and merchandising executive with Trader Horn, the now defunct New York metro area CE and majaps chain, Guttman was active within Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and did much to support local religious schools. He is survived by his wife Margot, six children including Gershon, who holds a management position with Nationwide, and numerous grandchildren. A scholarship fund has been established in his name at 1400 Summit Street, White Oak, Pa. 15131.