Pittsburgh. — Lee Guttman, the inspirational president and co-founder of the Nationwide TV and Appliance buying group, died suddenly of a heart attack on July 18. He was 65.
An ordained rabbi with a background in CE and majaps merchandising, Guttman was one of seven original members of Nationwide, which was created in 1969. Since then, he helped the group grow to more than 2,280 members with $8 billion in annual sales.
Indeed, much of Nationwide's success has been attributed to his merchandising acumen, his close relationships with vendors and his tireless support of member dealers. While a succession plan was reportedly in place for the long-time president, it remains unclear how his passing will ultimately impact the buying group.
Senior executives at Nationwide were unavailable for comment. But dealers and suppliers expressed their sadness over Guttman's untimely death, and their concern for the group's future.
"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 knew Guttman since childhood, described the bearded 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, Guttman was also 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; their families; and his sister Linda. A scholarship fund has been established in his name at 1400 Summit Street, White Oak, Pa. 15131.