A few dozen pennies, shiny and perpetually floating in a clear brick of plastic sit on Herman Shooster's desk. Given as a gift celebrating the 1968 initial public offering of his first entrepreneurial venture, a frozen food company, it wasn't long before Shooster banished the memento from sight.
"I got fired from my own company," he said, remembering the stinging action of the board after he no longer controlled the company he founded. He put the gift away for 15 years.
"I didn't put it on the top of my desk [again] till I earned it back," Shooster said.
As chairman and founder of Margate-based Global Response, Shooster is feeling a bit more worthy of these days.
With clients that include major brands such as David's Bridal, Tory Burch, Lane Bryant, Urban Outfitters, National Geographic and several international labels, including Lacoste, Maclaren, Shooster, 87, leads one of the top-50 customer-service centers in the world.
And though he won't discuss his company's financials, estimates put Global Response's revenues at $38 million annually.
Today, Global Response is 1,500 employees strong. The story of its success reaches all the way back to Shooster's youth, when entrepreneurship, customer service and hard work took root.
The son of Central European immigrants, Shooster was born in Chester, Pa., where he grew up during the Depression. His father, originally a tailor by trade, opened first a gas station and later a drive-in restaurant. Shooster at age 12 worked first pumping gas and performing all the customary full-service tasks expected by the clientele of that era—checking the water, the oil, the battery and cleaning windshields. By 14, he was a short-order cook in the family restaurant.
"I was a wiz," he said. "I could move like lightning."
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the army. He was 18, and since he had one year of pre-med studies at Temple University under his belt, he was tapped to be a medic. He served in New Guinea and the Philippines during his three years of duty. Afterward, he went back to Temple and earned a degree in marketing.
After following in his father's entrpreneurial footsteps, Shooster found himself in the unfamiliar terrority of not having a job after his ouster, so he moved his wife and four children to South Florida, using the proceeds from the sale of their Cherry Hill, N.J., home to bankroll the 1974 purchase of Ding A Ling, a local mom-and-pop answering service with 10 to 12 employees.
"I tried selling real estate. I tried to find myself. I had a wife and four kids. I was hanging by my thumbs," he said. Then, invested in Ding A Ling and "Little by little, my wife and I grew the business, one step at a time."
Along the way, Shooster has stayed on the cutting edge of technology, riding the advances in communications to go from the Ding A Ling days of operators taking hand-written phone messages and using cumbersome wire plug-ins to connect calls.
Today Global Response uses patented software that combines the Web and phone access to offer its clients customer service through social media monitoring, online chat, e-mail, data entry, technical support and more. The company also developed technology for its deaf and hearing-impaired employees.
Shooster and each of his four children own a 20 percent stake in Global Response. In fact, Frank, Michael, Stephen and Wendy all work for the company—and so do their spouses. Shooster's wife of 60 years, Dorothy, recently retired. Most Tuesdays, Shooster and his offspring go to lunch together.
"Each of them take a different specialty," said Bill Coffman, director of financial operations, JM & A Group, in Deerfield, a Global Response client. "And they get along. It's inexplicable."
"He makes it fun," said only daughter Wendy. "He lets you be yourself. He lets you find yourself."
The Shooster clan all live in the same Coral Springs subdivision, too, except one son, who is just a few minutes' drive away.
And while many family-owned companies claim to create a filial work environment, by all accounts, Shooster and his brood have done just that.
"That man's incredible. The whole family is," said Joan Harrell, director of operations for the answering service. "When you work here, you feel like it's a second family."
Harrell ought to know. With nearly 35 years with the company, she was an operator back in the days of Ding A Ling, as a black-and-white photo in the company lobby attests.
Shooster has earned a reputation for taking good care of his employees, many of whom take obvious pride in the number of years they've put in at the company. His workers seem to know one another's tenure almost as well as they know their names.
For his part, Shooster rewards their loyalty with his bent toward progressive policies and generous rewards. For instance, when some 25 years ago he began offering child care as an employee benefit, Shooster landed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
And in a day when gold watches for service are the stuff of distant corporate memories, Shooster doles out luxury watches and diamond earrings to employees on their 10-year anniversaries. For the 20-year veterans, Shooster finances a trip for two anywhere in the world.
"We have given our more diamonds than I could ever count," he said.
Offering a penny for his thoughts on the journey, Shooster is direct: "Before you get here, you go through a lot of stuff," and his desk memento is a constant reminder of that fact.
"We're not trying to be the world's biggest anything," Shooster said. "We're just trying to provide great service."
POSITION: Founder and Chairman
PERSONAL: Married 60 years to Dorothy
EDUCATION: B.A., marketing, Temple University
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Bought Ding A Ling answering service, 1974, the predecessor of Global Response
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Jewish Federation Man of the Year; Herman and Dorothy Shooster Preserve, Margate