In the water-well or plumbing and heating industry, if trade pros were asked to name a top 10 national “movers n’ shakers,” this name would surely surface among them: George Simas.
Today, at 74, George is planning his retirement. When an enigmatic figure makes an exit after several decades in the profession, the good ones leave a vacuum in their wake. This is indeed the case with George Simas – a man who still describes himself as “a salesman; nothing more.” But in the reply is the clue to his success and personality.
Since 1991, George held various positions at Randolph, MA-based Flexcon Industries; he’s been president and CEO there since 2004. Flexcon Industries is one of the largest producers of diaphragm tanks in North America. Prior to that, George held key positions at Emerson Swan and Nibco.
Tom Swan Jr., CEO of Emerson-Swan, a manufacturer’s rep firm owned by the Swan Group, hired George in June of ‘76.
By the early ‘80s, managers there began asking customers what products they’d like to see Emerson-Swan sell. Many said they had a need for expansion tanks for use in hydronic heating systems
Flexcon found a way to offer those, but another need arose: tanks for well water systems. Eventually, manufacturing efforts led to their development of a controlled action diaphragm (CAD) tank, a pre-pressurized diaphragm expansion tank ideally suited to for well water systems.
Today, tank sizes range from 2 gallons, to 119 gallons, and are fabricated of steel, stainless steel, and lightweight composite material.
It was the deep friendship that grew between Tom Swan and George Simas that became the crucible for George’s career. The two were great friends. And from that friendship grew legendary successes – the type of success that builds companies and careers, while supporting thousands of families.
But George Simas is quick to point out that his relationship with Joanne – his wife of 54 years – is his bedrock for all good things in life. They’ve know each other since childhood; he was (and still is) enamored with her “natural ability to mix with anyone, anywhere” he said. “Soul mate? Absolutely.”
Together, George and Joanne had two boys: George III (still AKA Georgy, or GL) and James (or simply Jimmy). According to George Simas, young George, now president and COO of Emerson Swan, and EVP, Swan Group and soon to be president of the Swan Group, married Alison and together they gave George and Joanne “two of the world’s finest granddaughters” – Emily (16) and Victoria (14). A few years later, Jim (who is senior VP today at Emerson Swan, and “simply oozes sales expertise”) married Rachel and together they bore “my wonderful grandsons” Jack (12) and Owen (10).
There’s just a quick peek at George’s coming happiness in retirement. The family, and easy trips to their camp in Maine, some hunting and fishing, boating and that long-awaited down-time when trips away from them are no longer necessary. But, yes, he admits he’ll miss the rush and excitement of professional success.
Early years at Flexcon
Flexcon was born as a greenfield joint venture start up in 1988. The same year that Tom Swan Jr. and Joe Swan promoted both George Simas and Parker Wheat as co-managers of Emerson Swan’s heating department. Being a startup in need of sales talent, Tom asked both George and Parker to take on additional responsibilities by traveling and working with various Flexcon well water distributors throughout the East and South.
“We were successful but we also had a lot of fun presenting, pitching and selling Flexcon’s high quality well tanks,” said Wheat. “I still remember that our tank was not just ‘blue’ but was Caribbean Blue and that George came up with many other features and benefits that we used to gain market share. Just as importantly and in the process, we became fast friends and remain so today.”
In 1991, Flexcon had grown to the point where the company needed a key person to become president and to work closely on strategy and growth with Tom Swan Jr. It was an interesting period and an interesting decision making process which led to George Simas being named as president, a position that he has successfully held ever since.
According to Wheat, it was George’s sales talents, perseverance, street savvy, directness (you always know where you stand with George, asserts Wheat), likeable personality and loyalty to the Flexcon customer base that made Flexcon into the company it is today.
“George’s talents and personality will be impossible to replicate. So we’ll simply have to accept the fact that the mold won’t be reused again. He’s, well . . . legendary in so many ways, all uniquely his own,” added Wheat.
“George was brought up in Cambridge, back when it was a bit rough, to an Irish mother and Portuguese father,” said Wheat. “So, George is a street fighter and he has an interesting vocabulary. His pronunciation of some words lends charm to his truly unique speech patterns. We often tease him that he works out of a special dictionary.”
“You want to look at American greatness?” says Gerry Duggan, EVP, sales and marketing for Flexcon, just look at what these two [Tom Swan and George Simas] did together.
Sadly, Tom Swan passed away in Mach of 2011. George Simas looks back on that relationship with great warmth and immense respect.
“Tom was a driving force, and one of the classiest guys I’ve ever met,” recalled George. “Even competitors liked him, and that’s a rarity. And it was in the Swan Group’s ‘formative’ years that Tom and his brother Joe Swan began to build an amazing team of dedicated pros, many of whom supported me every day.
“It’s the Swans who’re amazing, and the success of everything they seem to touch stem from the steady contributions of the team they built,” added George Simas. “That’s what to point at when you look at our success!”
Yet, when his closest associates are asked to describe the essence of George Simas, it’s evident that George gained recognition in a way we can all hope for professionally: for his integrity, honor, loyalty, and a uniquely-his sales persona.
And, of course . . . there are stories and recollections.
A few years after joining Flexcon, George became president and CEO, moving them on an always-upward trajectory from 50 people in ‘91 to 150 today.
“Boston – all of this city – is his in many ways,” said Dugan. “He’s so proud of the city and loves to give tours. He gave hundreds of personal tours of the city.”
Duggan recalls George’s salesmanship among Flexcon customers – both distributors and contractors. “A tour [of the city] by George, or a meal with him and customers, is something someone would always remember. But most of all, for those who’ve had the immense pleasure of working for or with him: the great value of his mentorship.
Bill Kay, president of the manufacturer’s rep firm, Florida Waterlines, agrees.
“Anyone that has an encounter with George will recall his distinct personality and honesty because – if he told you it’s so – that’s just exactly as it is. That alone earned him orders and built lasting relationships.”
According to Kay, many of the customers who visited Flexcon experienced something that became part of their own life’s story . . . and all of them survived.
“As George drove customers to the airport, or to his favorite restaurant – (the late) Jimmy’s Harborside – they witnessed and lived through a Boston experience like no other: George behind the wheel. He conquered every stretch of road, highway or Big Dig tunnel. I’ve seen 250-pound drillers gripping seat backs with white knuckles, most of them with giant grins, as though they were on the latest thrill ride at Universal.”
Kay fondly recalls George’s preferred restaurant, Jimmy’s Harborside. George would routinely enter with groups of 10, 20 or 30 contractors, distributors or reps to enjoy Boston’s finest seafood. They’d greet him with open arms while ushering the group to the best, bay-side table. And there, George held court in the best way as only George could.
Street smart + lobster-savvy
Matthew Phillips, with wholesaler Coast Pump, fondly recalls George as a veritable bulldog for business, with an insatiable curiosity and entrepreneurial drive that can’t be taught at Harvard or Yale.
“George is a rarity, and a real contradiction in some ways, too,” said Phillips. “He’s street smart, yet with a keen and very educated sense of what works in most situations, and how – with insights honed from experience. George is loyal, even to a fault, and a man of his word; with him, there’s never a need for a signed document.
“He has a sincere affinity for people that plays out at some many levels,” added Phillips who offered an experience of his own to point to the “amazing goodness of George Simas.”
“My family and I went to Boston for a visit; George took us to Jimmy’s Harborside,” said Phillips. “Whole, fresh lobsters were served and my 12-year old son Mason had very quietly slipped a lobster claw into the end of his sleeve. George was quick to see it and one of the waiters snapped a photo. Years later when I went into his office, there it was, with a ‘Lobster Boy!’ label. That memento on his wall was just a small indication of the uniqueness of George.”
Mike Kennedy, Flexcon’s COO, has worked with George for 25+ years. He’s convinced that, if there was a definitive guide to building character, George would be the model.
“George is extremely competitive, tough, and tenacious.” said Kennedy, “His work ethic comes from early experience. As a boy, he shined shoes and delivered papers. When that’s your start in business, it tends to stay with you.
“George is a winner in every sense of the word. Flexcon wouldn’t be where it’s at if not for him, and he’ll be missed dearly – and well beyond the walls of Flexcon,” added Kennedy. “We all know how much he loves to be with his wife, family, and grandchildren and at this point in his life he’s earned the time, however it’s still hard to see him go. It’ll be the end of an era.”
Lesson lasts a lifetime
George Simas’ older son, George III, or “GL,” has a first recollection of working with Dad. It was on an early Monday morning following a relaxing weekend at camp. The year was 1987, and he was just 22 and ready to ease into the “real world” scene.
“I was woken unexpectedly early by Dad. When I got out of bed, it was 5:36 am. I stood there, stretched and yawned. Dad did a double-take and demanded, ‘What did you just do?’ What?! I, um, stretched and yawned. Dad’s immediate response was, ‘Don’t ever do that in front of a customer.’”
That lesson played in the background throughout his career. “It’s always, always about the customer,” said GL. The lesson is: be passionate about what you do and always exceed other’s expectations. By Dad’s example, actions versus words was always the right path in both business and life. Lesson #1 was a good one.
“Dad’s true character and charm is most apparent and visible when seen while among family and friends,” said GL. “From his humble beginnings in Cambridge [MA], George’s journey from “Frisoli’s Corner Gang” to the president of Flexcon has been truly amazing. His world evolved from six city blocks to becoming a global business strategist. In business, he’s the consummate sales pro. He’d be quick to say, ‘Never mind the title; I’m interested in your business,” recalled GL.
And, reflecting on many decades of admiring his father’s passion for business and life, GL said that, deeply planted in his [father’s] character is the absolute embodiment of loyalty and commitment to family, friends and business partnerships.
Jim Simas, George’s younger son mirrors his brother’s sentiments and adds that “My dad has an innate ability to reach people, to leave a lasting impression, a true difference maker. His passion cannot be replicated, loyalty never challenged, and love of family and friends is paramount. To say I was fortunate to grow up in this environment is truly an understatement.”
Dee Davis met George back in the mid-90s. Today, he is president of Franklin Electric’s North America Water Systems. They share similar backgrounds as kids: a rough n’ tumble world full of challenges and opportunity. “We both hustled and learned the value of hard work,” said Davis. “George had real respect for all people: the warehouse worker, a guy under the truck, and yet he quickly related to those around the boardroom, too.
“He taught me a lot about caring and passion, and doing work right,” added Davis. “When George walks into a room, he brings with him a unique energy and passion. He’s ethical, tenacious, funny and amazingly consistent with customers, even while allowing friendships to develop. And that’s why our friendship developed, and before long my wife Karima developed friendships with George and Joanne too.”
Joe Swan, chairman of the Swan Group, has known George for 40+ years. “George has my utmost respect and highest regard. He’s an exceptionally talented communicator, and he certainly knows how to get people’s attention. His competitiveness is part of his success, and so is his ability to develop genuine and lasting friendships at every turn – and with such ease. Integrity, competency and loyalty . . . it’s no wonder that’s he’s so well liked.
“We’re so fortunate to have had George on our team for so long,” added Swan. “He’ll be missed.”
“I love George Simas and his whole family; it’s really as simple as that,” said Tom Swan III. They’re enormously talented, loyal and hard working. My father [Thomas J. Swan], who was as good a judge of character as I have ever known, saw a unique talent in Big George and together their blood, sweat and tears gave us Flexcon as we know it today,” said Tom III who today is Co-CEO of the Swan Group.
Tom’s cousin, Keith Swan, Joe’s son, added that, “When Tom and I entered the family business three years ago, George immediately took us under his wing at industry events to introduce us to many of Flexcon’s customers. He’d usually make these intros with an extra twang to his Cambridge accent or over a self-effacing story, but always with a purpose: to make sure we knew how important these people were to Flexcon’s story and how appreciative he was of the relationship.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have been mentored by George . . . and Joanne! He’s one of the savviest people I’ve ever met and he’s got one of the biggest and most genuine hearts too.”
Randy Lyne is president of Fort Worth, TX-based Preferred Pump & Equipment, LP. For many years, Lyne has seen and appreciated George’s natural relationship-building among contractors. “He’s admired and loved for his doting attention to customers. It’s his life; it’s what he does.
“Preferred Pump has the most effective customer trip in the industry, and George is the ultimate guest. Actually,” Lyne reconsidered, “George and Joanne are, because they work together so effectively as a team among customers and prospects. Boston is the beneficiary because colorful ‘Jaaa-ge’ is the city’s greatest champion.”
Bruce MacKay, of Bruce MacKay Pump & Well Service in Reno, NV, said “I’ve known George since the early days of his sales career. We met at Hays Pumps in California, a long time ago. In fact, my wife Martha and I enjoy a friendship with George and Joanne that will continue well past our productive working days. Undoubtedly, we look forward to meeting them in Aruba or some special place for vacation – hopefully soon.”
Bruce also has a, well . . . poetic streak, one that slips into gear when asked about George. Here’s what he offered:
The things I recall about George are as follows, in the order of importance:
- His love for Joanne is special and genuine. You see it in their eyes.
- Great love for his entire family and extended family.
- His grandkids are special, but he is especially proud of his own children and their success in life.
- A love for his job and his tireless hours providing customers with the very best. He’s an energetic professional beyond words. He is proud to do a good job.
- His stories of swimming for clams in his early years and walking across the tracks to school helped shape him. (His love for food also shaped him.)
- He has the biggest heart and includes everyone in wanting the best for them.
- He always wears a contagious smile.
Bruce offers this salutation: “Stay happy and healthy my friend. Thanks for the memories.”