August 8, 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of Dorian International’s acquisition of Drake America Corporation. It was a transformational moment for the company and its founder, my father, Ed Dorian Sr. The acquisition has its origins in my dad’s remarkable personal narrative, a tale of success, failure, and redemption.
The Early Years
Born Edward Zorab Katchadourian, my father was the son of Armenian immigrants who fled Turkey during the early 1920s to escape ethnic persecution. They came to America and settled in northern New Jersey. Born in 1924, young Edward was the second of five children. His father, Daniel Katchadourian, was well educated but spoke only broken English and lacked marketable skills. After a few business failures, Daniel took up work as a commercial painter, but with the onset of the Great Depression, he worked only intermittently and struggled to feed his family. His wife, Satenig, though illiterate, was strong and resourceful, and encouraged her children to stay in school, work hard and dream big. My father excelled academically and, from an early age, worked to help support his family. His experience growing up poor left him determined to make money and build a successful career. Yet with few family resources, it was hard for him to envision a path out of poverty.
He was 17 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. He enlisted in the Army a year later and eventually saw combat duty with the 97th Infantry Division in Europe, whose advance across Germany hastened Hitler’s retreat during the final months of the World War II. He later was redeployed with his division to Japan, arriving just weeks after the Japanese surrender. After a year of peace-time duty in Japan, he returned home to New Jersey. He credits his time in the military with opening his eyes to the enormous world beyond America’s shores.
His time in the military also gave him an opportunity to attend college under the G.I. Bill, providing him with a college education he otherwise would never have been able to afford. He matriculated at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. With so many former soldiers now looking for jobs, it was a difficult time to look for work. There also weren’t a lot of doors opening then for someone named Katchadourian, prompting him to shorten his name to Dorian. He eventually landed a job as an entry-level payroll clerk at Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company. Soon after, he married Ethel Chamourian, who would become his lifelong partner. During 18 years with Aramco, he worked his way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming assistant treasurer. He traveled abroad extensively, living for periods of time in Lebanon, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. But Aramco was a big corporate machine, led by engineers. Sensing he had reached a ceiling there, he decided it was time to move on.
Drake America & Export Credit Corporation
While still working for Aramco, he enrolled in an MBA program at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he attended night classes, and put his resume on the street. His big break came in 1967, when he was hired as president of Drake America Corporation, a British-owned export management company based in New York City. The British owners, a consortium of British merchant banks, liked his blend of financial training and international experience.
He assumed the helm of a company that was modestly successful but complacent. Few of the firm’s executives traveled abroad to solicit business, and the senior managers were expending little effort looking for new lines to represent. He put sales managers on the road and embarked on an aggressive campaign to find new product lines. The business grew quickly.
The British owners, meanwhile, asked him to launch a new export finance venture. They called the new company Export Credit Corporation, or E.C.C. The company extended credit to foreign buyers backed by credit insurance approved by the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the then-affiliated Foreign Credit Insurance Association. The concept proved to be a winning formula, and E.C.C. grew quickly, too.
By 1974, the two firms combined occupied two full floors of a midtown Manhattan office building, where they employed more than 300 people. My father traveled to London for monthly board meetings and enjoyed a good standing with the British board. But as an American, he was an outsider, and when he pushed too stridently for a chance to purchase equity in the New York operation, the board let him go.
Now 50, unemployed with two children in college, my dad opted to start his own New York-based export finance business. He named the company Creditcorp International. To build the equity needed to qualify for bank financing, he invested his life savings and recruited one of his brothers and several business associates to invest in the firm. The experience, and the credibility he had earned as president of Drake America and Export Credit Corporation, helped the firm to secure the necessary bank lines and suppliers. He then hired a staff, put people on the road and began developing the business.
Within a few years, the company was financing exports to a wide variety of markets in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. One of the firm’s fastest growing markets was Iran. Under the leadership of Shah Reza Pahlevi, a notoriously pro-Western ruler, Iran was investing heavily in infrastructure and industry, and the market had a seemingly insatiable appetite for US-manufactured products. Iran quickly became Creditcorp’s largest single market. Fresh out of college, I worked for the company in 1977 and 1978, twice traveling on business to Iran, before leaving to attend graduate school. My time at Creditcorp turned out to be a great apprenticeship for my career to follow in international trade.
In a sudden and unexpected turn of events, Shah Reza Pahlevi’s regime was overthrown in late 1979 by Islamic revolutionaries, and the Iranian market collapsed. Ed Sr. was in Iran with an associate in October 1979, trying to collect receivables, just weeks before protestors stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 U.S. diplomats and other citizens hostage. All of the loans Creditcorp extended to Iranian importers were backed by credit insurance, but the deductible losses alone were enough to decimate Creditcorp’s equity base. In need of new financing, my dad sold the company to a large Spanish bank. The bank offered him a contract to stay on to run the company, but determined to remain his own man, he opted out.
The Start of Something New
It was 1980. He was 57 now, with no staff and few resources, but he was determined to give entrepreneurship another go. He decided to start an export management company based on the model of his old company, Drake America. He called the new firm Dorian International. He focused initially on selling foodservice equipment in the Middle East. I joined the company part-time in May, 1982, full-time nine months later. By then my dad had recruited two salesmen, an accountant, and a couple of sales administrators. I signed on as a field sales manager, too. Over the next couple of years, my dad, the other two sales managers and I traveled abroad extensively in search of new business. The early 80’s were the tail-end of an infrastructure boom in the Middle East, and we had some notable early success. But by 1985, a glut in the world oil market began to slow our sales to the Middle East. Concerned about the future, my father started looking around for other export companies to buy.
It was at about that time that he received a call from a representative of the Midland Bank of England, then sole owners of Drake America. The representative said the bank was on a campaign to divest all its non-banking subsidiaries, and it was his job to sell Drake. He wondered whether we would be interested. Ed Sr. knew Drake was doing the same work we were doing—representing US manufacturers internationally–albeit in different product categories: hardware, automotive and industrial. He also knew that Drake operated globally, and that a merger would enable us to immediately expand our global footprint. He gave the bank rep an emphatic “yes. ” The rep flew to New York to negotiate the terms of the sale. A week later, we acquired Drake America.
A Minnow Swallows a Whale
The acquisition was extraordinary for two reasons: first, because Drake did five times more sales and employed five times as many people as Dorian International (As one observer commented, it was like a minnow swallowing a whale); and second, my father and I had just acquired the company that 11 year earlier had fired him.
If we paused to celebrate, the celebration was short-lived, as the acquisition was fraught with challenges and risk. Drake had been losing money and hemorrhaging cash for five years. Without the bank’s resources to absorb continued losses, we had to work quickly. We eliminated a number of staff positions, consolidated several departments, closed three costly foreign sales offices, terminated a generous employee pension plan, and consolidated Drake and Dorian offices in White Plains, a New York City suburb.
The changes produced much needed cost-savings, but they produced some negative consequences too. A number of veteran staff members left, taking manufacturer client relationships with them. Other manufacturers, distressed by the changes, terminated their agreements with us. The move out of New York City caused a number of other long-time staff members to resign. Within a year, more than half of Drake’s staff had turned over and more than half its revenues had disappeared.
Our timing, however, proved fortuitous. In September 1985, the world’s leading economic powers collaborated to lower the value of the U.S. dollar, making US exports much more competitively priced. With Drake re-organized and back to break-even by early 1987, we were poised to grow.
And grow we did. Fueled by economic expansion in Asia and Latin America, we grew rapidly over the next ten years. Much of the growth came from new line acquisition, which was the part of the business my dad loved most. He was committed to the notion that new lines were the lifeblood of our business, and he spent most of his energy working at it. He had little interest or patience for the operational side of the business. He was externally focused, with a bias toward action.
Ready, Fire, Aim
When preparing to attend trade shows, we often talked about the new lines we would look to acquire and how we would prioritize our visits to these companies at the show. We typically agreed to set time aside on day two or three of the show to make these calls. But when we arrived at the show, he invariably wandered off the first hour of the show to pitch a line we had never discussed, and before long, he would have our entire sales force—otherwise deployed at the booths of our clients—redeployed to help him pitch our services to the new client prospect whose booth he had discovered just hours before.
This type of selling wasn’t always successful—he got thrown out of the booth by many manufacturers he called on—but he loved the challenge of cold calling, and he was good at it, with more than a few successes to his credit. After working with my dad for a few years, I hung a poster on the wall of his office that read, simply, “Ready, Fire, Aim.”
When he wasn’t looking for new lines, my dad was looking for talent. He liked hiring recent college grads who spoke a foreign language and demonstrated an interest in international business. He liked their youthful energy and enthusiasm and willingness to take direction. While there were some notable recruiting successes, the hiring strategy ultimately proved costly. The younger hires often stayed just long enough to gain the experience they needed to attract the next job offer. Throughout the 1990’s, we turned over 30% of our staff annually. The rapid turnover required us to spend enormous resources recruiting, hiring and training new people. The turnover also made many of our manufacturer clients uncomfortable; more than a few of them terminated their relationships with us, citing staff turnover as the reason.
We eventually moved to a strategy of filling field sales positions with mid-career professionals. We had to pay more for experience, and the folks we hired often brought their own ways of doing things, but the approach has yielded better results and much greater staff continuity.
The anecdote about different recruiting strategies highlights just one of the many differences my dad and I had during the 20+ years we ran the business together. A product of his generation, Ed Sr. practiced command-control leadership, with power concentrated at the top. With a larger-than-life personality, he relied heavily on his instincts, his street smarts and personal magnetism. I am by nature more strategic and inclusive, more inclined to evaluate an opportunity, solicit input and build consensus before committing resources and taking action. But we agreed on most of the big things—the value of field sales coverage, the need to look constantly for new lines, the importance of attracting and retaining talent—and we made a good team.
A Lion in Winter
Though slowed by age and two knee replacement surgeries, Ed Sr. was still working part-time in 2007, when he was diagnosed with a partially torn aorta, a condition that if not diagnosed would have killed him. The surgery was initially declared a success, but while my dad was still recovering in intensive care, a soucher broke, and he suffered massive internal bleeding. A second, emergency surgery saved his life. Since then, he suffered, but recovered from, a stroke, was treated for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and more recently for multiple myeloma. Now 91, his short-term memory is largely gone. Like a lion in winter, he spends most of his days now quietly at home, almost always with Ethel, now 90 herself, under round-the-clock care.
Though he is no longer part of the company—he sold his equity to me in 2008—my dad still frequently asks for updates on the business and takes pride in the company’s continued success. Though he doesn’t say it, we know he also takes pride in knowing that his pro-active approach to business-building and his entrepreneurial spirit lives on at Dorian Drake, too.
Ed Dorian Jr.
White Plains, NY
August 6, 2015
Thank You All!
Thank you to all those friends and colleagues who have asked about Ed Dorian Sr. Hopefully, this blog post sheds some historical perspective on Ed Sr. and Dorian Drake International.
Feel free to leave a comment or question below.
This wonderful summary of Ed seniors life brought tears to my eyes. I was lucky enough to meet and know both you and your father back in the early 90’s. He was always a pleasure to talk to! Happy that you shared this with those who know him, or wish they had.
I remember well our meetings with you during the early years of our relationship with MP in the early 90’s. It was great to hear from you again after so many years. Thank you for sharing your heart-felt response to the post about my dad!
Great read! Very emotionally charged and inspiring life story. Thank you for taking the time to share it.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my dad’s story inspiring. He was an inspiration to many of us who had the good fortune of working with him.
A great story to have lived through and a great one to tell. congratulations on the anniversary Ed.
Al good thoughts
Thank you very much for your congratulations on the 30-year anniversary of our acquisition of Drake America and your comments on the story about Ed Sr. Glad you enjoyed it!
Words are inadequate to describe my feeling
You should be proud of your great father
And should take care of him and share your precious time with such a great founder
And real mentor for every young person
I really impressed by his struggle and got great encouragement to lighten the deep darkness of life
Amazing effort to educate the new generation
May He live long and enjoy a healthy status of tiring life
Once again hearty tribute ……
Thank you for taking the time to share your comments on the story about Ed Sr. My father’s persistence and drive were an inspiration to all of us who had the opportunity to work with him.
Hope you are well!
Hi Ed Jr.,
A very interesting and rich history, a subject I personally love. Thanks for sharing it. GFSE is proud to be a small part of DDI’s history and we look forward to continued growth and new opportunities for both companies.
Thank you for sharing your response to the post about my dad. I know GFSE has its own rich history, and we likewise feel very fortunate to be associated with David, you, and the rest of the Giles team.
VERY interesting and inspiring. Definitely Ed Sr. was a visionary ahead of his times. I’m highly impressed given the fact its highly unusual for an american, specially in his days, to be so ‘outward’ looking… 100% dedicated to int’l business. Moreover, not giving-up, ‘re-adjusting’ to impact of external circumstances, despite being under duress, and reemerging stronger than before without never giving-up his vision & mission provides a huge dose of inspiration. Tough act to follow by future generations, but with a solid base built on a spot-on vision and tremendous source of inspiration established by Ed Sr. Congrats!! Next frontier for Dorian Drake?… Africa I assume, given Ed Sr.’s vision of capitalizing on emerging int’l markets.
ps. Curious note: The Shah left Iran for Panama where I’m based… on the other side of world.
Thanks for sharing your comments on the story about Ed Sr.’s life and career. One of my father’s greatest strengths was his ability to adapt quickly to adversity and changing circumstances, a lesson for all of us who had the opportunity to work with him.
As it turns out, Dorian Drake is embarked now on a campaign to develop the African market, an initiative I know my dad would heartily endorse.
Thanks again for your kind words.
What a lovely, loving tribute to your father and the rich history of Dorian Drake International. It was a pleasure to read and remember some of these myself, and I enjoyed the story of your father’s start. An American success story and one of which you and your family must be proud!
How nice to hear from you and to read your comments on the post about my dad! It is a great story, one I thought was important to share. Many thanks!
Thank you for sharing this historical look back at how your company came to be. It is a fascinating story of how hard work, determination and integrity are aptly rewarded. This is truly a great recanting of The American Dream.
I can remember being at The Hardware Show in Chicago when I was a young cub in the industry. I recall your father stopping into our booth on more than one occasion to tell me about his great business and how he might be able to help us out. Little did I know but he had laid the groundwork and planted the seeds for the day that would come some years later when you and I inked a deal for your company to represent our products in various parts of the world. It has been a wonderful relationship and all of us at Hudson are very proud to be associated with you and your team.
You have a wonderful legacy developed by your father and I know he must be very proud of how you continue to positively build on that as you create a prosperous future.
Congratulations and thank again for sharing this great story.
Best personal regards,
H.D. Hudson Manufacturing Company
Thanks for your comments after reading the post about Ed Sr. It is, indeed, a quintessentially American success story. My dad left a great legacy, one I feel privileged to build upon.
I remember well the many times we pitched our services to Hudson during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and like you I think it is great that our two companies are working together today.
Thanks again for your kind comments.
Ed… this is a wonderful review. In many ways, it is the story of America… self reliance, hard work and a dedication to purpose. It makes me proud to call you and your Dad my friends! Jon P
Thanks for sharing your comments on the story about my dad. As an entrepreneur and former exporter, you are a kindred spirit, and likewise we place great value on our friendship with you.
Thanks again for your kinds words.
Thank you for this wonderful story of your father. In reading the article, I could feel your father’s determination and drive. Great story!
Anna M. Regan, Office Manager
Dorian Drake International Inc.
Thanks for sharing your comments on the story about my dad. Glad you enjoyed it!
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with you and your father all of these years. However, as soon as I began reading this post I knew this would be an engaging and great read for any one whether they knew your father or not. I very much enjoyed the piece. Very well written.
Dorian Drake International
Thanks for sharing your comments on the story about Ed Sr. I think you know my dad is a big fan of yours, as am I. It has been a great pleasure for both of us to have you on our team for as long as we have.
Thanks again for your kind words.
Your dad has always been a source of inspiration with his great smile and optimistic outlook on life, weathering life and business challenges with grace and a positive spirit. I will never forget sitting in my living room in NYC with him and talking about his new company in 1974 or so and him deciding on the name Creditcorp International. Despite some reversals, he was not deterred or defeated. His is truly the quintessential American success story and we’ll deserved!!
Thanks for sharing your comments and the personal anecdote about Ed Sr. On the golf course, we nicknamed him the “the Shark” for his lethal short game, but in business he was like a shark, too, always moving to stay alive. You caught an indelible glimpse of that back in 1974.
Lynn and I are honored and humbled to say that we know your dad and mom. Ed Senior has left a lasting impression on me. He has always shown me that love, honor, respect and integrity are possible only if you embody them. He has always been a hero to me, in a world sorely in need of Heroes. And you have those same loving traits as your dad. Thank you to both of you for being a part of our lives. Ron and Lynn and boys.
Thanks for your note and kind words, which I will be sure to share with my dad. I know he places great value on his relationship with you and your family, as do I.
All the best to you, Lynn and the boys.
Ed Senior will always be one of my heroes in life. His loving ways are an inspiration in a world that needs heroes like him. Ed junior embodies those same traits.
Congratulations to your father, Ed Sr..; to you and your father for 30 years in business and to be the best suppliers in the foodservice equipment.
And congratulations to all Dorian’s team.
Jose Eduardo Ramirez Serna
Bogotá DC, Colombia SA
Thank you for your congratulations and for your kind comments on the story about my father.
Likewise, we feel very fortunate to have you as our friend and our distributor partner in Colombia.
Great article! I enjoyed reading this piece very much , I even learned few things about our company’s history which I was not aware of. I consider myself privileged and proud to be a part, even if a small part, of this great organization with such a rich yet humble history. A true testament that a person with enough gusto, vision, resilience and hard work can achieve great things in this country and make a positive, live changing impact for many people along the way. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your reaction to the story about my father and the pride you feel working for the company he worked so hard to build. It means a lot to my dad, and to me, to know that you feel the way you do.
Excellent and inspiring story… Great vision to create a unique company and develop the expertise in the Export Management business…
Thanks for sharing!!
Excellent and inspiring story… Great vision to create a unique company with expertise in the Export Management Business…
Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you found my dad’s story inspiring. He was an inspiration to many of us who had the good fortune of working with him.
I just read the blog you wrote about your dad and I can not think of a better tribute to a dynamic man.
I was so impressed with your chronology of your dad and the history of the company speaking of both the successes and the failures of Dorian and later Dorian Drake.
I read of a son who was proud of his father and the legacy he has left behind, but we all know that you contributed a great deal to the success of the company.
I truly enjoyed reading this blog and learning more about your dad, the company and you. Thank you for sharing this great story, I hope your dad is able to read the blog I know he would be pleased.
Thank you for your comments on the story about my dad. I’m glad you had the opportunity to work with him and get to know him during your early years with Dorian Drake.
My dad has read the story and has remarked several times how embarrassed it makes him feel, as if somehow we embellished the truth, which of course is not the case. He has been quite gratified also by the many comments readers have shared in this section, including yours, which I have made sure to help him read, as well.
What a great “Tale!” And for much of the history I had a front row seat! It has been a privilege to know and work with you and your Dad. He was a genus in many ways. The offering of Dorian International and later Dorian-Drake was exactly what we needed at Frymaster and later at other companies with which I was associated. We did not know or understand the markets and could not afford to develop them. Dorian helped build business that could be sustained. Eventually, Dorian worked itself out of a job. Similarly, those for whom you provided training and expertise left Dorian for other companies have provided expertise to their companies that increased the sales and profits. The departure of companies and people from Dorian could have been crippling but due to the shear determination of your Dad, you were able to adapt and overcome and stay at the top offering professional, enthusiastic and effective services for your principals and your customers! And the vast majority of those who learned and left have been very successful due to the influence of your Dad. I see them often at trade shows. The Dorian legacy is woven throughout the industry and the world. Evelyne and I have known you and your family for 30+ years. We cherish the memories especially your wedding and the time we had in Florida with you and your parents. As I said, it is a privilege to know and love your family! I am saddened by Ed and Ethel’s current health issues. I pray that they will be comforted and feel the love exuded by this “Tale” from your heart. It was great to see you in Anaheim. Hope to see you again soon.
Richard and Evelyne
Thanks for your sharing your comments on the post and your personal reflections on Ed Sr. and his career. You were one of the early believers in our company, and your advocacy of Dorian Drake paved the way for much of our early success. We will always be grateful to you for your friendship and support.
Hope all is well with you, Evelyn and the boys.
Enjoyed and appreciated this summary of your Dad’s career and entrepreneurship. The Golight company is happy to be associated wih Dorian Drake international and we look forward to continuing the relationship.
Please accept this belated note of thanks for sharing your positive comments on the post about my father.
We likewise place great value on our relationship with Golight and look forward to working with you and the rest of the Golight team for many years to come.
I am so moved and inspired by passion with which you tell story of our company. As an immigrant myself I can identify with the innate desire for a better future. With 18 years of service, I am honored to have had a pleasure to build my career with Dorian Drake. Thank you for sharing with us.
Thank you for sharing your heart-felt response to the post about Ed Sr. I wrote the story knowing that many of our staff members have similar immigrant stories and would relate to the many challenges my father faced in his quest to build a successful life and career here in the United States.
We likewise feel honored that you have chosen to stay and build your career with us for as long as you have. Thank you for everything you have done–and continue to do–to make Dorian Drake the company it is today!
Congratulations on the company’s 30 year anniversary! I really enjoyed reading the story about your Dad – so many fascinating details that I never knew! I enjoy checking from time-to-time to see what lines that Dorian Drake is representing, particularly in lawn & garden, and it is clear that your company is continuously changing and adapting as it must. Thank you to you and your Dad for the opportunity that you gave me as one of those recent college grads that you hired in the late 1980s in the early days after the Drake acquisition. It was a very interesting and exciting 5 years of my life that I reflect upon often.
Best wishes to you and your parents.
I am embarrassed that it has taken me this long to reply, but I did not want that to deter me from thanking you for your note about the post we published about Ed Sr. It was gratifying to learn that you recall fondly on your years with the company and still look at our website from time to time to see how we’re doing. You played an important role during transition years after our acquisition, as we shifted the focus of our Hardware Group more toward outdoor power equipment, which remains an important part of our business today. I remember well the trips we made together to Europe and the fine job you did developing our distribution in that part of the world. Would welcome the chance to learn how you are doing personally and how your career has progressed in the years since you left Dorian Drake. Please feel free to give us a call!
Your fathers’ story is very inspiring. He with relentless zeal and tough mindset overcame all the obstacles.
We all have to learn lots of these aspects.
Send us periodic newsletters from your company.
All the very best.
Dear Mr. Khan,
We are glad that you enjoyed reading the story about my father. He was an inspiration for me and for many of us who worked with him.
Ed Dorian Jr.
Ed – Wow, I really enjoyed learning about your dad and your family business. Long time gone since Mizzou, huh? Give me a shout out via email,
Dear Ed Jr.
Condolences on the loss of your father Ed Sr.
He was a remarkable and inspirational man !
I just read A Founder’s Tale. A son’s most eloquent expression of love and respect for his father.
peace and love
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How appropriate a title, “Lion in Winter” for Ed, Sr. Rose and I began working with you and your dad more than 22 years ago when, when you were moving toward a strategy of filling field sales position with mid-career professionals rather than hiring recent college grads, and working with your dad was like a grad school course in global business. His standards and expectations were very high, but he also provided guidance, encouragement and mentorship at the same time. We treasure to this day the opportunity we had to get to know a giant in the industry who also had a heart as big as his personality. That he lived to see your success as an industry leader must have been very gratifying for him.
Donald A. Mattran, CSM
Managing Partner | The Mattran Group
1343 Main Street | Suite 600 | Sarasota, FL 34236
941.365.5151 x 304
[email protected] | http://www.mattrangroup.com