BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
Late in the day at a trade show, the marquee of a booth selling floor tiles with a prominently displayed company name caught my attention. “Armenians,” I thought to myself and walked into the space.
“Can I help you?” asked a blond and blue eyed young man. A quick glance at this name badge confirmed that he was not a member of the family the company was named for. I explained to him why I was there and he responded with “Then you want to talk to Eddie who will be running everything in a year,” he said proudly, perhaps with a hint of envy.
I turned to see a young man with short cropped hair and handsomely familiar dark features walk towards me and extend a hand in greeting while the other tightly clasped his new favorite electronic gadget – an iPad. “Hi, I’m Eddie,” he said.
Introductions were made, contacts established and we agreed to meet again later since we were both in still in the middle of a busy day of meeting customers. A short while later he appeared and we continued our conversation. Eddie is soft spoken, a bit shy and reticent at times, unsure of how to behave in an unfamiliar context of meeting a fellow Armenian in a business setting. But all of these qualities added to his charm. With his casual demeanor and quiet manner of speaking, Eddie seems to be a man of few words.
Though still in college, Eddie began working in the family business while still in 7th grade. He, of course, is studying Business Administration with an emphasis on commercial real estate. When asked which he prefers – commercial real estate or the tile business – he opted for tiles without hesitation, “because there’s always something going on. With real estate, you rent the property out and don’t have to worry about it for five years,” he says explaining why he prefers one over the other.
In all the years of what can only be called his apprenticeship, he has dabbled in several aspects of the business but his favorite part is the selling. “I like the rush,” he says with a sheepish grin and adds, “It makes my Pop happy.”
“Do you do it to make your Pop happy?” I ask.
“Naw, but it feels better. He doesn’t give out compliments too often,” he says.
“What does a compliment from Pop sound like?” I ask.
“’Good job’,” he says in a monotone voice mimicking the way his father sounds.
“That’s it? No handshake, no pat on the back, no bonus.”
“Nope. Never,” he says. “Especially a bonus.”
“Do you like working for Pop?”
“Of course. Everyday,” he says in his low key manner, almost sounding like his Pop. “I like the whole father/son relationship. He might be my best teacher in my whole life.”
It’s a multigenerational family business where Eddie’s grandfather, at 90 years old, still puts in the requisite hours six days a week at the headquarters in Fresno. “He’s in charge of payroll for the whole company,” Eddie says proudly. At the moment, there are four grandchildren working in the business. “More will come on [board],” he says, “we’re all still in our 20’s.” Eddie plans to join the family full time when he graduates from college and, given the choice, he would like to be part of the aspect of the business with which his father is involved: interacting with customers. “I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder),” he says as a joke with a self deprecating laugh, “so I like to get out.”
As the oldest of two children, and the oldest male of the thirteen grandchildren in the family, Eddie calls himself the “ringleader” but goes on to say that they are all “equal.” And even though he admits that he might have a special place he qualifies it by saying that they all “have their own part,” meaning each grandchild has a unique place in the family.
“Do you speak Armenian?” I asked.
“Only the cuss words,” he says and laughs.
“Do you want to learn it?”
“Of course but I don’t think it would be useful for me now,” he responds and explains how learning Spanish, especially in California, would be more advantageous for him since many of the company’s employees don’t speak English. “If you want to get anything done you have to speak Spanish.”
The family originally hails from Fresno where Eddie spent his time until graduating from high school. Then, for business reason, his father and his uncle decided to expand the business into Southern California and moved with their respective families. “But Fresno will always be home because my whole family is there,” he says even though he doesn’t see himself moving back anytime in the future. “There’s too much in L.A.,” he says, “It’s where everything happens.”
While his grandfather started the operations in Fresno, his father and his uncle moved it to Los Angeles, it’s anybody’s guess where the third generation, with an expanding network of cousins, will take the business in the future. Hearing Eddie’s enthusiasm for the bright lights of the big city, one thing is clear, it won’t be back to Fresno.