Contractors, architects and distributors in the New York City, eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware markets may notice they’re seeing a little less of John Bourne these days. There’s a reason why.
Bourne, Vice President of Northeast Sales for PROSOCO and one of the company’s most seasoned employees with a tenure of 37 years, has started phasing out his workload in a transition that will ultimately lead to his retirement in March 2015.
This year, John is working a reduced schedule of three days a week. And beginning in January of 2015, he’ll work two days each week until his retirement in March of that year.
Those who have worked with John — whether they’ve known him for a few months or a few decades — aren’t looking forward to saying goodbye to the easy-going guy from New Jersey who has a knack for making people around him feel at ease.
On the brink of big business
When John Bourne began his career in sales at PROSOCO in 1977, he had little experience in the business, and on top of that, his assigned region was the notoriously tough-to-break-into New York City market.
But Bourne’s laid-back personality helped him work his way in, and contractors quickly grew to like and trust him, said Jerry Boyer, former CEO of PROSOCO who is semi-retired from the company.
“He earned his way,” Boyer said. “He really did. New York City is a tough market. He served this company very well during that time, and it was a critical time.”
In the 1970s, PROSOCO pioneered many new products in the restoration cleaning and conservation industry. Those products remain the benchmark of the industry today, said David Boyer, the third generation of the Boyer family and current PROSOCO CEO and President.
“Our success in those markets would not have been possible without John Bourne,” he said.
Drumming up business in those days and in that marketplace required a little creativity and plenty of grit. Because many distributors in the area didn’t carry PROSOCO products on a regular basis, John started from the ground up.
Often working in tandem with Jerry Boyer, he’d drive into the city almost every day.
“I’d be driving down and see a building being cleaned, and I would stop,” said Bourne, 63, who was born on Staten Island but spent most of his life in New Jersey. “And I talked to the contractor and did physical demonstrations on the wall to show how much easier he could get the building cleaned, and how these products worked compared to what he was using. That’s how we started to develop the market.”
A little traction with contractors and architectural firms gradually turned into major increases in the specification base, and before he knew it, distributors were asking to stock PROSOCO’s Sure Klean® restoration products.
The same thing happened with water repellents, Bourne said.
Soon afterward, Bourne worked (frequently alongside Jerry or David Boyer) on some of New York City’s most famous historic landmarks. Out of hundreds of jobs, some of the most notable include the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building, the Plaza Hotel, Trinity Church, Grant’s Tomb, the Ellis Island museum, the New York Stock Exchange, the Statue of Liberty and more.
It was Grand Central Station where Bourne and Jerry Boyer introduced a young David Boyer to the business. Bourne and the older Boyer had dedicated nearly a year to developing custom cleaning formulations and a pre-soaking process designed especially to extract Grand Central’s deep-set carbon staining and remove friable pollutant crusts without damaging the underlying limestone.
“We were headed to Grand Central on that day because the first drop of the full-scale cleaning operation was underway,” David Boyer recently recalled. “My role was to take photographs and stay out of their way.”
Pictures he had seen of the building before didn’t do it justice. “I was hooked,” said Boyer. “Of the hundreds of projects that followed, I constantly marvel at how many are featured in coffee table books that pay homage to America’s architectural milestones. People might be surprised to learn that the products used to clean those structures began as custom formulations, tested and proven by John Bourne in the field laboratory of New York City.”
In the early 1980s, Bourne became a vice president of the company and a board member. He and David Boyer formed a tag team that took on projects across North America and abroad.
“I was the technical nerd with an appreciation for the architectural and historical significance of the buildings we were working on,” David Boyer said. “John was the muscle and bull-headed determination needed to get the job done. We were a formidable team.”
Back to business
For now, it’s business as usual for Bourne, at least on the three days a week he clocks in. Part of that involves identifying his successor.
“We hope to have someone in place by June of this year,” Bourne said.
That will give Bourne the ability to mentor in and show that person first-hand how to navigate the business.
And on his final rounds, Bourne will be making his adieus to those he’s worked with for decades. What will he say?
“I haven’t given that much thought,” he says. “I have a lot of friends that I’ve known for many years in the industry. It’s going to be tough in one respect, but I think they’ll all understand. Many of them are close to my age, so they’re getting to the same stage in their lives.”
As for what he’ll miss the most, Bourne says the people take the top place on that list.
“I always thought the construction industry had the greatest group of individuals,” he said. “And I’m going to miss PROSOCO’s people. It’s going to be quite a transition for me, not to get up and fight the traffic and go to work every day. I’ve done it for so many years now, that it’s going to be tough.”
How will he spend his time freed up from battling New Jersey-to-New York traffic?
“In the beginning, I look forward to getting some things done around the house,” he said. “After that, I wouldn’t mind traveling with my wife (Joanne) and going to some warm places in the winter time.”
But don’t be surprised if you happen to occasionally spot John close to the place where he was raised. Bourne’s two daughters, Janice and Jacqueline, live nearby, as do his five grandchildren.
“It’s great being a grandfather,” he said. “It’s a lot different from having your own kids. I always heard that you can spoil them and then hand them back to the parents, and that’s very true.”
It’s possible that Bourne will leave a gap much greater than he realizes at PROSOCO. As he served a variety of roles over the span of 37 years, he came to be viewed as a trusted adviser to the company’s leadership.
“I’ve always known that John has held PROSOCO’s best interests at heart,” David Boyer said. “Even now when I need an honest assessment of a new formulation, a customer, an employee or an initiative PROSOCO is considering, John is the one I turn to. I know that he’ll put in the effort needed to give me an honest, unvarnished assessment.”
Over the years, many at the company and in the industry have called Bourne much more than a salesman, business partner or colleague.
“It’s essential to have co-workers who are blessed with such natural skills as John Bourne,” Boyer said. “It’s better when those co-workers rank high among your very best lifelong friends.”