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Membership: Member Interviews

Sailing with George Kaull

(Interview continued from e-mail newsletter.)

Barney Klevay, MBA 1976, Section C

Sometime in 1982 or 1983, we were sailing in the Caribbean on a fifty foot brand new boat that had been made in Taiwan. George captained the boat, and Fred Clarke and I were mates. George was at once relaxed and intense-his demeanor changed depending on the situation and the time of day. I was in charge of land services, which meant finding water, ice and places to drink. I had only sailed a little bit previously. As preparation, George made us read a book about the Caribbean and sailing, and we had to practice tying various knots. We went from St. Lucia down to Grenada and were in Grenada about two weeks after the US attack. We could see a big aircraft carrier outside harbor.

We went in March, and the weather was perfect. Of course, I sunk the dinghy twice in the harbor at Bequia, riding into the beach. I got up on a wave, and with the tide coming in, I got flipped onto the beach. Another time, in St. Vincent, a guy threatened us with a knife and said he was going to cut our lines because we dragged anchor and got wrapped around him at night. Oh, and then one time we lost a brand new spinnaker George had specially designed. We lost it the first day coming out of harbor because it was really windy. On another trip, we sailed from St. Lucia to Martinique and Guadalupe. On that trip, Fred Clarke and I swam into the new beach at Club Med. I didn't go again after that. I got tied up in another business that was killing me time-wise, and I couldn't get away.

Why did George do it? I think it was a great male bonding activity he did with young guys from the club He had a great time and did it year after year.

Neil McCarthy, MBA 1979

I worked with George from 1981 until around 1998. He was Chairman and Founder of PreMix. I was marketing manager and ended up as Senior Vice President. George was a classic entrepreneur, a little paternalistic, but Type-A: he worked hard and played hard. He was a great guy to work for. He was a broad-shouldered bear of a guy, about 5'10" and the hairiest guy you ever knew. We marched through the ranks of the club together-he was President and I was Membership VP. Barney Klevay and Fred Clarke and I grew up with George. He was known for running efficient HBS Club meetings and making sure everyone was prepared. George loved the opera-when it was in town, he would buy the week. He would have dinner, and it lasted until two in the morning.

He had a 35-foot C&C, called Muircu that he sailed on Lake Erie. The name Muircu is Gaelic. The story goes that the Irish were defeated by the English and were being escorted on one of their ships (the Muircu) from Ireland to England and rather than turn themselves over to the English, the Irish sank it as they were sailing it.

George kept his boat at the E. 55th marina. He lived in Ashtabula and also had a dock there. So every once in a while he'd walk into my office, and say, "What are you doing tonight?" and then we'd hop into the boat at 6pm, wait for the offshore breeze and sail out to Ashtabula overnight. George was a cruiser, not a racer. He used sailing more for relaxation and camaraderie than anything else. One of the most memorable things about the sailing trips was not the sailing but the food. He was a great cook, and served great food and drink. I still remember him making Martinis. I can still picture the great big tumbler, full of ice, and gin and then him waving the Vermouth bottle over the top. But the critical ingredient was huge olives he'd soak in hot peppers.

Fred Clarke - MBA 1976 Section C

We-George, Ford Davie, a lawyer out of Ashtabula, and sometimes a couple other guys, one a banker and one a surgeon too--sailed out of St. Martin and St. Lucia. Usually there were six or seven of us on board. If you got on the "George Likes You" list, then you were in good shape to get on one of his sailing trips.

As Captain, George was intense, tense, laid-back, and funny. He was a renaissance man. George led on board a ship like he led the HBS Club. He set the strategy and when it came to high-risk situations like going into or out of port, he was on the hook and he did it. But, apart from those high-risk situations, he delegated. He also was sort of Socratic. It really was masterful. I guess the best way to describe the environment on board a George-captained ship is gregarious. It was like a Gertrude Stein salon. He would quote obscure poetry and erudite English novels. He would ask provocative questions to get the conversation going. For instance, he would have asked, "I have business that has 35% labor in COGS in an economy that can't support that sort of a cost in a global context. What should I be doing? And yet if I don't have these labor components, then I don't have value added." Or, he'd ask when was the best time to buy or sell a business.

He would start the day with a bottle of Mt. Gay Rum that he'd mark off with seven strikes and we didn't weigh anchor until we each finished the apportioned amount. He had more beer in the coolers than any other beverage. But, except for the rum, morning was an honest breakfast. I don't think anyone got drunk-it was more that people got mellow. It never got out of hand. We'd have maybe six or seven beers in the course of a day. George was a closet gourmet cook. The soups at lunch were phenomenal-sausage soups, gumbos. You really wondered where he got the ingredients. My role was to do anything he asked, but I often ended up being the navigator because I was in the Navy for 25-or-so years.

We had some incidents on board. For humor, there's the famous dinghy-losing incident. Barney (Klevay) was in charge of dinghy as we came into port. Barney dropped the line to keep the dinghy away from the propeller, and then a bit later, someone said "Hey, where's the dinghy?" We looked around, and sure enough it was floating ashore.

As far as frightening incidents, I recall three. The first was when we were sailing between St. Martin and St. Lucia, in January, and we had the trade winds coming from Azores. It's the only place in the Caribbean where you're out of sight of land, and it was blowing thirty knots or more. I looked off the stern and saw a wave higher than the mast, and we were of course in the trough. That's where you learn by experience that most of the time, no matter how big the wave, you go down one side of the trough and up other side. Another time was when we dropped anchor off the Pitons and we had more than our fair share of dinghies trying to sell us stuff and also potentially steal our stuff. The third occasion was off the Pitons. We dropped anchor next to a bay by a volcano, so the slope of the water by the bay was as steep as the sides of volcano. We dropped anchor about 20 feet offshore. We realized too late that the anchor chain was going to keep paying out for a long time until the anchor hit bottom, and we would either lose the anchor or someone's hand as it got caught in the anchor chain. The chain of course gets increasingly heavy as more and more pays out. Had it not been for one of the mates on board, who was a former linebacker and who was able to stop the pay-out and then pull the anchor up, we would've lost the anchor.

Sailing with George was an experience that even Hemingway couldn't write about. What set sailing with him apart was the intellectual stimulation of working with a guy knowledgeable on all topics. But, at the same time, he had no airs. He was fun and intellectual. His wife Gloria is a wonderful, quiet woman who tolerated this bull-of-the-woods kind of guy. He was a very man's man, and she loved him and tolerated his sailing escapades.

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