The first time I met Tim Novoselski was my third interview before being hired as managing editor of RER. The then editor, Chris, said I was to have a meeting with the publisher/owner and ushered me into Tim’s office. It was pretty obvious that I needed to be approved by him to get the job. The first thing he asked had nothing to do with journalism or the job I was about to do.
“What was the hardest decision you ever had to make in your life?” he asked. I thought for a second, and gave an answer. He looked in my eyes for a few seconds, thought about it and then we spent about an hour talking about the usual things: where I’d gone to school, what my professional experience was, and what jobs did I not get hired for (when I told him about one of them, he said, “I wouldn’t have hired you for that one either.”)
I quickly could see that Tim was pretty straight to the point, didn’t beat around the bush or engage in a lot of small talk. Tim was profoundly committed to quality. He wanted to make sure I’d have what it took to remain interested, to really invest myself in the rental market, to embrace and understand its people the way he had done.
Many of you reading this are nodding your heads right now, because you knew Tim. You had dinner with him, drinks with him, maybe even went skiing with him, and discussed the joys and sorrows and hardships of running a business with him, because he was dealing with the same issues. You discussed life and love and death and heartbreak and all that comes along with life, because that’s who Tim was. And even though he hasn’t been involved with the industry for seven or eight years, you remember him vividly.
Tim died of cancer this morning after a long battle. He was 62. For those who followed his wife’s Denise’s posts on Facebook or her Caring Bridge site, you know that Tim went through horrible pain the past few months. Hard as it is to say, I’m sure all who knew him are relieved he will no longer go through this agony.
Tim strongly believed in customer service. The one time I really recall him angry was when a reader had called needing something and nobody had returned the phone call. He asked me if I knew about it and he was not impressed when my explanation was that I was on deadline.
Shortly after I started with RER I read some news about some rental company and I asked him if he’d heard about it. “Yes, I read it in the competition,” he told me. “I don’t like to get scooped.”
Those were two lessons I learned early on from Tim — don’t ever ignore the needs of a customer and don’t get scooped — at least not often.
Every now and then Tim would mark up a copy of the magazine and leave it on my — or my predecessor editor’s — desk. He’d make notes in the margins and asked questions with arrows and point out mistakes or redundancies. It was a kind of graduate school on the job. I didn’t look forward to those but he’d let you know if he liked stuff too. His criticisms were right on and I learned more from those corrections than I learned in college probably. Once he got on me for misspelling someone’s name — the kind of mistake you should learn in your first year of college too. I’m damn careful of that now.
Tim was a big sports fan, USC football above all, and he was as nuts about the L.A. Dodgers as I was and we went to quite a few games together, often with other RER people, and those were fun times. And when my dad — who’d worked for the Dodgers for many years — died, he took time out of a very busy day to be at his funeral.
He was very much a mentor and there are usually too few of those in a person’s life.
As those of you who knew him know, he cared passionately about the rental industry, and he made a great contribution to it with his stewardship of RER for 20+ years. The California Rental Association gave Tim its widely coveted Jim Gartland Award one year in honor of his contributions to the rental industry. Gartland was the founder of RER, and Tim’s father-in-law.
Tim helped give this industry a vision of itself during those years, from the late 1970s until about 2000. He helped it define itself and deal with important questions and issues as they arose, and often well in advance of when they arose. I don’t think the current level of the industry’s growth and penetration would at all be surprising to him. He saw its potential way earlier than most.
He expected people who worked for him to work hard and he could justify that expectation by working hard himself. As for those of us who worked for him, he cared about us, he cared about our families and our kids and knew them all by name. And, crazy as this sounds, he knew our dogs. Every now and then we’d have a “dog Friday” when he encouraged people to bring their dogs to work. He’d never fail to make the rounds of the office on those days to see all the dogs and personally give them biscuits from a box he kept in his desk drawer (Tim was a great dog lover himself and always had a few huskies romping around his backyard). The company had gotten bigger then — more than 100 employees — and one “dog Friday” two dogs were close to a fight and there he was, the CEO, getting between them to break it up.
As I said, Tim worked hard, and he liked to have fun. He was one of the most vibrant and fun-loving people I knew. I learned a lot about hard work from him, and about fun as well. All that is part of why this day is so hard. Kind of a dog Thursday, but a different kind of dog.
I look forward to hearing back from people who remember Tim. And I know he will be remembered in the rental industry for years to come.