I owe the company, brand and man Serotta more than I can say. I grew up wanting to be a framebuilder and with a bit of luck and timing I landed at Serotta in 1989 and for the next ten years I was given a huge amount of latitude by the company and the man Ben Serotta to learn and experiment and grow as a framebuilder and a person. Don’t get me wrong………I worked long and hard but without the opportunity given to me I would never have made it out of the sandblasting cabinet.
With this as a background I was saddened yesterday to learn that after 41 years the company would be closing its doors soon. For those that haven’t heard what was going on you can get a good summary here –
The reasons that the company faltered and in time appears to have failed will be debated for a long time to come by both those in the know and know-nothings alike and I won’t get into that here but I will pay homage to Ben Serotta and the Serotta company ‘family’.
Frankly things didn’t go that well my first week on the job in October of 1989 and for a few days I thought I’d made a big mistake. But in short order I made friends with the people there and some of them have become lifetime friends that I can’t imagine ever losing track of. The skill of the young men who toiled day in and day out in the old school building was over the top and the free way they shared their experience made for a wonderful learning environment. Over time the company had hard times………very hard times to be frank……..but through it all the one true constant was the desire to make each and every bike the best it could be. There were times in the mid 1990’s when we all wondered if the doors would be padlocked the next morning when we came into work. Most of us took home anything we owned of value for fear that the place would be closed up with a banker at the door and we’d have to prove that it was personal property to be able to take it out of the building. Yet even with that hanging over the heads of the shop floor guys there was never a ‘fuck it!” attitude and each bike had to be as good as it gets. It was part of the groupthink and DNA of the place and those that spent their days there. This is, in my experience, not the norm in life let alone the bike industry and it made me very proud to be there and to be a member of the Serotta family.
I think the most exciting time of my work life was when Ben Serotta was buying back the company and the brand from the investor/owner that had control of the purse strings from the time I started there. There were a lot of kitchen table late night meetings in which a group of the key employees sat and talked for hours about what the company could and should be and what its mission should be. I think it speaks very well of all involved when it was stated that there were two core things that would drive the company – the bikes should be the best that could be built and that the employees should be treated with respect and paid well enough to realize the American dream of being able to own a home and raise a family. This ‘high tide raises all boats” philosophy is by no means the norm in any business let alone the bike biz. It made us all very proud to be associated with the brand. When Ben took control of the company back and we implemented the long thought about plans and they actually worked ……..well that was a very exciting time indeed. Nothing is more fun that making a plan, executing it and then having it work and without the dedication of all those involved the place would have died right there and then.
I left the company in 1999 to live in the snowy mountains of Montana and I left behind a family of folks I will never forget…………some I got along with very well and some that weren’t on my Christmas card list but good people all. Over time many people moved on to different things or places but some of those same people are still there today. I feel for them as they wrap up 10, 15, 20 years of memories and belongings as they prepare to walk out those doors for the last time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ben Serotta and thank him personally. To be honest Ben and I did not hit it off from day one – I was brash and rejected authority and he was the young boss who needed to assert just that and these things didn’t mesh that well. One thing we really had in common was the desire to make a better bike. It was on this common ground that we became work friends and in time personal friends. Life isn’t always easy and sometimes the shit really hits the fan and when this happened to me Ben was there to listen and understand and to buy me a beer ……. and listen some more. While he certainly was my boss he became much more and he showed his real quality as a person and a friend. I can only hope that I was the equal to him and that I held up my side of the friendship.
At the risk of this sounding more like an obituary and less like and homage I need to say that Ben Serotta isn’t dead – no far from it. Forty one years is a hell of a long run and something to be proud of. I hope he realizes his dream to build once again and that if he thinks I can in any way help that he’ll lean on me. Thank you for everything my friend. All the best to you.