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Remembering ECRM's Innovative, Passionate Founder

By Dan Bagan

Above all Charlie Bowlus was my friend.

Charlie Bowlus, founder of ECRM, passed away on August 11th due to complications resulting from emergency surgery. We are all deeply saddened by his untimely departure.

Charlie was an innovator, a tireless worker and someone with an unmatched passion for making the business lives of retailers and manufacturers easier. His company was founded in 1994 on this singular idea. Having cut his teeth as a buyer in the drug store business, Charlie knew there had to be a better way to buy products for stores. His ECRM events were unique before there was even a term in the meetings business called “hosted buyer event.”

His concept took on complexity while focusing on making things simpler, and a tremendous company resulted. He never stopped looking for ways to make things easier for retailers to transact business with their suppliers. The technological innovations at ECRM still make it one of the most unique businesses I have seen.

Charlie was also a tireless recruiter. He was continually in search of the happy, energetic employee that could help carry his message to the industry. He hired for enthusiasm and intelligence above experience, and it worked.

He was famous for calling people whenever the idea struck — regardless of whether he was in Japan and he was calling you at 4 in the morning here. He really didn't expect you to pick up, he just couldn't wait to tell you about this particular idea that “could be HUGE!”

Several years ago when Condé Nast was in the process of selling Supermarket News and the future seemed uncertain, I flirted with the idea of working with Charlie. We did the recruitment dance for a while and it was fun. One night at a New York Yankees game in the Bronx, Charlie said, “Dan, I am not a good manager. I need a good manager.” He realized his company had grown to the point that the single entrepreneur couldn't do everything. He ultimately partnered with a number of very smart guys to help him run his company, and I knew several of them well. They all loved Charlie — but he drove each of them nuts. This characteristic is symptomatic of many company founders. As charismatic as they are, no one can care for their baby like they can. Well, recently when Charlie came to my office to say that his son Mitch was named president, I think he felt he finally did find the perfect guy to care for his baby.

We have had a business relationship for nearly 10 years now. It has always been like business in the days when a handshake counted for something. Since my first meeting with Charlie I have always felt that he genuinely understood the idea of helping the other guy win in order to let both of us win. Simply put, after a negotiation with Charlie I never felt like I needed to take a shower. After every meeting I left feeling like we waited too long between “get-togethers” and I would make it my business to not let it go as long the next time. Well, I certainly lost on that one.

I am going to miss my friend Charlie for his easy manner, and the way his eyes lit up when he spoke of his wife Liz and his family, and for always putting our friendship before business. Rest in peace Charlie.

Dan Bagan is senior vice president at Penton Media, parent company of Supermarket News.