Farewell, TonyBy Christian Klein
Article Date: 04-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
The construction equipment industry lost a great champion in February with the death of my long-time friend and colleague Tony Obadal.
Tony started his relationship with AED in the early 1970s and spent more than 30 years as the association’s Washington counsel, representing distributors on Capitol Hill and building AED’s grassroots program.
He hired me to join his law firm shortly after I passed the Bar in 1995. Over the next six years, I had the privilege to work with Tony and learn from him. Since taking over his role with AED in 2002, I’ve tried to build on his legacy. Here are some of the things Tony taught me in our time together:
Be a zealous advocate for your industry. Tony was a tough-as-nails street kid from the Bronx. The son of a blue collar family and the first to go to college and law school, he never got anything he didn’t earn. He subscribed to the motto, “If you ask for less than you need, that’s exactly what you’ll get.” Tony applied that principle fearlessly to his work for AED. Washington is a town where deference is a force of habit and people tip-toe around tough issues to avoid offending. But Tony wasn’t beyond publicly confronting the powers that be and pounding on a desk or two to make his point. People didn’t always like what he had to say or how he said it, but his message always got through.
Work with allies to get the job done… Tony was a great coalition builder. He recognized that to be effective in Washington, an organization AED’s size needs to find allies who share our objectives and can add muscle to our lobbying. He loved brokering Machiavellian backroom deals to bring new friends to the table. Whether it was highway investment, death tax repeal, or more obscure issues like preventing “secret science” in the federal rulemaking process, the more voices in your choir, the more likely you were to be successful. And he usually was.
…But don’t let your friends dictate your agenda. Tony got his first job in Washington (as an appellate lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board) with the help of then-Vice President Lyndon Banes Johnson. LBJ once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Tony valued the relationships he built for AED and was a loyal ally, but he also wasn’t afraid to disagree with contractors, manufacturers, and others when their interests diverged from ours.
Focus on your members’ bottom line... Many are drawn to Washington, D.C., because they love the process, not because they care about the result. Growing up in the nation’s capital, I was exposed to how government works, but not the real- world consequences. Tony changed that. He taught me early on that AED had a Washington Office to focus on the issues that affect our members’ markets and costs of doing business. Increased highway, water, and airport investment means distributors sell more equipment. Illegal gray market imports and government competition mean they lose sales. The death tax and product liability drain resources. The business of AED’s Washington office is keeping our members in business.
…But it takes more than money to inspire. Your bottom line is at the crux of what we do, but it takes more than money to inspire. Tony knew that AED could be a vehicle to help distributors around the country get more engaged in politics. “What’s the moral high ground?” he’d ask. “What’s the bigger issue at stake?” He helped our members understand that it’s not just about the money; America’s future demands that good people get involved and make a difference.
When all else fails, go fishing. I’d been working with Tony for two years when he invited me to go fishing. Over several hours together on the lake, he imparted wisdom acquired over a lifetime in the political trenches and at some of North America’s best fishing spots. We didn’t catch much, but that wasn’t the point. We repeated the trip many times over the years. It wasn’t until his funeral that I realized that fishing trips like the ones we took were a hallowed Obadal family tradition and a rite of passage for his children.
Farewell, Tony. Thanks for everything. Wherever you are, I hope they’re biting.
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