Richard J. Gross, who led his family-run electrical supply company for much of its 104-year existence and aimed to help other family businesses, died Friday in Kingston Residence of Sylvania. He was 86.
He had dementia, his daughter Laurie said. Because of health problems, he and his wife, Marion “Skip” Gross, moved from their Ottawa Hills home several years ago, first to Woodlands at the Sunset House in Toledo and then Kingston.
He retired about five years ago as chairman and chief executive of Gross Electric Inc. in Sylvania Township, started in 1910 by his father George “Joe” Gross. He became president in 1959, after his father died.
Toledo families’ first radio or television or toaster might have come from Gross Electric, for years largely a retail operation — and once the biggest appliance dealer in northwest Ohio, said his daughter Laurie, company president since 1992. As a schoolboy, his first duties with the firm, then on Summit Street in downtown Toledo, included counting knobs and tubes.
“I started when I was 7, working Saturdays and summers,” Mr. Gross told The Blade in 1990. He joined the firm full time after his 1950 graduation from the University of Michigan and sold commercial lighting. Clients included banks, downtown buildings, and churches. He became lighting division manager in 1952 and, several years later, vice president and wholesale operations manager.
“At the time we didn’t sell electrical supplies to contractors,” his daughter said. “He decided to develop that end of the business, switches and plugs and pipe and wire. That’s how he grew the business.
“He had great vision,” his daughter said. “He could put his finger on where the market was going and what was going to happen. He loved marketing and sales and spent a lot of time thinking about those things.”
Gross Electric stopped selling appliances in 1963 and 70 percent or more of its business in recent decades has been wholesale. Gross has locations and lighting showrooms in Sylvania Township, Northwood, and Ann Arbor.
“He was very conscientious and thought of his customers and was forward-thinking,” said Dick Metzger, who owned a wholesale fruit and vegetable business. For years, Mr. Gross, Mr. Metzger, and a group of friends met weekly for lunch at the former Dyer’s Chop House downtown.
The third generation took the helm of Gross Electric in the 1990s.
“He was very honest, and he taught us to be very honest,” said his son, Joe, vice president since 1997.
Even as president, “My dad was a great delegator,” his daughter said. His son added: “He surrounded himself with good people and let them do their thing.” And so as chairman, “he let us take over and didn’t really interfere and meddle,” his son said.
Mr. Gross hadn’t pushed his children to go into the business but encouraged them when they expressed interest.
“He was a big believer in family business,” his daughter said. “Knowing the family business would continue was such a relief, and he was so proud of us.”
Realizing that business is always risky, he helped found the University of Toledo’s Center for Family Business to guide businesses and families as they plan for survival — and success — through succession. He’d heard speakers at trade association meetings discuss the issue and decided, “ ‘We need something in Toledo so people know how to continue their businesses,’ ” his daughter recalled. “He started making phone calls. I remember vividly.”
Mr. Gross was a former regional vice president of the National Association of Electrical Distributors. In Toledo, he was president of Jewish Family Service and chairman of the Better Business Bureau. He served on the International Institute of Greater Toledo board and, in 1982, received its Distinguished Service award.
“He loved Toledo, and he loved knowing he was making a difference in the community,” his daughter said.
He was born Oct. 29, 1927, to Anna and George “Joe” Gross. He attended Cherry School and was a 1945 graduate of Scott High School, where he ran track and was senior class president — and thereafter helped organize reunions. He was an Army Air Force veteran.
He was an ardent supporter of the Toledo Symphony and was a founding member of the former Glengarry Country Club and helped out when the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic LPGA tournament started there. He and his wife traveled the world. He read countless news magazines and three newspapers daily.
“He was enthusiastic,” his daughter said.
Surviving are his wife, Marion Gross, whom he married April 5, 1952; daughters, Laurie Gross, Marcia Miller, and Paulette Collins; son, Joe Gross; 11 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday in the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim, of which he was a member. Arrangements are by the Walker Funeral Home.
The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Symphony; the Alzheimer’s Association of Northwest Ohio, or the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: email@example.com or 419-724-6182.
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