The Power of Relationships
Robert “Bobby Dee” DeFrancesco is an ambassador to the industry with a worldwide network of colleagues and friends.
He has hosted and chaired countless events and committees and received the industry’s most prestigious awards, but ask Robert “Bobby Dee” DeFrancesco what he is famous for, and he will say it is the network of friends he has made throughout the country, even the world, during his more than three decades in the business.
DeFrancesco, president of Benfield Electric and Elevator Supply Corp. in Bronx, New York (ELEVATOR WORLD, October 2015), attended his first National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) convention in 1982 as cofounder of Central Electric, which eventually became a division of Benfield. Of that first NAEC expo, he says, “I realized there was a home for us in the elevator industry. Almost every working part in an elevator—from computers to controllers—has something electrical in it. I thought to myself, ‘We’re missing the boat here.’”
So, Central Electric and Elevator Supply was launched in Queens, New York, later that same year. Its first supplier was Boston Insulated Wire (later Draka), and the company established a niche in traveling cable for elevators that persists to this day. Draka is still a huge supplier—to the tune of approximately US$6 million a year in purchases—and Benfield often shares a booth with Draka on the NAEC convention floor.
DeFrancesco stays heavily involved in helping the industry and industry members’ families. For example, he launched the Elevator Conference of New York (ECNY) dinner dance networking event and scholarship fundraiser 22 years ago. He says it was “a little shindig” at first, with approximately 60 guests. That number has since more than quadrupled.
There is also the annual ECNY Supplier Showcase. The daylong event features 100 or so vendors and a dining hall where guests can feast on house-made Italian food and network in the cozy-yet-opulent Villa Barone Manor reception hall. He says the showcase is a great opportunity for employers to give back to their employees. He observes:
“In New York, the owners like to treat their people well. They may not be able to send them all to NAEC, but they can say, ‘Hey, go on over there [to the showcase] and eat, drink and see a lot of product.’”
Many do exactly that. Earlier this year, the showcase drew approximately 800 attendees, from managers in suits to laborers in hardhats. “Last year, we moved a few of the exhibits into the dining hall due to space running out in the main hall, and I think that worked out well,” DeFrancesco says. Indeed, this past year, many visitors on their way into and out of the dining hall were compelled to stop and see what the booths there had to offer. Exhibitor space at the showcase is spoken for almost immediately, and, whether rain, snow, or sleet, turnout is always impressive.
Each year, ECNY bestows US$30,0000–US$45,000 in scholarship money to the children and grandchildren of those in the industry. “I wish we could give out more in scholarship money,” DeFrancesco states. “There are so many smart, young people.”
The main change DeFrancesco has observed in the industry is the pervasiveness of technology, not only in equipment, but also in communications. It is a double-edged sword, he says. While he is fascinated by emerging technology such as MRL elevators, he is dismayed that emails and texts often take the place of actual conversation.
Indeed, if one sends DeFrancesco a text or an email, he or she will most likely receive a phone call back. “With emails and texts, the progress is quick, but you lose that bond that comes with talking to someone,” he opines.
DeFrancesco finds NAEC membership and all it entails invaluable. The business and personal relationships he has built through the years mean yearly dues “are worth every penny,” he says. “It’s like money in the bank.” NAEC members who are traveling always have a friend, he observes, recalling a couple of instances that illustrate this. Members have taken fellow members’ children to hospitals in emergencies (once after a scooter accident in Bermuda and another after a car accident in Chicago), and helped secure jobs for colleagues, relatives and friends.
At his first NAEC expo, DeFrancesco didn’t know a soul. He said as a young, first-time exhibitor, he was taken under the wing of industry icons such as the late Joe Marchese, who was ready and willing to make introductions and ensure DeFrancesco wasn’t alone at events such as the welcome breakfast. Today, DeFrancesco does the same thing for members of the up-and-coming generation, letting them know, for example, whom they should meet in New York City and making introductions. “Relationships matter,” he says.
Besides Marchese and his family, other industry people who have helped and inspired DeFrancesco include Richard Faiello, Kenneth Breglio, Gene Frohlinger, Lou Persico, the Glaser brothers, Stan McDonald and the late Frank Riley.
About Family, Fun and Awards
DeFrancesco and his wife of 45 years, Elaine, live in Country Club, Bronx, on Long Island Sound. They have a daughter, Elaine Theresa, who is a physical therapist at Helen Hayes Hospital in Haverstraw, New York, and son-in-law Matthew. Elaine Theresa and Matthew have twin boys, R.J. and Dom. DeFrancesco says that when he and his wife are not babysitting the boys, they enjoy tropical vacations, casinos and Broadway plays.
Among DeFrancesco’s many involvements and achievements: 1998–2001, NAEC convention host; 2000–2002, Elevator World, Inc. Safety Task Force Committee member; 1998, NAEC Exhibit Committee chair; 2000, Supplier Committee chair; 2002, NAEC President’s Award recipient; and 2008, William C. Sturgeon Distinguished Service Award recipient.
There is no question DeFrancesco has distinguished himself in the industry and will continue to do so. He states:
“What I like about the elevator industry is the unbelievable camaraderie. A lot of times we’re in competition with one another. You put a bid in, and somebody wins the bid. But, at the end of the day, you have a drink at the bar together. You learn from one another and, at some point, may go on to need a favor from one another.
“My claim to fame in this industry is I made lifelong friends.”