by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
I first met Carl Austin when I started doing work for Schwarze Industries in 1988. Initially, I found Carl to be friendly and willing to answer questions when I had them. After that, it didn’t take long until I learned to respect the class and professionalism Carl always represented.
It is difficult enough trying to sum up the life of someone with a few paragraphs. This is made even more difficult when I’m writing about someone like Carl, with whom I had both a business and personal relationship. As a result, it is very hard to decide which features about him are important to others in the industry who knew Carl well or, alternatively, only as a result of their sweeper purchases from Schwarze Industries, Inc.
Carl’s introduction to power sweeping came when he found himself the personal banker of Bob Schwarze, founder of Schwarze Industries, Inc. There is no question that Carl was instrumental in helping the Schwarze family’s financial picture as they struggled to grow their burgeoning company. I know that Carl put his own reputation on the line more than once to keep the sweeper company financed.
As it turned out, Carl Austin’s involvement was a great stroke of luck for the Schwarze family – and for the fledgling parking area sweeping industry. (Carl never did like the term parking ‘lot’ sweeping. He had me change ‘lot’ to ‘area’ whenever he spotted the use of the term on Schwarze literature and when he proofed the initial Schwarze.com website I designed and coded…)
“Carl’s knowledge of the banking system was a great help to get the start-up Schwarze Industries, Inc. off the ground successfully,” said Mark Schwarze, Bob’s son and subsequent founder of Victory Sweepers, Inc. “I don’t believe dad would have made it without the efforts of Carl Austin. Carl took the time to learn about the sweeping business so he could procure the financing lines the start-up sweeper manufacturing company required. Remember, Bob wanted money to make a product for an industry that barely even existed at the time.”
Once Schwarze Industries grew sufficiently, Bob Schwarze sold his parking lot sweeping business so he could concentrate all efforts into building sweepers. As he learned more about the profit potential in parking area sweeping, Carl eventually quit his bank job and bought Bob’s old sweeping company from the folks Bob had initially sold it to. During Carl’s stint as a sweeping contractor in the mid 1970s he provided services to the Birmingham, Alabama, area.
Carl also had interest in working with other contractors to form an association designed to develop sweeping best practices and standards. He could see early on that the industry would grow into a substantial one in the U.S., and wanted to do what he could to help in that growth.
In the mid-70s, Carl was one of the individuals who met together in the Los Angeles area to discuss what might be done in terms of starting a sweeping association. Others in the founding group included Bob Schwarze, Larry Dyck of MASCO; and, contractors Roy Bain and Jim Mills, among others. The result was called the ‘Contract Sweeping Institute,’ which operated for a few years before being disbanded in favor of another group called ‘National Contract Sweepers Institute,’ which was affiliated with the National Solid Wastes Management Association.
Over the long term, though, the contracting business didn’t provide the type of business stimulation Carl wanted. So, after operating his sweeping company for a few years, he sold it. Carl then had a short stint of working for General Products, a company owned by Jim Adair’s father-in-law. (When this article was written in early 2013, Jim Adair had worked for Schwarze Industries, Inc. for over 30 years, where he was a senior manager with the current Schwarze organization, which is now an Alamo Group-owned company.)
When Bob asked Carl to come on board at Schwarze Industries as purchasing agent, Carl jumped at the opportunity. After getting the purchasing department organized and running smoothly, Austin became Schwarze’s sales manager and trainer for all new sales hires. These individuals included a number of long-term members of Schwarze’s sales team, including Tommy Allen (founder of Used Sweepers of America), Raymond Massey, Mike West, Ricky Hyatt, Clark Word and probably 20 other individuals who sold for Schwarze through the years.
In that position, Carl’s professionalism helped the company really get rolling as a force in the industry. He impacted both the professionalism of the sales team and, with his keen eye for detail and long time love of vehicles, he also impacted in a very positive way the quality of workmanship in the Schwarze line.
“Something Carl would not put up with was poor workmanship or customer service in any form,” said Mark Schwarze. “I’ve heard him raise the roof, both internally and externally, when it came to customer service. That is no doubt one of the character traits that made Carl such an asset as a trainer. However, for whatever reason, if we bought and distributed 20 new computers at Schwarze you could bet Carl would have the ONLY one that malfunctioned!”
Tommy Allen, former Schwarze Sales Manager and Used Equipment Manager, credits Carl Austin for being his primary mentor. “Carl hired me as a salesperson when I was in my early 20s,” reminisced Tommy. “I was very fortunate to have been around him at that age, looking back on it.
“The feature about Carl that I believe best described him on a day-in and day-out basis is that he was ‘the voice of reason.’ He was that for all of us; for me, for Mark and Bob Schwarze, and for others in the company. He was a mentor to many. When someone got emotional about some issue and were set to run off and act on those emotions, Carl was the person who would calm you down and bring you back to being more calm and finding a better solution.”
There’s no question that Carl was forever an advocate for taking the high ground in any situation. “‘If you mess-up, fess-UP!’ was one of Carl’s MANY sayings,” said Mark Schwarze. “In retrospect, I wish I would have listened to him even more than I did. Carl was always the mender of fences between me – the idealist but immature sweeper company president who wanted to fight more than to win – and others in the industry. I feel a majority of my good relationships with other sweeper manufacturers is due to Carl always reminding me to be nice and treat them like you would want to be treated, instead of taking a hard line with them because I could do so in some particular situation.
While at Schwarze Carl also pioneered a number of value-added programs for the manufacturer. He brokered scrap sales and worked on expanding into foreign markets, where he brokered deals that resulted in Schwarze sweepers being sold to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Australia, Japan and China. Carl also coordinated large truck purchases and, as needed, worked direct sales’ positions and dealer sales’ positions depending upon where extra effort was required. By this time, Mark Schwarze had taken over operation of the Schwarze Industries manufacturing effort.
“Carl liked variety in his jobs so I always tried to give him projects rather than positions,” said Mark Schwarze. “So, although Carl was Schwarze’s direct Sales Manager for several years, at the same time he assisted in coordinating several trade shows and most of the Schwarze Roundups.
“Carl taught me how to handle people, from employees to customers and especially bankers. He was very outspoken with his opinion on product changes regardless of how the idea sat with me or engineering. And, when an idea would pop up on a competitive sweeper Carl would gladly point what a great idea that was!”
Adds Tommy Allen, “For me, personally, Carl filled in a lot of gaps in terms of things my parents should have taught me but didn’t. In addition to salesmanship, Carl taught me how to comport myself in life, as well as provided the mentorship I needed in a variety of other areas. Over time, Carl and I became best friends. He taught me values that I treasure to this day, and which I have passed along to my own kids.
“Carl had a lot of life wisdom and that dictated how he acted and reacted around everyone. You could learn many positives just by being around him. In the end those were more important than the fact he was a banker, or a sweeper guy, or a lover of airplanes, cars and auctions and much more. He brought his unique perspective to all of those and his many positive traits brought added value to all he was involved with.
“That’s one of the reasons that Carl was respected by all of the employees of the other sweeper manufacturing companies, not just the ones at Schwarze. Carl viewed everyone as someone he could like, that they were good people, and that he would like to know them better. As a result, everyone liked him in return. Carl had a very clear and level-headed understanding of life and I’m glad to have been one of those people he shared that with.”
“It was, as I recall, 1990 when we all learned in the year-end speech to employees that Schwarze Industries had made only $13,000 throughout that entire year. However, that was the year that Carl worked with you, Ranger, to get the S-series professional sales program up and operational and that’s when the growth of the company really took off. After that time is when Schwarze Industries really became a force in the overall sweeping business.”
Raymond Massey, who has held a number of management positions with Schwarze Industries, Inc. over almost 20 years, worked with Carl Austin for the majority of that time. “Carl was a class act, there’s no two ways about it,” said Massey. “That was the case on both a personal and a business level.
“I met Carl Austin on my first day at work at Schwarze, on July 20th, 1994. Carl knew my dad, who was at one time a dealer for Schwarze Industries, as well as through his long time of being a sweeping contractor. Carl taught me a lot, on the topic of professional sales as well as how to treat people and how to be a professional person. My life definitely benefited in many ways from my relationship with Carl.
“Carl was the master when it came to used sweepers. He knew the right price the company could pay, one that would be good for the customer, as well. Over 20 years ago he also came up with a depreciation schedule for sweepers. It is still in use today, not only by our direct sales force but also by the Schwarze dealer network. His schedule makes it very fair to all parties.”
Carl also was the primary author of the white paper that is today on the World Sweeping Association website. The document, which is freely available, provides a detailed analysis on how to assess a used sweeper prior to purchase.
There’s no question that Carl had a significant impact to the sweeping industry in USA. What many don’t know about is Carl’s impact elsewhere. Malcolm Cameron, Schwarze Industries’ International Business Manager, wrote to point out how well Carl Austin was known and respected in other parts of the world.
“I first met Carl when he came to Australia with Mark Schwarze in 1999,” said Cameron. “They came to oversee the start of Schwarze Industries in Australia, and to set up the manufacturing at James Engineering in Brisbane. Schwarze Industries’ Australia grew from those early days into a major sweeper supplier in Australia and throughout Asia.
“Carl was responsible for export sales for Schwarze and, as our exports from Australia grew, I had an increasing amount of contact with him. Always helpful and courteous, Carl’s knowledge of sweepers and sweeper dealers throughout the world was of great help.
“Whenever I was in Huntsville, even after Carl left Schwarze, it was po’boys for dinner and often we then went off for a little jaunt around the Alabama skies in one of his airplanes. Or, we took a drive through the hills of his childhood or a runabout on the lake. Whatever we did together, it was always the highlight of my trip to the states. Everything was inevitably accompanied by hilarious tales Carl told on himself, reminiscing about being a barefoot boy fishing, hunting or running moonshine. I also heard a few outrageous stories of his Vietnam service. He flew from the Scottsboro Aero Club and was proud of their motto, ‘We can land anywhere… once.’
“I will deeply miss his phone calls and e-mails with jokes and gossip. Schwarze dealers in Kuwait, Egypt, Ireland and the Philippines have told me of their sadness when hearing of his death.”
“Carl Austin was epitome of a down-home Southern gentleman,” added Raymond Massey. “Carl didn’t need any accolades to be about him, personally. He just enjoyed life and enjoyed people all together. At the same time, Carl really knew how to have and share fun. I’ll never forget the day Carl returned from Saudi Arabia and came into work at Schwarze in full Saudi Arabian formal wear regalia, complete with sword.”
Through my own 20+ years of knowing Carl, I also saw many instances of his professionalism as well as his penchant for having fun – as well as his ability to provide it to others. One time I came back from Unclaimed Baggage, which is located not far from the Schwarze factory, with several colorful reggae-type knitted caps with strands of hair sewn onto the back. Carl just had to have one. He kept it in one of his desk drawers for years and pulled it out every once in awhile, to the astonished amusement of customers and others.
Carl served in Vietnam, though seldom talked about it. He was a crew chief and survived one battle by removing the wounded pilot and taking over just about the time the other pilot died. “Carl said he didn’t have much stick time but he said that he flew great that day,” said Mark Schwarze. “When he told me that story he smiled, got a little choked up and moved to another subject. I know Carl always paid for the food of a fellow soldier in uniform if he could, something I still try and do to this day.”
Concluded Mark Schwarze: “I’d have to say that Carl Austin was like a second dad to me. I haven’t had many great friends but Carl Austin will always be remembered as definitely being one of them. I spoke with Carl about two weeks before he died and he was thanking God for being as well off as he was. He told me about a 20-year-old girl who had had a stroke and was paralyzed. He quickly summed it all up by saying ‘Boudreaux, we ain’t got problems. The last time I checked, I got to breathe today …for which I AM THANKFUL!’ I know I speak for many people around the world when I say that I miss Carl for many, many reasons.”
Ronald Mclean, formerly with Schwarze Australia and now a sweeper salesperson for Rosmech, wrote to say: “I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Carl and spending 2 days with him and everything said in this tribute is true of this man. I was on business from Australia with Malcolm Cameron who introduced us and I felt an immediate connection with a rare and sadly disappearing breed of men.
“In 2 days I was taken to the Jack Danial’s distillery and we also toured the back blocks of where Carl grew up and we got lost is a fog from hell in the hills while trying to locate some of his family still living out there. The conversations were never ending and stories never dull and he showed a genuine interest in my world down under in Oz. What a gentleman and fair dinkum bloke as we would say where I come from.”
To commemorate Carl Austin’s extensive contribution to the power sweeping industry, he has been made a Lifetime Achievement Member of the World Sweeping Association. It seems only fitting to end this article with the words Carl told me so many times when I, and others, would take leave of him: “See you later, boudreaux.”
If you have stories or reminisces of Carl Austin, you are encouraged to add them to the comments section of this article. Feel free also to use the contact form shown for any questions or to contact the World Sweeping Association office.