Raymond H. Vise, who died on Thursday at 89, was a longtime Swank executive. He joined the company in October, 1938, as a sales trainee in Buffalo.
This story first appeared in the May 25, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Vise left the company to serve in World War II, flying C-47 cargo planes in the Pacific from 1942 until the end of the war. He then returned to Swank as a full-fledged salesman, and rose through the ranks from regional manager in the New York City area to national sales manager. When he retired in 1987 and moved to Irvine, Calif., he was the equivalent of a senior vice president, the number-two person in the company, noted Swank Inc. chief executive officer John Tulin, whose father, Marshall, was also a top executive with the company.
“He very much felt that he didn’t want to be Willy Loman, he wanted to retire at the peak of his game,” Tulin said. “He didn’t want to have anybody say, ‘It’s too bad what happened to Ray.’ What he didn’t realize was that he would be at the top of his game until 2011.
“The thing about Ray that always struck me the most was that, as he got older, he never stopped thinking young,” Tulin added. “He never got nostalgic about the good old days; he was always excited about what was coming next. He was creative and intellectually curious. Although [he was] a man in his 80s, he never changed.”
Vise was elected a director of the company in 1963, and he remained on the board until his death. “He was as sharp as they come,” Tulin said. “He was on the phone constantly. He was a thoughtful, caring director. He was a very strong-willed, tough guy and had no problem telling you exactly what was on his mind. He specialized in constructive criticism.”
While it can be difficult for executives to accept criticism, Tulin acknowledged, they would always listen to Vise because of the stature he had. “Everybody misses him,” he said. “I had great love for the man; he was not a run-of-the-mill guy. Very much self-made, self-taught and tempered by the war experience.”
Tulin recalled a story that Vise had told him about the war. It seems that pilots were forbidden to apply the brakes on a plane at any time during takeoff. At one point, however, Vise was accused of doing exactly that and was called before a panel. “Ray told them it was impossible for him to reach the brakes because he was only five five or five six, and he couldn’t reach them without a cushion behind his back, and he only put a cushion behind his back when he was landing,” Tulin said. “So he couldn’t have applied the brakes during takeoff.”
Vise is survived by his four children, Ronald, Bonnie, Jeremy and Deidre.