Long-time Weehawken resident R.E. "Bobby" Heyman is not your average 82-year-old.
Heyman is a renowned chef and former New York restaurateur who used to cook meals for former speaker of the House Tip O'Neill. He is a collector of fine Asian artifacts and trinkets and is developing a website to feature that collection. He is an author, an inventor, a thinker. And don't dare try to tell him that he's getting old or losing his touch.
Being active is what Bobby Heyman is all about.
"I've always been a go-getter," Heyman said. "I'm always on the go."
For 55 years, much of that energy was spent in the business world, as a managerial consultant and executive salesman who sold MRO (Maintenance and Repair Operating) office supply materials to major companies throughout the country.
Heyman would take the time to do a thorough inventory on a certain company, from top to bottom, and then write a report telling them how to save money throughout the company.
"I would get a price on everything and catalog it," Heyman said. "I would go to the warehouse costs, the distribution costs, the packaging, the purchasing and point out the real costs. Most companies don't realize how much they spend or where their money goes. I would then suggest cost reductions of major proportions."
Heyman had many extensive accounts throughout the 60s and 70s.
"I did over $1 million with American Airlines," Heyman said. "Eastern Airlines was a $9 million account. Western Union was $15 to $18 million. My biggest client was New York University. I dealt with the people in NYU for almost 40 years."
For most of that time, Heyman worked for a company that he helped to build, American Business Group, and remained with them as a senior vice-president until the company went out of business in 1982. However, Heyman's relationship with his clients remained strong and he carried them as he moved on to work for other firms.
In 1989, Heyman went to work for a Whippany-based company called Corporate Express, whose national headquarters are in Broomfield, Colorado. For Heyman, he felt it was business as usual, just with a different affiliation.
"I was getting new business all the time," Heyman said. "I was making presentations to companies like Lehman Brothers, and I got a contract with Parsons Brinkerhoff."
"He was the company's biggest salesman when Bobby was 74, 75 and 76 years old," said Hoboken-based attorney Peter van Schaick. "He earned anywhere between $150,000 to $200,000 per year in commissions."
Time for a change
However, in February, 1998, the powers-that-be at Corporate Express decided that they wanted to make a change.
"My manager, Jim Felder, came to my house and told me that Roger Post, our senior sales executive VP, wanted to use the budget dollars for a younger go-getter," Heyman said. "I knew I didn't have long to go, so I wanted to work out some deal that I could work on a commission with the clients that I had. I still had enough business and friends that I could remain comfortable. I figured if they gave me a package and let me work, then it was all doable."
However, Corporate Express and Post "wanted me gone," according to Heyman.
"They offered me $20,000, but there was going to be no continuance of any kind," Heyman said. "These were my accounts, my friends. They wanted me to turn over my accounts and my commissions. I just got a new client, the Money Store, right before this happened. Citibank was a $1 million client I had for a little less than a year. This was all my work."
In return, all Heyman received was a pink slip.
"They gave me nothing," Heyman said.
For three years, Heyman tried to find someone who would listen to his pleas. Most lawyers turned their backs on him.
"Very few lawyers would take a case like this," van Schaick said. "But I thought it was a good case. Every time I turned over a rock, there was another mess that was consistent with what Bobby had been saying all along. We had documents from corporate executives with major corporations who all praised the work that Bobby did."
Heyman filed suit against Corporate Express and Post for age discrimination.
Last month, the case went to trial in Hudson County Superior Court, with Judge Camille Kenny presiding. After the week-long trial in which several witnesses provided testimony on both sides, a seven member jury found that Corporate Express was guilty of retaliation and age discrimination and awarded Heyman $2.9 million in lost wages and personal hardship.
"I was vindicated," Heyman said. "It made me so happy. I was so embarrassed when I lost the NYU account. These people were like my family. I made dinner for them and ate with them and then I was dishonored. How could that happen?"
As for Corporate Express, a company spokesman said they will go back to court and appeal the decision.
"We strongly disagree with the verdict and fully intend to pursue all legal remedies including appeal based on what we believe are valid grounds for reversing the jury verdict," said Van Hindes, vice president of communications for Corporate Express.
Corporate counsel Linda McConnon, who tried the case, did not return repeated phone calls by press time.
According to reports given to the Security Exchange Commission, Corporate Express has annual sales of $8 billion, $2 billion in assets and $700 million in gross profits. It is currently in the process of moving its New Jersey base from Whippany to Secaucus.
While the case is being appealed, Heyman will not receive any of the award.
"I'm probably not going to live to see a dime of the money," Heyman said. "But it's not about the money for me. I asked the judge if I could address the jury. I stood up and said, 'Thank you for giving me my life back.' That's the way I felt."
With that, Heyman has moved on. He's trying to break into the fish business, selling all varieties of fish to major markets.
At 82, Bobby Heyman's not ready to go away just yet.