The recent suicide of former Bed Bath & Beyond CFO Gustavo Arnal is causing some of us – at least it’s causing me – to think about another, eerily similar death of someone close to many of us in the home textiles business.
And while this is not something usually shared on platforms like this, it’s hard not to make a connection with the suicide death – also the result of a jump from a New York City building – of former Croscill Home Fashions president David Kahn in 2005.
I didn’t know Gustavo Arnal — and have heard he was a good man – but I did know David Kahn well…or at least I thought I knew him well until he killed himself at age 47.
For those of you who didn’t know David, perhaps because you were not in the industry then or perhaps you’ve never been in the home textiles industry, let me tell you a little bit about him. As a businessman he took over the family curtain and bedding company as a fairly young man and in just a little over a decade he grew it by probably close to ten times in size, expanding its product offerings and merchandise selection far beyond its humble beginnings. (For those of you baffled by the name of the company, the urban legend was that its original products – curtains – were longer than competitors and hence, they crossed the window sill, as in cross-sill. No idea if it’s true but it makes for a great story, don’t you think?)
As talented as David was in building a great company he was just as good at building a wonderful company culture and creating an atmosphere of creativity, innovation and new thinking. He was the one who started putting Croscill shops into department stores, long before the shop-in-shop concept had gone much beyond the vaulted heights of brands like Ralph Lauren.
He took the product coordination strategy to new levels, matching comforter sets to bathroom towels to tablecloths to rugs to lamp shades to home fragrance to wallpaper. Even if you didn’t care for the excesses of matchy-matchy, you had to be impressed at how he pulled it off. He also mentored and led a group of people who helped build Croscill, many of whom are still in the industry doing wonderful things because of their time working with David.
David the businessman was only exceeded by David the person. He was warm, friendly, funny and more than a little eccentric. He was a good husband and a better father. If he talked faster than anybody else in the room it may have been only because he had so much to say and his mind was working so quickly. You may not have agreed with his politics – I sure didn’t – but it never stood in the way of his being a true friend.
David was a great interview when I wrote stories about him and his company. You would ask him a question that required a numerical response and he would answer, “Yeah, 30%…put down 30%.” As seriously as I took journalism those kind of statements never seemed to bother me…even if I often didn’t publish them.
David loved to tell you about the time when he was a kid and went to summer camp. On the first day of the camp season everyone was talking about what their fathers did for a living (back when it was fathers who were the only parents who went to work) and when he told them the family company made bedspreads, they all expected him to pull out the latest fashionable offering. Instead he said he probably had the ugliest bed covering in the bunk: his family gave him the company rejects that they couldn’t sell. They wouldn’t think of giving him the good stuff. A great story.
As open as David was about so much of his life none of us knew – or if some did they never let on – that behind that wonderful persona was a troubled person who was struggling with a lot of private issues. They came to a head when a perfect storm of industry conditions began to impact Croscill’s business. David’s mind worked overtime to try to figure them out and keep the family company, his family of employees and all the friends in the business he had continuing the way things had.
He wasn’t able to do that – at least in his opinion – and after a struggle that most of us never saw coming he took his own life. Perhaps I am sharing too much personal information here but nearly two decades later it seems right, especially in light of this latest tragedy.
To this day, people who worked with David Kahn, who knew him up-close or from afar still talk about him fondly, often sharing funny stories and warm remembrances. How many people have that kind of impact this long after their passing?
This isn’t meant to be a public service message…in fact it’s more about remembering somebody truly special in my life. But if you’re having the kinds of personal problems that get you thinking about suicide, you should find help, from friends, families and professionals.
What David (and Gustavo Arnal too) did seems like not only a terrible choice but a terrible waste as well. It certainly was for David Kahn…and for all of us.