Gary Lessing Ewing-Foley Inc., Cupertino, Calif.

You could say sales is in the DNA of this year's GEM Award winner. His father was a salesman for RCA for 43 years. His mom was the department manager for a large JC Penny store. His sister and his two brothers were also in sales with one brother working as an independent manufacturers' rep for a certain well-known rep agency in northern California.

So maybe it isn't all that surprising that the winner of the 2009 GEM Award, Gary Lessing, has spent close to 28 years with Ewing-Foley, Cupertino, Calif. After completing college at the University of Utah and enjoying a few years of skiing, waiting tables and playing guitar, he decided to put on a tie and start going out on job interviews in the business world. Although his brother Bob may have been a little surprised that his younger brother was giving up the good life, he got him an interview at Ewing-Foley.

Peter Ewing, winner of the GEM Award in 1998, liked what he saw in Lessing and in 1981 hired him as a salesperson for the company's Sacramento territory. It proved to be a wonderful training ground for a new salesperson, and offered Lessing the chance to rep lines in both the traditional electrical, electronics and datacom markets and to manage a business that Peter Ewing and Dick Foley operated as a separate division of the company.

In 1995, Harris Semiconductor, a line the company represented in Sacramento, was looking to replace its direct sales force in the San Francisco Bay area. The company was interested in the Ewing-Foley sales team, but only if Lessing would move to the Bay Area for one year to serve as a product manager for the line while the new sales team took hold.

Lessing's work was quickly accomplished as it related to Harris, but Peter Ewing had some bigger ideas for him to stay around as it related to the company succession plan. With 15 years of experience running a mini Ewing-Foley in the Sacramento area, Ewing and Foley felt Lessing had all the credentials to lead the entire company forward. In 1999, he became the company's majority shareholder and president/CEO.

Lessing has guided the company into several new markets and technologies. He expanded the firm's market reach in 2000 when Hoffman was looking to make a change from their direct sales office in Washington. He quickly worked out a deal with Rachel Sherwood of Fry Controls, the Hoffman rep in Oregon at the time. Ewing-Foley hired the Hoffman direct employees and assumed their Seattle office. Two of the company's other major lines, Panduit and EGS, were added in subsequent years. Ewing-Foley now employs 23 people in the Pacific Northwest serving the electrical and data markets.

In 2005 Ewing-Foley became a founding partner of InConcert, a software company providing on-line CRM services to the electronic, data, and electrical markets and in 2006 Ewing-Foley became a founding partner in Advance Technology Sales, a supply chain services company providing support to manufacturers and OEMs involved in overseas market activities. Today, Ewing-Foley employs 68 associates operating out of four company-owned facilities.

To manage all this growth, Lessing relies on the lessons learned from key mentors in his career. He counts his father Walter Lessing as his biggest mentor. “He had a wonderful way of dealing with people,” Lessing says. “He was an early disciple of the Dale Carnegie School of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dad always treated the counter man with the same respect as the branch managers. People just liked doing business with him.

“Pete Ewing, Dick Foley and Bob Lessing have also been great mentors for me. I have been lucky to learn the rep business from some of the best. While watching my Dad sell directly for a manufacturer, I never imagined the world of the independent rep. After 28 years, I now can't imagine doing anything else.”