Profiles: Richard Seifert
Founder, L-S Distributors
No Accounting for this Graduate's Business Success
Richard Seifert is a born-and-raised San Franciscan. He attended Lowell High School, and after graduation he was diagnosed with arthritis of the spine, and when radiation treatments accidentally spread the arthritis to his hips and knees, he began a stay of nearly two years in the hospital at UCSF. When he was finally released, doctors advised him to find work that would allow him to sit for most of the day, and he enrolled in Golden Gate College, which was known for its law school and school of accountancy; he thought being a CPA would be a good sit-down job.
Richard arrived at Golden Gate College on crutches; he would use crutches for the next twenty years. The daytime program had classes in English, history, law, liberal arts, and various specializations. Richard took those classes, as well as classes in sales, economics, personnel administration, and French. As a student, Richard worked as a teaching assistant in the English department. He still has a letter of recommendation from Dean Frederick Feied, who described Richard as "of the highest character". The letter is one of the many mementos Richard treasures from that period.
In his final year at Golden Gate, Richard found himself as president of the student body. After the election he set out to make some changes. Classrooms were located on the second floor of the YMCA, and on the ground floor were offices, a bookstore, caf, and a lobby with wide-open space. Richard roused support and funding to establish a student lounge in the large open area and furnished it with sofas, tables, and chairs. It became a popular area. He organized doughnut and coffee breaks to give students the opportunity to socialize. He also invited the Marine Marching Band to play for students at an assembly.
Richard graduated with honors with a B.B.A. in accounting in 1958. During his last year at Golden Gate the "big five" accounting firms came to campus to interview graduating students. He was hired by Lybrand, Ross Brothers, and Montgomery as a junior accountant.
Richard longed to be an auditor. His goal was to become a CPA, and working as an auditor would give him the required two years needed to complete the CPA exam. On his first day he discussed his goals with a woman in the human resources department. She explained that the firms auditors were required to go out in the field and meet with clients at their places of business. The firm had clients statewide, and she informed him that he could not do the job while on crutches. Richard kept his thoughts to himself but it was a challenge not to blurt out his standard, "Do not tell me what I can and can't do."
After a few unhappy years, Richard decided he needed a change and let other people know he was looking for opportunities outside of the accounting field. He was looking for opportunities and new experiences. A former classmate from Golden Gate told Richard about a small company that was looking for a bookkeeper. "The proprietor was a crusty old man," he recalls. His first and only interview question was, "Do you have a pen?" Richard looked at his future boss and answered, "I have a pen. I have an eraser. And I have a ruler. You wouldn't expect a plumber to come without his tools would you?" The owner smiled and gave him the job at Golden Gate News.
Eventually, while still working at Golden Gate News as a bookkeeper, Richard got a phone call that would change his professional life forever: it was the country circulation manager of the New York Times. They were looking for a new distributor in the San Francisco Bay Area. The requirement was to pick up the newspapers that were flown in daily from New York and distribute them to local retailers. As the man was speaking, Richard thought, "I can do that!"
He spoke to the owner of Golden Gate News, Lou Swift, and together they formed L-S Distributors. There was a big learning process involved, but Richard he knew he had the ability to succeed. The first order of business was to buy a fleet of trucks, lease a warehouse, and hire newspaper drivers who were members of the Teamsters union. Richard joined as well and was happy to find himself such a far cry from the isolation of the tax desk.
As Richard's new business expanded, he found himself falling back on his education. His experience at Golden Gate had left him well-rounded. He had taken business, marketing, and sales classes. On-the-job experience enabled him to make the tough decisions, but Richard credits his education with enabling him to run his business effectively. The classes he took in accounting, law, business, and personnel all benefited his business.
Richard had started L-S Distributors with two employees. Thirty years later there were seventy-five employees and the company included a marketing department, an accounting department, a computer department, drivers, warehouse personnel, and outside sales representatives. At its peak, L-S Distributors carried 35,000 titles from every major American publisher and from selected small and university presses, as well as audio books and calendars. The company distributed to fourteen western states and was the largest book distributor in California.
When Richard sensed changes coming in the book and magazine industries in 1999, he decided it was time to retire. Richard says that he loved and enjoyed every single day of his job. He had a great team of people to work with and his line of work allowed him to meet celebrities, first ladies, presidents, and well-known authors. He is especially proud that he helped authors determine how to distribute their books.