by Fred Seely, Editor
Charlie Clark is 80 and says he's taking it easy. "Went to the mountains and saw the leaves. Spectacular," he said, sitting at his "office," which these days is a table at Barnes and Noble in the St. Johns Town Center.
Going to the North Carolina mountains is a big trip these days for Clark, a man who has spent much of his 80 years on airplanes to help people market their land and homes. Along the way, he became the man who probably should be credited with founding the Sales and Marketing Councils in this country.
"Flying wore me down," he says. "One year, I was in an airplane for 300 days. One trip went from Jacksonville to Tucson to Chicago to Minneapolis to Atlanta to Jacksonville. Left Monday, back Friday.
"I did so much business with Delta that they sent a guy down from Atlanta to present me with a pin saying I was now a 'Flying Colonel.'"
Most of his trips now are by car and earlier this month he and wife Trudy went four hours to St. Petersburg, and they came back with an award that denoted a huge honor: membership in the Florida Housing Hall of Fame, given during the FHBA's annual Fall Conference. Only 11 others from Northeast Florida have been so honored, and only 64 from the entire state.
This is no insignificant honor. It is widely viewed as the highest accolade for anyone associated with the Florida Home Builders Association and entry is not given lightly. Some years only one makes it. This year there are two, Clark and Miami's Richard Horton.
"It was an honor to be nominated," said Clark. "I heard I was considered last year and didn't get it. Thought that might be the end of that. But then Rita called in August..."
That would be Rita Williams, the Jacksonville merchandising ace who also is in the Hall of Fame and who was on the selection committee.
She had good news: Clark was elected by the 12-person committee.
Which begs the questions. Who's Charlie Clark? What did he do to deserve it?
"I'm just a Jacksonville boy who got interested in housing," he said, answering the first question. As for the second: "I listened, learned and was able to pass that information along to others."
He dwelt on the second.
"I put full credit for this award to all the people who educated me," he said. "I'm a sponge. What goes in, stays in. Listen and learn, and have the ability to repeat it."
He started as a salesman for an Orlando developer in 1963, getting a big break when he was assigned to a Cocoa development that paralleled the NASA expansion at Cape Kennedy. His company sent him to the National Home Builders Association convention in Chicago and there he met some of the industry heavyweights.
"They showed me how to market homes," said Clark.
In 1969, he and Trudy moved back to Jacksonville and he became a consultant, first with a partner and then on his own. He's advised developers of most of this area's big properties and he's done business in just about every other state.
"Can't recall a job in the Dakotas or Montana," he said. "Been there, but they don't build many hours in those states."
A major deal was in England. A company flew him over for a three-day look-see, liked what they saw and brought him back, and the company became that nation's biggest builder.
He also made sure he gave back to the industry and that was a major factor in his Hall of Fame honor.
"I got interested in the NAHB and went to just about every convention," he said. "I chaired the Public Relations Committee for a while. Served on a big committee that examined out nation's infrastructure. We found out that it was lousy and couldn't be fixed, but that's a story for another time."
He attracted the attention of NAHB leaders and he was asked to help with a major initiative: getting younger members.
"I went with the big shots to 15 key cities across the country to get younger people involved," he said. Out of it came what then was called the Sales Managers Club — he became the president — and today are the Sales and Marketing Councils.
"It gave them an avenue for better educational opportunities," said Clark. They also got a first-hand tutorial. "I bet I spoke at every one of them," said Clark.
He probably did and that's one reason he was in St. Petersburg last month, walking to a stage to accept an award while several hundred people stood and applauded.
That won't be the end of Clark's career. He's still in demand as a speaker — most recently, at the Jacksonville SMC meeting earlier this month — and he still advises people on how better to market their products.
"Guess I won't slow down too much," he said, but pointed out one difference between then and now.
"No necktie, no socks," he said. "I always said I'd someday be able to go to work without a tie, and I also said that I wouldn't wear socks, either."
So there he sat: no tie, no socks. But, when your office is in the cafe at Barnes and Noble, there's no dress code, either.