Bob Andelman will never forget that Friday in 2012 when his phone rang at 7 a.m. It was the director of communications for Wawa, the Philadelphia-based gas station and convenience store chain.
The company, the woman told the barely-awake (and therefore slightly annoyed) St. Petersburg writer, was approaching its 50th anniversary, and CEO Howard Stoeckel wanted to commemorate with a book. He’d asked her to reach out.
“He has this book about Home Depot, Built From Scratch, on his desk,” she said to Andelman, “and he keeps telling me he wants to do a book like that. And he really likes this other book, a new one called Fans, Not Customers. And he looks at them and says ‘Oh my God, the same guy wrote both these books that I love!’ ”
Bob Andelman was the guy. And in 2014, he and Stoeckel published The Wawa Way: How a Funny Name and Six Core Values Revolutionized Convenience. Because of the company’s phenomenal growth, a revised version was published recently.
How did a journalist who’d made his name interviewing pop stars and TV actors – for the likes of the St. Petersburg Times, the Tampa Tribune, Tampa Bay Weekly and various regional culture magazines – become one of America’s most popular business co-writers?
It happened because journalists, especially when they aren’t attached full-time to a publication, need to make a living. And so Andelman, starting back in the mid 1980s, took whatever assignments he was offered, covering a wide range of community subjects including government, crime … and business.
“If you’re a writer, I believe you should be able to write about anything,” Andelman, 57, explains. “You should be like a sponge.
“I had no business training. I just asked a lot of questions. The key, to me, became ‘just how do I make this interesting to everybody?’ I just look for the color, and the stuff that would make me stop and go ‘Oh – that’s interesting. I’ll write about that part of it.’”
His first book, Stadium For Rent: Tampa Bay’s Quest for Major League Baseball, was published in 1993. “I started with a story I did for the Tampa Bay Business Journal, about a campaign to sell tickets for a team that didn’t exist, for a stadium that hadn’t been built yet, and someone said ‘You should do a book about this – ‘cause we’re going to get a team.’ I thought well, yeah, OK, I’ll do a book, but I didn’t really see that it was going to be a career.
“But once you have a book, people say ‘He can stay focused long enough to do 300 pages,’ that leads to another one. And the business books fell into place with that. But I got very lucky.”
Andelman’s intended career was as Mr. Media, a name he began using in the 1990s, while he was a regular contributor to a bay area entertainment magazine called Pulse.
He has archived virtually every interview he’s ever done, from all across the cultural spectrum. On his website and his YouTube channel, Andelman’s written profiles and both audio and video conversations – more than 1,000 of them to date – are collected.
He still logs Mr. Media interviews, but the business books pay the rent. The tipping point came in 1997 with Mean Business: How I Save Bad Companies and Make Good Companies Great, a New York Times bestseller he wrote with Albert J. “Chainsaw” Dunlap, credited with (among other things) transformed the once-ailing Scott Paper into a Wall Street success story.
His bibliography (11 books and counting) includes Built From Scratch (with Home Depot co-founders Bernie Marcus & Arthur Blank), Building Atlanta (with African-American business pioneer Herman J. Russell), Fans Not Customers (with Metro Bank UK and Commerce Bank US founder Vernon W. Hill II) and The Profit Zone: Lessons of Strategic Genius from the People Who Created the World’s Most Valued Companies (with Adrian Slywotzky and David Morrison).
The Profit Zone is his most successful book; to date it’s sold more than 100,000 hardcover copies, and has been translated into 15 languages.
Not too shabby for a guy who studied film in college, and who honestly believed he would never make it as an interviewer.
“I didn’t realize I was good at talking to people for several years,” Andelman says. “I always thought I was insanely awkward, and kind of dumb. I felt like I was always asking questions that everybody knew the answer to.”
Much to his surprise, he discovered, he was asking all the right questions.
“It just got easier and easier to talk to people. My wife actually thinks I should be a counselor, because people find it very easy to talk to me now. People just tell me stuff.”