Big Wheel

Turning the wheels of progress or his motorcycle, Mandeville keeps on turning

by Rosie Wolf Williams

mandeville-2014In his position as executive director of the Lamoille Economic Development Corp., John Mandeville uses his experience in publishing, marketing, franchise sales, student recruitment, small-business development, and, yes, interior decorating.

Mandeville networks relentlessly, bringing together companies, education, and funding.

The wheels are always turning for John Mandeville, and that is how he likes it. His position as executive director of the Lamoille Economic Development Corp. takes full advantage of his creativity, logic, and skill as a networker. When he isn’t working at his 650-square-foot office in Morrisville, Mandeville is happy on two wheels — a Kawasaki Concours Sport-Touring bike, to be exact.

He proudly claims to have been one of the organizers of Road Pitch, a project with Cairn Cross of FreshTracks Capital involving a motorcycle tour over four days, with opportunities for entrepreneurs to give pitches to venture capitalists at each stop. It became a media darling and will be an annual event.

A California native, Mandeville began his life road trip from his hometown of Fresno. He graduated from California State University, Fresno in 1972, taking with him with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts (dance and drama), and Joyce, then his wife of two years.

“We went to high school together but never dated. In fact, we didn’t much like each other in high school.” Mandeville says with a laugh. “We happened to have a health science class together, and the rest is history. We’ll be married 45 years this year.”

Mandeville’s work at the college bookstore was his entrance into the publishing world. He took to the road as a sales rep for Medical & Technical Books Inc. in Santa Monica, covering 13 western states and the western provinces of Canada.

After two years, he was hired to work in MacMillan’s textbook division, and he and Joyce moved to New York. “We drove cross-country in our little Toyota with our cat in the back seat, and a sewing machine because Joyce wanted something to do in the apartment.”

A year later, Mandeville went to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich as an acquisitions editor, but was soon hired by Longman, a British publishing house, as director of marketing for its U.S. operations. Pergamon Press hired him away from Longman, and Mandeville became vice president of North American marketing. When he left Pergamon Press in the fall of 1979 to start his own consulting firm, he had just turned 30.

J.T. Mandeville Publishing Associates Inc. did well at its Manhattan location. But Mandeville watched the consolidation of the publishing world and didn’t like what he was seeing. In 1986, the Mandevilles moved back to California, where he became vice president of corporate development at Krames Communications, a publisher of patient education materials such as guidebooks and audio and videotapes.

When the company was acquired and Mandeville’s position was dissolved, the family moved to the Sierra Nevada foothills, and he restarted the consulting firm, calling it Gold Country Associates Inc. But he spotted an opportunity just two months later. He bought the Central California regional franchise for Decorating Den, an international interior design franchise organization. Soon he was so busy with Decorating Den, he never pushed to get the consulting firm off the ground.

“I didn’t necessarily have a strong attachment to the field of interior decorating, but it was interesting. Would I have done it if it were some other type of widget? Probably. It was viable.”

Mandeville learned valuable selling skills that have continued to serve him in every position he has held. “I remember [the owner of Decorating Den] saying, ‘Selling is an attitude more than anything else.’ As long as you have the right kind of feeling about it, you know it is going to work. I won three national awards for selling franchises for that organization. My attitude was that I assumed the sale.”

He left Decorating Den in 1992. “This was just before the economy hit the skids in the early 1990s. I thought it was time to get out of the business. I got out intact, and was hired, interestingly enough, by a company back in my hometown.”

That company was Rug Doctor, which hired him as director of its franchise division. After a year he became director of international sales, while winding down the franchise division. “A year after that they came to me and asked me if I would be interested in running their European subsidiary,” he says.

Mandeville moved his family to England in 1994. Again, he found himself in the car, driving to various locations around Europe for business. In 2000, when daughter Amy accepted a job as lead reporter for the Hardwick Gazette in Vermont, they realized that Vermont was their next stop. Mandeville left Rug Doctor, moved his family to East Hardwick, and took on the role of manager with the New England Culinary Institute, doing student recruitment.

In 2005 he was hired by the Vermont Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in St. Johnsbury to serve as business adviser for the Northeast Kingdom and Lamoille County. In 2007, he became president of Northern Community Management Corp., a property management firm. Nine months after hiring Mandeville, it closed. Mandeville was hired by the Incubator Without Walls program, a joint effort between Lyndon State College and the SBDC.

Art Sanborn, then LEDC’s executive director, knew Mandeville professionally through the SBDC. Sanborn planned to retire, and in February 2010, he called Mandeville about applying for his position. He was chosen from three finalists.

“Our mandate, at its most basic, is job creation and job retention,” says Mandeville. “We lend support in any way we can to start-up businesses, by assisting existing businesses that are looking to grow, or businesses that may be thinking about moving into the area. We have a lot of partnerships within the community, and certainly the state and the feds, that we bring into play as needed. What I do is matchmaking.”

Mandeville networks relentlessly, bringing together companies, education, and funding. He helps with grant writing, permitting assistance, regulatory help, and much more — all out of his tiny office in Morrisville. He writes ads and press releases, and does all of the marketing necessary for the 501(c)(4) corporation. He also conducts an eight-part series of workshops on basic business skills.

“Access to capital is the biggest issue that any small business has, whether they are trying to start up or trying to grow. We are to a large degree, a very well-kept secret,” Mandeville says. “We are one-stop shopping. You need something, call us. The majority of what we do is free of charge. There has been talk and some legislation to create what the state is referring to as a one-stop shopping portal online. We already exist — we are the boots on the ground. I can’t think of anything of a business nature that I can’t help with in some way, either directly or by referral.”

Mandeville helped Brice Simon, CEO of Vermont Peanut Butter Co. Inc. to obtain financing. “John assisted us with reaching out to potential investors and connecting us with business services through the LEDC. John has been a supportive and informative advocate for the success of small businesses in this county during his tenure.”

Mandeville was appointed to the Vermont Agricultural and Forest Products development board, and LEDC is involved with agriculture and value-added food production facilities in the area. “We found out about an organization, yourfarmstand.com, out of Charlotte that had put together a concept of online farmers’ markets. We set up a meeting and talked to them, and we are now running three online farmers’ markets in the area.”

An annual grant from the Agency of Commerce provides the bulk of LEDC income. This year’s grant is $104,000. “We have other sources of income,” explains Mandeville. “Approximately 70 corporate members pay an annual fee to belong to the LEDC, plus, every town in Lamoille County pays an annual payment to us. We own a business incubator building in the Cambridge Industrial Park, so we get some rental income from that.”

Despite a full schedule with LEDC, he teaches small business classes as an adjunct professor at Johnson State College, and is a board member on the local Workforce Investment Board. He believes there should be more emphasis on workforce development for future needs: implementing training for the next generation of employees. He was just elected vice chair of the regional advisory boar of the Green Mountain Technology & Career Center in Hyde Park.

“The impetus has to come from a full understanding and implementation of what skill sets are going to be needed,” he says. “Not now, but five to 10 years from now. It is difficult for employers to fill positions. The people that are unemployed don’t have the skill sets for those particular positions. It is a dilemma. We need to have a better understanding and support for those things, and for the businesses.”

Along with turning the wheels of progress, Mandeville is passionate about clocking hours on his motorcycle. He holds a national certification through the Motorcyclists Safety Foundation and teaches novice motorcyclist classes on occasion for the state of Vermont.

Jim Black, the board president of the LEDC, took the motorcycle course from Mandeville. “I took the course, and then he helped me find a motorcycle,” Black says. “It is his nature to [help others].

“There is a French term négociant in the wine world. It is a person who negotiates with the growers of the grapes and the people who actually make the wine. I think of John as a négociant: He is really good at bringing different groups of people together, connecting them, and making things happen.” •