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Bill Anderson: A Story of a Friendship and Community

Bill Anderson was one of those guys who stepped forward as a leader. What he and others brought to this young group of misfits was a smile and an extended hand. He encouraged the new guys; we called it networking. We spent countless hours in hotels and exhibit halls far from home in an effort to help others.

Bill Anderson will always be remembered for his generosity and quick smile. 

The sky was overcast when I woke up that morning. I was concerned that the dark sky might cast an even greater shadow on our gathering group. I knew that people were coming in from all over the country, and I hoped that it wouldn’t be dreary day. As I arrived on the site of our first assembly, I began to see so many familiar faces. There were forced smiles and endless hugs from people, many of whom I have known for nearly 30 years.

Over the next 15 minutes they just kept coming. By about 10 a.m. there were hundreds of people standing on that hill. I glanced back toward the sky after having been so busy shaking hands and hugging the crowd, and noticed that the sky was now a brilliant blue.

A man that I didn’t know personally began to speak. He spoke about this great guy, the one who brought us all together on this now beautiful day. He asked people to shout out a word or three that described our friend. “Generous,” “Fun,” “Food,” “Wine,” “Cheese,” “Loyal Friend,” “Ya Gotta Eat,” “Always Smiling,” “Great Uncle,” were but a small collection of the words that poured from the crowd. As he went on to describe the man we all knew, many of those words surfaced again and again.

When it was time to leave the side of this beautiful tree-covered hill we all quietly, arms around each other, headed back to our cars. We drove only a few miles away to Rancho Las Lomas to talk and share stories about this great guy whom we had all come to know so well… soo well in fact that we would all drop whatever was going on in our own lives to travel to Southern California on a moment’s notice to spend time together in his honor.

I know many posts have been made and articles have been written over the past week about Bill Anderson, whom I considered to be one of my best friends. It seemed, however, like everyone that I met during his memorial service on Sunday, March 22, considered Bill to be one of their best friends too. When the preacher said that at least 60 people had come up to him to tell him that, “Bill Anderson was my best friend!” We realized that Bill had been “cheating” on us all by making everyone feel equally important. Although it seems impossible to have scores of best friends, I think he actually did.

I spent the day with so many great friends, and the stories just kept coming. Many of these people were family, neighbors, and others that one might expect to attend a memorial service for someone truly special. But what struck me was what brought so many of us together so many years ago. There was a reason that such a large and diverse group of people became such friends with this one man.

Bill started out in a small record shop that later morphed into a high-end custom integrated electronics company — company that endured for more than three decades. Along the way he met up with a group of like-minded individuals that wanted something more. As I spoke with one person after another, I found that many of them had gotten to know Bill through the custom electronics industry. When we were young, we were looking for knowledge and insight on how to make our businesses better. We wanted to be able to make a living doing something that we loved. Many of us had backgrounds in music. We were musicians and geeks, and many of us were just lovers of technology.

We met each other at the few industry events, such as CES (Consumer Electronic Show), that happened a couple of times a year back then. We were different than most of the other attendees at those shows; we were entrepreneurs, and we were hungry for information and a sense of belonging that we didn’t really feel from these gatherings.

A group of very highly driven guys raised their hands and stepped out of the crowd. They said that we could form our own organization — one that would work to meet our needs. There was a craving for education and the desire to have a voice in creating what became the custom installation channel. Many of these people gathered in a small hotel ballroom and decided to pool their money and start a trade group, called the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA.) Over the next couple of decades we volunteered not only our money but our time, as well. You could probably put a number on the hundreds of thousands of hours we volunteered collectively, but really the effort is incalculable. We were all caught up in the vision of the founders, and we were unstoppable as a group. We were a bit bold and courageous, and maybe a little rough around the edges, but we were totally willing to take chances for the betterment of the group.

Bill Anderson was one of those guys who stepped forward as a leader. What he and others brought to this young group of misfits was a smile and an extended hand. He encouraged the new guys; we called it networking. We spent countless hours in hotels and exhibit halls far from home in an effort to help others. The old adage, “A rising tied lifts all boats” could be heard throughout those gatherings. We were excited, and we wanted to share what we knew and learn from others like us.

I have been told by some of the newer folks in our industry that they don’t need to be members of a group. We have been told that young people don’t join associations; they are loners. But I personally do not believe that, and after what I witnessed last weekend I would say that we need a sense of community now more than ever. It doesn’t matter that it may be a little raw. It just needs to be real. People respond to smiles and open arms from people who care about helping other people succeed.

I was telling someone that without our shared interests and passion for our industry, I would have never have met so many amazing people. They are the kind of people who will drop everything in their lives to be there for each other and the family of one incredible human being.

Community happens in many ways: schools, clubs and shared interests, and many more, but I would say that it would likely be impossible for so many people from so many places to ever find each other without an association like the one that we built. It’s more than a couple of big shows a year. It’s what we do with the relationships that we develop that really matters.

If we refine our processes as a group to be a corporate machine, we may miss out on one of the greatest benefits of an association, and that is the association part. I have used the word community several times over the past couple of days, but that’s what many of us spoke about this weekend. How else would we have been able to come to know so many great people and develop friendships on this scale that last a lifetime?

Bill Anderson has left us for now. He will always be remembered for his generosity and quick smile. I am honored to have known him.

 Bill Skaer, CEDIA’s 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, currently serves national director of sales for SAE. He is a former CEDIA board member and former co-owner of Eric Grundelman’s Cool AV in Mesquite, TX.