By Jennie Fisher, SVP & GM, OEG, GreatAmerica – We are deeply saddened by the death of Nate Lankford, a long-time member of the GreatAmerica family and a dear friend to many. Nate passed unexpectedly on February 28, 2019, at his home in Colorado.
Nate joined GreatAmerica in 2004 as a regional sales representative, building his territory up from zero and ultimately finishing his career at GreatAmerica as the third highest in sales of all time in the Office Equipment Group.
Nate was a genuinely good person and highly respected in the office technology industry. But most importantly, he was a loving husband and father to Deedra and their five children.
A family man first
I enjoyed listening to Nate talk about his children; nothing made him more proud. He’d share the trials and tribulations of having five children, four of which were teenagers. He wanted nothing but the best for his kids and that included their happiness and success. I think that motivated him to do as well as he did with his work.
Over the years I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with Deedra. Our traditional party with field sales the night before our Annual Awards Banquet was always a great time and I so enjoyed catching up with her.
Greg VanDeWalker, our Senior VP IT Channel and Services, had the privilege of hiring Nate and working side by side with him for the first five years of his tenure at GreatAmerica. Greg said Nate and Deedra lived in Kansas City at the time and they were looking to move to Colorado due to health reasons of one of their children. Greg noted that at the time, Nate had a very successful career but it was family first.
Remembered for his achievements
Nate had a strong work ethic. Over time, he earned the GreatAmerica Sales Achiever Award seven times, the highest recognition for our company’s sales function. Nate was instrumental in helping form our original field sales structure and even became Vice President of Sales for a time, only to return to full-time selling. While he cared for and enjoyed mentoring the sales reps, working directly with our amazing GreatAmerica customers was his passion.
When we hired Nate, we didn’t have a big territory to offer him. Instead, we only had a vision. Greg VanDeWalker remembers Nate having zero accounts on day one. Everything he built, he did it himself. When you consider the many talented reps over time in OEG, it is amazing that Nate was the third highest in sales ever at GreatAmerica. “Being number three all-time was not what made Nate special in my mind,” said Greg. “The number three ranking is what he did, what made Nate beloved by customers and coworkers is how he did it. Sales is the hardest job in business. You have to be able to keep your customer happy and keep your company happy at the same time. We all know there are many situations where the requests of the customer don’t fit the scope of the business. Nate was able to skillfully and respectfully navigate the fine line of pushing the company and managing the expectations of the customers.”
Known for his character
Along with Greg, our COO, David Pohlman, also helped bring Nate to GreatAmerica 15 years ago and aptly describes Nate as authentic. “Nate was not the typical sales personality. He didn’t have a lot of ‘flash’ and his style really appealed to people. They were really drawn to him. I think it was because he was so genuine and sincere. We are all going to miss him tremendously and so are our customers.”
Nate cared deeply for his colleagues and customers. His humble approach made him relatable and allowed him to meet and spend valuable time with so many in our channel. Our VP and Managing Director of Sales, Lindsay Bohon says he had a recognizable, infectious laugh (and smirk!), and I agree. He was also very humble. “In any of his accolades and accomplishments, he was always quick to turn the spotlight on someone else that helped him get there.” When Lindsay reached out to inform his customers of our loss – it was our customers who said it best: ‘He was always great with us!’ ‘He was just an awesome person.’ ‘Devastating news and he will be sorely missed.’ ‘He was my friend for probably 20 years and I miss him…’ ‘We all loved Nate.’
Lindsay reflected, “In various roles at GreatAmerica, I had the honor of working alongside Nate, and he left a deep impression on my heart, as he did for many. He was my constant, and his even-keeled approach will be missed. His team members Lisa and Ciarra stated it well, ‘No matter what was going on, he was always so calm. He always said ‘I think it will be fine.’ and when he said it, we believed it.’”
Greg VanDeWalker agrees, “Nate was the gold standard on dealing with people with dignity. His empathy toward others was one of Nate’s hallmark traits. Thank you Nate for what you did and how you did it. You are one of my mentors.”
Never one to quit
Nate had perseverance. He was our ‘steady eddy’. Regardless of hitting his quota, he was consistently in steady pursuit of our customers and telling the GreatAmerica story. He deeply believed in the company’s value and wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. Nate’s calming nature took the mountains and valleys out of any situation.
A favorite memory of mine is when Nate was going to visit a prospective dealer. The only problem was that Nate packed two left shoes and did not realize it until he was getting ready for the appointment that morning. There were no stores open to even try to buy a new pair of shoes. So, like a pro, he put the two left shoes on and soldiered on to his appointment!
A final farewell
As we struggle to say farewell to Nate, I think to myself… how lucky have we all been to know someone so hard to say goodbye to. If you would like to know how best to help Nate’s family, thisGoFundMe account has been established on his family’s behalf to help support them through this difficult time. GreatAmerica is staying close to his family and assisting directly.
In Nate’s words, “I think it will be fine.” We’ll do our best to prove him right again this time.