October 8, 2012

Andy Mandell: For Data-Mail's Mandell, success is a family matter

PHOTO/STEVE LASCHEVER
PHOTO/STEVE LASCHEVER
Contributed Photo
For Andy Mandell (10th from the left), nothing beats a family vacation.

Success for Andy Mandell is a family affair built on a simple premise: See a need and fill it.

Mandell is founder and chairman of Data-Mail Inc., a family-owned, full-service direct-mail production company headquartered in Newington. He opened his business in 1971 after working for an addressing-equipment company. Moving from selling equipment to selling service was a natural move, with humble beginnings.

"We started out with 1,000 square feet and two employees," he says, "one full-time and one part-time."

With a commitment to stay at the forefront of direct mail services and technology, the company grew. In 1984, Data-Mail acquired a 250,000 shopping center in Newington which became the new center of operations. In the early 2000's, the company added a second 225,000 square foot location in Windsor. Today, the combined facilities represent one of the country's leading full service direct marketing enterprises, employing more than 900 workers.

Mandell's wife, Joyce, is the company's executive vice president, and has been there since day one. When asked about the key to Data-Mail's success, she doesn't hesitate.

"Andy's leadership," she says. "He has always been driven to keep up with the most advanced technology and intelligent machinery so that we can best service our clients."

Mandell adds that smart capital management is also crucial to staying afloat.

"We don't invest in new equipment unless we can justify it," he says. "In 2008 and 2009, those were tough times for everyone. The businesses carrying debt went under; we didn't."

To achieve success in a service industry, his philosophy is equally simple. While some businesses focus on selling what they have, he thinks differently: "Take the time to know what the client wants, and then find a way to provide it."

Joyce Mandell says her husband's innate ability to sense a customer's needs stems from a long history of observing and problem solving.

"Andy has always been an entrepreneur," she says. "In Junior Achievement, he sold the most magazines. In college, he started a tuxedo service for faculty events. He has the ability to look around and say 'Where's the gap? How can it be filled?' "

His business's success is not the only testament to Mandell's proactive mindset. The breakthrough medical research being conducted at The Mandell Center for Multiple Sclerosis at Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital in Hartford represents his tenacity in action. Opened in 2007 with the help of a $1 million grant from the Mandell family, the center combines a full range of care and research programs under one roof, and is one of only four such facilities in the country. Mandell's commitment to its success is a personal one.

"I was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago and tried to get treatment, but found there weren't too many answers," he says, adding that MS is a condition which affects everyone differently, presenting a wide variety of symptoms. "I flew all over the country looking for information, but came up short."

At a time when he could have understandably withdrawn to focus on his own care, Mandell followed his natural inclination: See a gap, figure out how to fill it. Today, hundreds of MS patients benefit from his efforts.

"We opened the center to get involved in comprehensive research, with doctors from all disciplines collaborating," he explains. "Today, we have a full staff of researchers, specialized physicians, social workers, physiatritsts, and therapists servicing over 1,000 active patients."

In West Hartford, community members young and old enjoy the offerings of a vibrant Jewish Community Center thanks to the generosity of the Andrew J. and Joyce Mandell Family Foundation. The family's funding enabled an extensive renovation to the center five years ago which doubled its size.

"Everyone is welcome, from preschoolers to active seniors," says Joyce Mandell, who was the first female president of the JCC. "It really is the glue of the community."

Andy Mandell's support has also extended to his alma mater, Babson College, where a new residence hall was dedicated in his honor last year. To this day, he attributes much of his success to the entrepreneurship studies he completed there while earning his degree in business administration.

Whether funding a major facility or supporting a local summer concert series, Andy Mandell consistently demonstrates the value of involvement instilled in him by his own parents. It's a way of life which blends his personal beliefs with his business philosophies.

"We have over 900 employees in our community working for us," he says. "It makes sense for us to work to better that community and to help people."

As the Mandells look toward the future, they are confident their dedication to smart business and compassionate commitment will carry on through their children. Eldest son Bruce is the president of Data-Mail; he joined the family business 20 years ago after a successful career as an attorney. Mark Mandell joined the company 12 years ago and serves as the vice president of technology and new product development, while son-in-law Scott Braunstein is Data-Mail's vice president of operations.

Joyce Mandell says the timing and combination of talent represented within the family has worked perfectly to fuel their progression.

"Each of them had successful careers before this; they weren't groomed for it. The business became interesting enough that they wanted to come on their own, which is a tremendous source of pride for us."

She adds that while people always ask who is in charge, the answer remains the same: the family.

"We meet weekly, and decisions are made through consensus after a lot of conversation, a lot of challenging each other," Joyce Mandell says. "The business is significant in size; we can all contribute without tripping over each other."

The Mandells are proud of their staff of diverse, dedicated workers, some of whom have been with them for 30 years. While they make it a point to honor long-time employees, Andy Mandell jokes that some of their success stories come from those who didn't last long.

"Through the years, I hired a lot of my kids' friends. We'd put them to work doing tough jobs like mass mail sorting or machinery operation," he says. "Many of them have come back as successes in their own fields, saying that the experience inspired them to work hard in college because they didn't want to come back to that type of physical labor."

Andy Mandell's lifetime of achievement has touched countless lives beyond his own. His philosophies, generosity, and dedication can be seen the workers employed by Data-Mail, patients treated at the MS center, community members at the JCC, summer concert goers in Newington, college students enjoying a new residence hall... The list goes on and on. Together with his equally driven and civic minded wife, he has built a business and philanthropic legacy, insuring that Data-Mail and the Mandell Family Foundation will continue to employ, support, and build within the community for years to come. ?

Executive profile - Andy Mandell

The Basics
Name of organization: Data-Mail Inc.
Title: Chief executive officer
Size of organization: 900 employees
Education: Babson College, Wellesley, Mass.
Previous job(s): Regional sales associate with Addressograph Multigraph Corp.

On the job
Guiding business principle: Be honest, fair with customers.
Best way to keep your competitive edge: Quality employees/state-of-the-art equipment.
Proudest accomplishment: Both sons and son-in-law joined Data-Mail, Inc. and are working together to ensure the stability and continuity of the company.
Favorite part of the job: Assisting in day-to-day problem solving.
Least favorite part of the job: Telling client a mistake has been made.
Most influential business book: The Real Deal by Sandy Weil.
Personal touch in your office: Postal memorabilia.

Judgment calls:
Best business decision: Expanding data processing division.
Best place to network: Associations/ organizations.
Best way to spot trends: Reading business publications and listening to customers.
Next big thing/goals to be achieved: Guiding family enterprise.
Your pet peeve: Telling me how something cannot be done.

Personal side:
City of residence: West Hartford
Favorite way to relax: Spending time with family.
Last vacation: Family vacation to Israel in June.
Favorite movie: N/A
Favorite communication device: Blackberry.
Currently reading: Running Scared by Steven Wynn.
Favorite cause: Multiple nonprofit organizations serving education and health related populations.
Second choice career: Architect.

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