Park West Gallery CEO on WWJ (CBS) “Michigan Matters”
Originally televised August 10, 2008 on WWJ TV (CBS) Michigan Matters
Carol Cain (WWJTV Community Affairs Director and Detroit Free Press Columnist) visits with two Boys of Summer — two elder statesmen who have made their marks and are now giving back to the community. First up: legendary Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame Coach Sparky Anderson…Then, Albert Scaglione, who went from working as an engineer at NASA to chucking it all and owning an art gallery called Park West Gallery. It is based in Metro Detroit and has over $1 billion worth of art he is selling in 70 countries and on cruise ships. Scaglione talks about his view of success and how he is giving back by helping kids forced out of foster care.
CAIN: “Welcome back to Michigan Matters. His story is certainly eclectic. He was working as an engineer for NASA on a program shooting for Mars in the 1960s when the government cut the funding. He was at a cross-roads trying to figure out what to do next. He thought about it and returned to a job he truly loved, a job he had as a teen working in an art gallery.”
SCAGLIONE: “The part about leaving engineering was an interesting one because I was working for Wayne State University at the time and the NASA work was my research and the work that I was doing was fundamentally and primarily about how to get into deep space, how to get a man on Mars. The part that I was working on were the heat shields. I worked with a wonderful professor who came from China, wrote many books and articles and great stuff until in the late 60s, the government decided no more funding, no more deep space, no more supersonic transport.
So the kind of work being done by engineers of my sort, mechanical, aerospace engineer, was no longer being funded for research. They had plenty of teaching opportunities, however, you could go to work for the government and take your rocket designs and put nuclear warheads on the end. Stick them out in space and bring them back in. That troubled me. The papers would be secret, classified papers. And I kind of thought about that for a year. I had a brother who was in the air force and actually worked for the government and worked for NASA down in Cleveland, Dayton actually, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and we prayed on it, talked about it and I finally said, I can’t. I just can’t do this. And I did something so totally, seemingly different that I knew I would never return.
CAIN: “Going back to your earlier roots as a teen when you worked in your cousin’s art store?”
SCAGLIONE: “That’s right. In Lyndhurst, New Jersey, my cousin, Paul. And after eight years of working on a truck with my father every summer, my mother said, ‘Joe, isn’t it time Albert did something a little different? Let him go to work in the art gallery.’ When I did, it was like a miracle. I mean, even the smell of oil paint and varnish to these days makes me happy. I go down to our restoration department and I smile a lot. Not from the drug effect, but from the effect of just remembering it. I was stretching paintings and helping to frame paintings and it was a great experience.
I remember with all the money I earned, the majority of it went to a Christmas present for my parents. And in fact, my sister inherited that, my parents are both dead now, that i bought them for Christmas that year when I was 16 years old. I thought about that when I wanted to choose a new career. Let me do something I really like. I also was kind of always fascinated with art.
I think when you get to art and science, you have a left-right brain combination. To work in any scientific endeavor where you’re working in theoretical things, you’re trying to be creative, you’re trying to come up to solutions to problems that have never been solved before. New thinking, different thinking. A lot of failure, a lot of trial and error, a lot of getting your own authorship on something. Art is very similar.
In order to be successful as an artist, I don’t know of a single artist who is a copycat of anybody else who has been very successful. Every artist has to have his own unique authorship. And while I’m not an artist and claim no artistic talent, I have a tremendous understanding at least of the feelings that go into it based upon my own feelings. And it seemed very natural for me when I started working with artists; M.C. Escher in the early 70s, Yaacov Agam, Peter Max, Victor Vasarely…and I found out without having any money, I didn’t have any money, but just having a certain passion, these people would allow me to sell their work. And they would often loan me the work. And I would go sell the work and pay them and go sell the work and pay them. And lo and behold it worked.”
CAIN: “Here we are, 40 years later, a lot of people watching the show at home are in a similar situation where they’re changing careers, whether by choice or being forced out because of all the cut back of white collar and blue collar jobs in the manufacturing sector of the state. They’re looking at options. Maybe someone is looking to open their new business. Is there a piece of advice you would give someone, again particularly looking back in your early days when you started out of running a business, as what it takes to be successful?”
SCAGLIONE: “I think it’s a number of things. I think it’s a lot of hard work. I think to find something where you have a niche that needs to be filled. What I found, and it was almost by accident, my teaching style of being very engaging and of liking people and of wanting to hear their questions, wanting to know where they’re coming from. And then my interest in going and doing research and my interest in connecting the artist with the people worked beautifully. A lot of people weren’t doing that.
When I started in ’69, and I think it’s even true today, there is a certain style that says, art is not for everybody. And the kind of art I have in my spot is only for certain special people who really get it. And my approach is very different. My approach said that here is what I have, are you interested? Do you like any of it? If you do, I can even get to you meet the artist. I can engage you in it. I’ll read like there is no tomorrow everything I can on it and I’ll get you to the truth about what’s the spiritual work.
For example, Yaacov Agam and I get along very well because his father was an orthodox rabbi and he considers every one of his works a visual prayer. I’m a person whose mother and grandmothers were daily communicants. I’m not. I’m a Catholic and believe in God and go to church and do all that good stuff and we came together in our spirituality. So here is an orthodox Jew and a Catholic who are seeing things perfectly alike in that we believe in keeping our word, we believe in the Ten Commandments. He believes every one of his works is a prayer. I was refreshed by that. And he’s got this dynamic thing. So in terms of your question, what should one do? You’ve got to find a niche where you’re filling something that somebody isn’t filling, if you want to start a new business. You’ve got to have a reason for people to want to come to you. And when you do, I think they’re going to beat a path to your door.”
CAIN: “When we return, we’ll hear what Albert has to say about other cities who are trying to get him to move his business their way. We’re back with more Michigan Matters right after this.”
CAIN: “Welcome back to Michigan Matters where we’re continuing our conversation with Albert Scaglione, founder of Park West Gallery. He is celebrating his 40th anniversary here. We had a chance to talk about success.
Are they surprised that you’re running a big empire from Detroit?”
SCAGLIONE: “I don’t know if it’s an empire, it’s a reasonably good-sized business. I don’t think so. I’m very proud of Detroit. I’ve been here for — since 1962. And so that’s a few years. And so I’m a Detroiter now. The work ethic in Detroit is just phenomenal. The talent pool in Detroit is just phenomenal. For example, we have our own restoration department. When you sell as much art as we do, it gets damaged in shipping and other ways and we have restorers and we have a wonderful staff. We’ve been wooed away many times to go to Florida to do our business or to go to the south or here or there. I’m here. As long as I’m running this business, it’s very likely to stay in Detroit.”
CAIN: “As a business owner in the state, how do you view Michigan’s climate as a place to do business? You mentioned trying to be wooed away by other places, trying to woo you away. What keeps you here? How do you think the state is doing in terms of being effective at keeping businesses and luring new businesses?”
SCAGLIONE: “I may not be the best one to answer that question because I don’t have my hands wrapped around statistics. I can tell that the energy is good. I have a lot of friends in government, from Jennifer Granholm to the Levins, both Carl and Sandy Levin. And they’re all good-hearted people and they’re all serious people. I think we all care. I think our problems are deeper set. I think our problems have to do with the changing industry. We need mass transportation. I love Brooks, he’s a great guy, but i don’t agree with the mass transportation issue.
We have — my wife and I have have a ministry where we’re working with 71 girls from the inner city who’ve been in foster care. And they’re now under our care and they’re as old as 19, 20, they’ve been kind of booted out of the system. And it’s hard for them to get around any place. Everybody needs to have a car. We need to have mass transit. We need to have change. We need things to happen. I think our hearts are in the right place. I think it will take some time. That’s why I’m dug in. My program for the girls, to help our girls and boys eventually, 6,000 like that, I think it’s a 20-year program. Not a program for today. We’ve been at it three years. So I think as long as we’re willing to dig in and keep our hearts pure, whether we think it’s this issue or that issue, I think we have intelligent and good people who are not leaving the state.
CAIN: “How do you view, as someone who deals with many philanthropic causes, I know you’ve donated art to some of the universities here in the state, I know you’re going to be giving the commencement speech at Central Michigan University. How do you view philanthropic as a corporate business owner yourself? How do you view that? What’s your take on that?”
SCAGLIONE: “You have to do it. You have to do it. If you don’t do it, then you have to say shame on you. And it’s something that — even in a year when you may not make any money, most corporations have assets. We have assets. So our asset is a big art collection. Our art collection is valued in excess of 1 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money. And that asset needs to be sold. And you need to put your money where your mouth is.
If you believe in causes, you have to help them, whether it means giving a picture, whether it means — for example, I put this out for the public. If you have a good charitable cause and you want to use this facility free, come and ask us. You’re going to get an answer of yes. It’s writing a check. It’s lending a helping hand. It’s giving some advice or framing. Many ways. And other corporations can do it in different ways. You can do it with your talent. You can encourage your employees to work pro bono. If you’re a law firm, you can do some pro bono work. That’s what it takes. I think as a corporation, it’s first and foremost, you can’t expect the government to have the problems that we have in this state, both in Detroit and in the whole state, to step up with money that they don’t have. But corporations have assets. I think every CEO of every corporation that is successful in any manner has an obligation to do this.”
CAIN: “At 69, Albert shows no signs of slowing down. We can only imagine how much his company will change over the next ten years and certainly we’ll be watching. With that, we wrap up this week’s show. My special thanks to Albert and Sparky for joining us this morning.”