I vividly remember the first time I met Bob Sostilio. It was at a NOMDA show during the summer of 1990 when he was working for Ricoh. I was with The Office magazine and had arrived at the Ricoh booth for an afternoon appointment to hear about the company’s newest copiers. Bob was serious and business like, and I was, despite having spent a few years in the industry, still green about the ins and outs of the copier technology he was speaking about in such great detail. He clearly knew his stuff while I had so much to learn. Little did I know at that first meeting how much I would eventually learn from Bob through the many times I interviewed him, from listening to him at press briefings, and being around him socially at industry events.
I continued to see Bob at those industry events throughout the 1990’s as he shifted from the OEM side of the business to the analyst side and back and forth again. By then he was no longer a stranger. When I started my career as an independent contractor in 1997, I found myself struggling after losing a major client. Out of the blue I received a call from Bob, who was now with CAP Ventures, asking if I was interested in helping him with his group’s newsletter as well as editing some of the firm’s reports for publication in an industry trade publication. I am still grateful for that call and the opportunity Bob gave me when I needed it most. I believe that’s one of the reasons I’m still in this industry today.
As I continued to write for various industry publications, Bob was one of my most reliable resources. He was never hesitant to share his insights about the industry whenever I called or e-mailed. And he was always fun to dine with at dealer meetings and other industry functions, often entertaining us younger press and analysts with stories of the industry’s good old days. Despite his legendary gruffness and old school ways, he had a great sense of humor.
After I launched The Week in Imaging I had an idea for a feature on “The 40 Most Influential People in the Imaging Industry.” One of the first people I called for Top 40 suggestions was Bob. He had many great recommendations while also validating some of the names I had already assembled on my preliminary list of “Most Influential People.”
At the end of our conversation, he said to me, “I better be on that list.”
I laughed and replied, ‘We’ll have to see,” knowing full well that he was. I wasn’t about to tell him that though. When it came time to publish the profiles of the 40 Most Influential People, I presented them in random order. And I placed Bob’s profile at the very end of the list, leaving him in suspense and making him scroll through all 40 names before eventually seeing his profile.
I continued to publish that list even after Bob became less visible in the industry, and finally one year, I did not include him. Of course, he noticed and I got a phone call about it. I explained my reasoning, and added that if the list were longer he would have been number 41. For a period of time after that, whenever I got an e-mail from Bob, there in the signature line was “41”.
The last time I saw Bob was last year at BTA’s 90th anniversary celebration in Kansas City. He was the same as ever. Later in the year when we were putting together our list of dealer icons for our 35th anniversary issue, the first person I contacted for recommendations was Bob. He shared a ton of names with me and had a story for everybody on his list.
I’ll miss Bob’s stories, his knowledge of the industry, his sense of humor, and I’ll even miss those presentations he would sometimes give at industry events. I don’t know how he did it, but Bob could squeeze more text and data onto a single PowerPoint slide than anyone I’ve ever known. Depending on where you were sitting in the room, some of his slides looked like a modern art masterpiece.
When I think of the people who have influenced me over my 30+ years in this industry, there are many, but Bob Sostilio fits squarely into the Top 10. If he were around to read this, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a call wanting to know exactly where he was on that list. I’d probably laugh and tell him, “9½”.
But just between us, I’d rank him a lot higher than that.
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