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Who to know Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

On the surface, the sales call seemed like any other.

Chris McGovern, founder and president of CM Direct, was having his first meeting with high-level executives at Fifth Third Bank to convince them to use his direct marketing services.

When he entered the room, however, he was met with snickers and wide-eyed stares — and silence.

Who could blame the group? After all, McGovern did show up with green hair.

He made no excuses for his unusual ’do: It was St. Patrick’s Day. And in the end, he won the Fifth Third account.

“I was rather amused,” remembers Paul Novak, vice president of credit card product management for Fifth Third Bank Corp. “It didn’t faze me, but I just found it a little bit bold on his behalf.”

Now Novak counts as pluses CM Direct’s innovation and surprising approach as well as McGovern’s ability to finish a project with quick turnaround and knowledge of financial services.

“Rather than just an order taker, I really want to partner with somebody who will buy in to what we’re trying to do,” Novak says of McGovern.

Regarding the green hair shenanigan, McGovern shrugs: “It’s who I am. It’s part of my life,” he says, explaining he took up the tradition to follow in the footsteps of his late father, who had always celebrated the holiday that same way.

That’s not the only influence McGovern’s father had upon his life. In fact, McGovern, who was just 14 when his father died of a heart attack, even now gets tears in his eyes at memories of his dad.

“I can’t imagine giving my kids more than what he gave me,” McGovern says.

He remembers his father’s positive thinking — including his theory that sickness could be healed through that optimistic mindset.

Then there’s the matter of the yellow socks, tied to the story of his father’s business, R.A. McGovern Equipment Co.

“My father, when he started his company in 1951, happened to be wearing yellow socks. From that day forward, for a superstitious thing or whatever, he wore yellow socks,” McGovern says, explaining his father’s chosen footwear no matter what the outfit or occasion.

In a salute to his father, McGovern has his own representation of the yellow socks: a pocket handkerchief he wears as a suit accessory.

“It’s something now when I’m getting dressed my kids come and help me choose a pocket square and we’ll talk about my dad,” he says.

McGovern insists, however, his father never pushed him or his siblings to own their own businesses — even though all seven of them have done so.

McGovern, himself, partnered in a poultry processing company at age 19 and had a hand in a button manufacturing company at age 23 or 24.

Those experiences taught him lessons. For example, when he returned from a vacation, he found the button company’s locks changed, he says. He sued the investors. They filed a counterclaim. Eventually both parties dismissed their claims and paid their own court costs.

“I vowed that would never happen again. My next business would be something on my own,” McGovern says.

He fulfilled that vow Feb. 3, 1994, when, in the basement of his home, he started CM Direct. Since then, he’s grown the North Columbus business to a $3 million company with six employees and notable clients such as Lexis-Nexis, The Huntington National Bank and the American Motorcyclist Association.

“Within five years I will have my own building on the Northwest side of town,” he says, adding that he’d also like to use his business as an incubator to help other start-ups grow.

A finalist for the 1999 Blue Chip Enterprise Initiative Awards, sponsored by Mass Mutual and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the 1998 Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce Small Business Person of the Year Award, McGovern is president of the Mid-Ohio Direct Marketing Association and professional development and training director of the Southern Ohio Chapter of the Direct Marketing Association, a national organization. He’s also a member of two advertising agency professional organizations, Chief Executive Network and Second Wind Network.

An Upper Arlington native — “I live 3 miles from where I grew up,” he says — he and his wife, Cindy, are involved in organizing the Upper Arlington Fourth of July festivities, and he organizes class reunions for the high school.

McGovern also coaches the soccer teams of his son, 8, and daughter, 6. In 1998 he was the only father on the PTO for their school.

His greatest accomplishment? “Having a wonderful marriage — and getting a card from my wife that said I’d made her dreams come true. That’s still sitting on my desk,” he says of the 2-year-old greeting.

“I enjoy what I do for a living, which helps out a lot,” McGovern says. “But my hobby is being with my family and doing whatever they want to do.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.