Joseph B. (J.B.) Gander (Joe)
Sarmiento on his relationship with Gander and role with Bank Building & Equipment Corp.
In 1913, Joe and his cousin Louie bought into a cabinet shop off an alley in downtown St. Louis because they had good woodworking and sales skills that they thought could make it into a fine business. Never mind that they both quit school in the sixth grade to go to work. Joseph Gander was a visionary and frequently said that he never had, nor needed, an art lesson or an architecture degree to know good design. Though he would have rather played baseball, Gander worked hard, claiming to have “absorbed the necessary knowledge through the pores.”
The early success of the cabinet company led to its expansion into the St. Louis Bank Building & Equipment Corporation, the predecessor company of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America. Gander was very interested in the expanding the use of fine cabinetry and woodworking, a division of the company now known as Loughman, in order to bring new materials and life into bank buildings. As the owner and president of the company for decades, Gander was viewed as the visionary guiding the company’s incredible growth. He made the sales force the main focus of the company, not the designers. Around a strong sales force in every office to be the eyes and ears in every town, county, and state, he built a team of great designers and architects.
Gander led Bank Building & Equipment Corporation as CEO, CFO, marketing director, and lead salesman. He found time for personal community projects as well. Gander led the charge to move and expand the campus of Maryville College further west and had the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation plan and design the entire new campus and its four new buildings. His final project was securing the contract to build a striking new plan for a Catholic Chancery Office for the St. Louis Archdiocese, which he passed on to his chief designer W.A. Sarmiento.
From all accounts, Gander was a leader extraordinaire – tremendous energy, excellent and smooth salesman, iron will but a nice approach where he had the same repoire with the labor man as with the bank president. It’s what made him known to be so likable and sociable. In an interview with his daughter, Ruth Gander Pfeffer in 2002, she complimented his style by saying that “He was very sharp but also very loyal to his employees. No one worked for Joseph Gander. They worked with him.”
Though the Era of Growth and Prosperity’s banking boom (1950-1965) reportedly made Gander a millionaire, all of the working and life’s enjoyments also took its toll on his health in the early 1960s. After a battle with cancer, Joseph Gander died in 1963. Passed onto Sarmiento on a business trip, Gander stated that the secret to his success was that he had never cheated anybody and always stuck to his strict Catholic morals.
Gander had plans on the drawing board when he died to continue building his design-build company, including the desire to purchase one of the nation’s most well known vault company’s, Mosler. The organizational process that Gander created over time not only helped expedite the construction process for his clients, it made it more affordable and provided less headaches for them, and he was always seeking ways to improve the process further.