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TMCNet:  Lee Hartman Jr. guided family business with care: Lee Hartman Jr. had two loves in life: his electronics company and gardening. [The Roanoke Times, Va.]

[July 31, 2010]

Lee Hartman Jr. guided family business with care: Lee Hartman Jr. had two loves in life: his electronics company and gardening. [The Roanoke Times, Va.]

(Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 31--For many years, Lee Hartman Jr. was the kind of client Jim Powell found refreshing.

Powell sold electronics equipment to businesses. Unlike other corporate executives, Hartman, president and CEO of Lee Hartman & Sons in Roanoke, did not get angry if Powell reported that a manufacturer could not ship merchandise by a specific date.

"There's no one that matches him as far as his thoughtfulness, his kindness, ability to work with you," Powell said. "The electronics business is a low-margin, cutthroat business. It's very easy for someone to get upset with you," That was the way Powell remembered Hartman, his former boss, on Friday. Hartman, 81, died Thursday of a stroke and a brain hemorrhage, his family said.

Earlier that day, he had picked tomatoes, one of his favorite pastimes, from his garden at his home on Tinker Mountain in Botetourt County.

"There's not many bosses ... who you want to shake his hand and hug him," said Powell, who shared an office with Hartman. Six years ago, Powell took a job at Lee Hartman & Sons as an outside sales manager.

Hartman's father founded the family business in his Roanoke garage in 1936, offering sound rental, sales and repair services.

Hartman began working for his father in the 1960s, after graduating from Virginia Tech with an engineering degree and serving as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1975, he became president of the company.

Hartman's nephew, Stephen Hartman, said his uncle cared deeply about his employees. The company employs 55 people in its Roanoke office.

"When he came through the door each day, he would have a smile on his face," said Stephen Hartman, who is vice president of Lee Hartman & Sons. "He would ask, 'How is everything going? Do you need any help?' " Lee Hartman was a mentor for John Cosgrove, who is retail sales manager at the company.

"He always had time to listen to you," said Cosgrove, a 30-year employee at the business.

Cosgrove and Lee Hartman both enjoyed gardening, and Hartman often would plant Cosgrove's plants inside his greenhouse.

Several years ago, Hartman retired from the family business, though he spent most afternoons at the office, talking with customers and helping with sales. In the mornings, he worked in his garden.

"He loved to get out there and get down on his knees," Cosgrove said.

The growth of Lee Hartman & Sons is a testament to the Hartman family's years spent nurturing and building customers, employees said. The company offers sales and service for home and commercial audio equipment. Virginia Tech is one of its major customers, Cosgrove said.

The company has opened satellite offices in Newport News, Dunbar, W.Va., and Baltimore in the past 10 years.

Third- and fourth-generation members of the Hartman family now work for the company.

"You have to love it when a locally owned business, especially family owned, not only manages to survive in this economy but to thrive and to grow," said Jim Fralin, an owner of Audiotronics in Roanoke, which is a competitor of Lee Hartman & Sons. Fralin worked for the company about 30 years ago.

A memorial service for Hartman will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Oakey's North Chapel.

Visitation will be today and Sunday, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at Oakey's North Chapel.

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Roanoke Times, Va.

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