Friendship was more important than a commission to Bill Galante.
In a 52-year career, that was the secret of his success.
He sold Chicago Sun-Times ads to car dealers, counting among his friends Chicago household names like Max Madsen, Frank Mancari and Joe Rizza.
Mr. Galante greeted them with a smile, a joke and a handshake. “It was a very honorable thing,” he once said. “And if someone cups their other hand over the handshake, that was a good sign, you lock in a friendship, and that friendship grew.”
As the Sun-Times auto advertising manager, he closed deals at sports events and meals at Rosebud, the Como Inn, Capital Grille and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, where he liked to enjoy an Absolut on the rocks with a twist of lemon. He cemented friendships with car dealers by attending their birthday parties and their kids’ bat mitzvahs and weddings. Sometimes, he vacationed with them.
“This is a man who would tell me, ‘I can’t wait to get to work each day,’ ” said Douglas Ekman, an executive vice president of RPM Advertising. Mr. Galante retired in 2012 at 82.
He died Thursday at 88 at his Palos Hills home while listening to his favorite singer, Frank Sinatra, according to his daughter, M. Jane Burns.
Before the internet, newspapers had loads of auto advertising that filled the Sunday papers. He’d work to position the ads in prominent “real estate” in the Sun-Times, cajoling pressmen with his people skills and pizza.
He told dealers when he didn’t think a buy was in their best interest. And if an unexpected space opened in the newspaper, he’d offer them a free ad.
Sometimes, he did a little matchmaking. If a car exec wasn’t happy with their marketing, he let other admen and women know there might be a chance for them to pitch the business.
And if he walked into a showroom and saw the season’s hottest car in the back, he’d suggest moving it into a window to draw customers.
He was right.
“I wouldn’t have become one of the largest Mitsubishi dealers in America without Bill Galante,” Madsen said. “Bill was more interested in your success than a commission.”
“The owners of these dealerships would just wave their arms at the general manager and tell them, ‘Do whatever he tells you to do and you’ll be successful,’ ’’ said Terry Boyle, a Sun-Times vice president of advertising.
Mr. Galante had the salesperson’s gift for connecting. “He knew every kid in the family,” Madsen said.
“He made everyone feel better about themselves,” Ekman said. “They were the most important person in that moment.”
When Ekman took his mother-in-law to see Sinatra at the United Center, Mr. Galante turned it into a night to remember by inviting her to a skybox. “She just sat there mesmerized,” Ekman said.
To younger ad reps, he was “Mr. G.” He’d take them along to learn how to close the deal.
Young Bill grew up at Laramie and Division and attended Fenwick High School. He met his wife, Mary, a student at the College of St. Teresa, while he was studying at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. She was dating his friend. “I stole her away,” he used to say. “I’m glad I did.”
“That was a big deal for both of them, for him to marry a non-Italian girl, and for her, an Irish girl, not to marry an Irishman,” their daughter said.
In 1960, he started his career selling newspaper ads. He called on clients in a spiffy suit. He said he drove a Mercedes, because “whenever I saw someone driving in a Mercedes I saw success.”
Mr. Galante’s optimistic attitude survived a car accident that cost him an eye. Afterward, he wore a glass eye. When Ekman sympathized that it must have been terrible, Mr. Galante told him, “ ‘It was, but I got a house out of it.’ The money from the settlement, he bought a house.”
“He would take the worst situation and try to see what could be good about it,” Ekman said.
Though he loved fine dining, there were times in Chicago’s Michael Jordan era when he just couldn’t enjoy a meal. “The only time he wouldn’t eat was before a Bulls game. He’d be like, “I’m so nervous,’ ” said his daughter.
A Marine Corps veteran, he served in Hawaii during the Korean War.
His wife, Mary, and sister, Adeline, died before him. In addition to his daughter Jane, he is survived by his daughters Margaret McMahon, M. Beth Galante and Katie O’Brien; sons James and William, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Visitation is 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Curley Funeral Home, 6116 W. 111th St., Chicago Ridge. A funeral Mass is planned 10 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Parish, 8245 W 111th St., Palos Hills.