Memoirs of a Textbook Salesman

Harold Witkov

I can now feel free to pen some of my "personally educating moments" while in educational sales, because the textbook publisher where I worked is closing its doors.

Make no mistake, there are many dedicated people at CPS and, over the years, I got to meet numerous of them.  So if you are hoping for an earth shattering exposé about systematic CPS corruption you are going to be disappointed.

Instead, my memoirs (this is the fourth) are a record of some of my more enlightening personal experiences with CPS and are written from my conservative perspective.  I view them to be a compilation of, to steal an educational phrase, teachable moments - and that is why I am sharing them.

Back in the late 1990's, CPS set up a groundbreaking school initiative that would address the needs of thousands of their failing and at risk students. They called it the "Summer Bridge." The plan of the program was to require thousands of  CPS students to attend summer school. These summer school students would need summer school texts.

In order to get the right texts for the program, textbook companies were contacted and allotted 20-minute time slots to present the books they believed to be best for the Summer Bridge Program. Publishers would present to a Summer Bridge Curriculum Committee. After each sales presentation, the presented texts would be left behind for further scrutiny. A number of different texts were to be eventually selected -- the prize --a guaranteed order far exceeding 10,000 copies.

If I do say so myself, my sales presentation before the committee was truly one of my best ever. Knowing I had given it my best shot, I had no choice but to play the wait-and-see game.  Many days passed and still no word. Then one day I received a phone call from someone at the Board of Ed. The male voice on the other end congratulated me. One of the books I had presented to the committee had been chosen. My heart pounded as I heard the news and I started fantasizing about the accolades I would be receiving from my sales manager and the home office, and yes, I started tabulating a future bonus check.  After I said my phone goodbye, I ran to tell my wife the good news

Not an hour had passed and the phone rang once again. This time it was a woman from the Chicago Board of Education. She was calling on behalf of Operation Push and requesting a sizable sponsorship.  I wanted no part of what she was selling and explained to her that my company was a little family owned publisher that could not afford this type of request -- on account of us being so small.  

Not to be deterred, she said something to me that let me know her phone call was not unconnected from the previous call. While I make no claim of intimidation whatsoever, her words did plant a seed in my mind that made me feel it was in the best interest of my company to play ball with CPS on this request. She said:

Small? I don't think so. Word around here is, as of today, your company just got a whole lot bigger!


I can now feel free to pen some of my "personally educating moments" while in educational sales, because the textbook publisher where I worked is closing its doors.

Make no mistake, there are many dedicated people at CPS and, over the years, I got to meet numerous of them.  So if you are hoping for an earth shattering exposé about systematic CPS corruption you are going to be disappointed.

Instead, my memoirs (this is the fourth) are a record of some of my more enlightening personal experiences with CPS and are written from my conservative perspective.  I view them to be a compilation of, to steal an educational phrase, teachable moments - and that is why I am sharing them.

Back in the late 1990's, CPS set up a groundbreaking school initiative that would address the needs of thousands of their failing and at risk students. They called it the "Summer Bridge." The plan of the program was to require thousands of  CPS students to attend summer school. These summer school students would need summer school texts.

In order to get the right texts for the program, textbook companies were contacted and allotted 20-minute time slots to present the books they believed to be best for the Summer Bridge Program. Publishers would present to a Summer Bridge Curriculum Committee. After each sales presentation, the presented texts would be left behind for further scrutiny. A number of different texts were to be eventually selected -- the prize --a guaranteed order far exceeding 10,000 copies.

If I do say so myself, my sales presentation before the committee was truly one of my best ever. Knowing I had given it my best shot, I had no choice but to play the wait-and-see game.  Many days passed and still no word. Then one day I received a phone call from someone at the Board of Ed. The male voice on the other end congratulated me. One of the books I had presented to the committee had been chosen. My heart pounded as I heard the news and I started fantasizing about the accolades I would be receiving from my sales manager and the home office, and yes, I started tabulating a future bonus check.  After I said my phone goodbye, I ran to tell my wife the good news

Not an hour had passed and the phone rang once again. This time it was a woman from the Chicago Board of Education. She was calling on behalf of Operation Push and requesting a sizable sponsorship.  I wanted no part of what she was selling and explained to her that my company was a little family owned publisher that could not afford this type of request -- on account of us being so small.  

Not to be deterred, she said something to me that let me know her phone call was not unconnected from the previous call. While I make no claim of intimidation whatsoever, her words did plant a seed in my mind that made me feel it was in the best interest of my company to play ball with CPS on this request. She said:

Small? I don't think so. Word around here is, as of today, your company just got a whole lot bigger!