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“Duddie”

David “Duddie” Massad

By Ellen O’Connor

coverstory-copyThe kid from Grafton Hill, who got his start in the business world as a teenager working the concessions at the long gone White City Amusement Park, occupies a staid corner office at Commerce Bank, where he serves as the bank’s chairman.

The Commerce High School student who sold his first car ~ a 1937 blue Studebaker convertible sedan in 1943 ~ in his free after-school  time, who was adept enough at the age of 16 to buy five White City concessions, who made $1,500 a week when he and his partner hit the carnival circuit in the 1940s, who built a car dealership empire and who has amassed a kingdom of real estate has been at the helm of one of the few remaining locally owned banks for nearly two decades.  It is a position generally reserved for those whose capital comes from a Thurston Howell III-type inheritance, not from decades of success in the hurly-burly, street smart business world.

But there you have it. David G. “Duddie” Massad, known to most people in Worcester County as the successful owner of several car dealerships  ~ most notably the former Duddie Ford dealership in Westborough that bore his childhood nickname ~ decided back in 1993 that he and some of his business partners wanted to buy a troubled bank. And they did.

As the Grateful Dead once observed, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

***

Massad is an 82-year-old bundle of kinetic energy. During a 90-minute interview at his Commerce Bank office he barely sits still. He fidgets. He points. He makes a few calls. He talks, often accentuating what he has to say with quick movements of his hands.  He shifts in his chair. He leans forward to make a point.  He sits back. He picks up the phone again, trying to track down the location of a picture with sentimental value that is inexplicably missing from the wall in his bank office.

He clearly has energy to burn.

While some of his contemporaries may be biding their time in the rocking chair or already be six feet under,  as it were, Massad is on the job… always. He could not imagine being anywhere else.

“I work about 65 to 70 hours a week,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I don’t play. I work.”

Keeping a schedule that would be trying for someone half his age is a piece of cake for Massad.  Working and breathing; breathing and working. It is all the same to him. As long as he is doing one, he is doing the other.

“I love working,” he explained, simply. “I love what I do.”

What he has done is rise from a blue-collar life, from carnival worker  to car salesman to dealership owner to real estate owner to bank owner, accumulating millions of dollars along the way.  The accumulation of all those millions has made the acquisition of even more millions that much more possible.  While Massad declined to discuss how much he is worth, he did allow that he and his family are quite comfortable.

“I don’t work for a week’s pay anymore.”

But the money is not the point, he said.  It never has been.  Business is a game to him, one that he unarguably plays better than many others.  The money is a welcome by-product, sure, but it is not why he does what he does.

“I work to win and keep score. The money is a way to keep score.”

Massad, either on his own or in conjunction with various business partners, some of whom he has worked with for decades, is in the midst of a multitude of projects.  In other words, situation: normal.

He is in the process of selling East West Mortgage Company. The construction of a huge new facility for Diamond Chevrolet in Auburn on Route 20 is proceeding apace (“It’s beautiful,” he states. “You’ll love it.”).  His other dealership is a Wallingford, Connecticut dealership. It sells Toyotas. Massad no longer has the Duddie dealership, having sold the business in 2003. He has several real estate projects going on, one that involves the construction of $500,000 homes on 28 acres in Ashland for a 55-year-old-plus development and another that involves the construction of $170,000 to $400,000 condominiums down in Blackstone and North Smithfield, Rhode Island.  He owns real estate all over the place, he says, here in Massachusetts, in Maine, and a bunch of properties at the Cape ~ to name but a few places. He also holds plenty of commercial real estate. Basically, any business that he has been involved in he makes it a point to keep the real estate ~ even if he moves on from the business.

Doing things in a big way is nothing new for the guy who is known to all by his childhood nickname, the origin of which is unclear. It is, in fact, the name stamped on his Commerce Bank business card: Duddie Massad, Chairman.

For about 35 years, Massad owned a Hertz rental car operation in Virginia.

“It was the second or third largest Hertz franchise,” he said. “It was big, big, big.” It served Norfolk, Virginia, Virginia Beach, Poughkeepsie, Virginia, and the Chesapeake Bay area.  “One thousand cars a day.”

In addition to juggling all the balls, keeping them in the air and keeping things rolling, Massad does the marketing for many of his business ventures, including Isoldmyhouse.com, the bank, the dealerships, and the real estate projects.

You’ve got an empire, he is told.

“A small one,” he replies.

dscn0508-copyIn December of 1993, when he and several other investors got the go-ahead from the FDIC to buy Commerce Bank & Trust Company, what they bought was a bank in a good amount of financial difficulty. What they hold today is a financially solvent institution that is as solid as a rock, he said.

As for the running of the bank operation itself, he has knowledgeable people in place, he said.  Selling and buying is his expertise, not the day-to-day of running a financial institution, so, he said he made sure to have people who could properly guide the bank. Brian W. Thompson is president of Commerce Bank and William F. Burke is its chief financial officer. Both men also hold similar positions in Commerce Bancshares Corporation, which is the holding company of the bank.  Massad also serves as chairman of the board of directors of Commerce Bancshares.

The reason he wanted to be a member of the group to buy the bank was to keep it locally owned, to stabilize it, and to make it grow. It now has more than $1 billion in assets.

“The bank is going great,” he said.

Mission accomplished, to borrow another phrase.

The success of Commerce Bank has allowed him to engage in some charitable works, helping the community where he grew up.

“We’ve made a mark in the city,” he said proudly. He and the bank have helped local hospitals, schools and other charitable groups. “We’ve been able to do a lot of nice things for the community.”

Commerce Bank employees are very involved with the United Way of Central Massachusetts and frequently volunteer their time helping various causes ~ sprucing up the Frances Perkins Home, for example. The shelter, which is supported by Friendly House, offers emergency temporary housing for women and children.  In 2010, Commerce presented the United Way of Central Mass with a check for $64,189 ~ money from the bank itself, as well money donated by its employees. In May of 2007, Commerce Bank paid $1 million to renovate and revitalize the new Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium. The facility is used by all area high schools for a variety of sports.

Perhaps the biggest splash was back in January of 2005, when Massad made a $12.5 million gift to UMass Memorial’s Emergency Care Campaign. The donation helped the hospital build a new state-of-the-art emergency and trauma unit on its university campus.  The new unit is named the Duddie Massad Emergency and Trauma Center.  At the time, Massad said, “I grew up in Central Massachusetts, and this is a way of helping ensure that the next generation of friends and neighbors in this wonderful place have access to the best emergency health care in the world.”

A framed photograph commemorating the event hangs in his bank office.

***

Despite his busy day, which begins early and ends late, Massad always finds time for exercise.

“Every other day at least I lift, do the bike, some cardio, and I stretch,” he said.

He makes it a point to keep his weight at a trim 145 pounds.

“If I go to 147, I drop those two pounds right away,” he said, an ability that makes him the envy of people all around the world.  “I’m 145 pounds of dynamite,” he laughed.

When he was in his 60s, he took up taekwondo, a Korean martial art. He did it for eight or nine years. Doing a side kick one day, he threw out his back. The injury forced him to quit at red belt  ~ one rank below black belt.

Understandably, he never makes time for golf, despite many businessmen and women using their time on the links to do a little wheeling and dealing. Why? It takes forever. Playing 18 would be like standing still ~ something for which he has neither a tolerance nor an affinity.

“I hate golf,” he says, neatly summing up his feelings for a game that others find immensely fun, if not patience-trying.
His scorn for the sport that Scotsmen worship does not extend to all hobbies. He has spent many hours enjoying one of his favorite pastimes ~ flying.

He’s been a pilot for a long time and even got certified for multi-engine. But on his way back from Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire about four or five years ago, he crashed near the New Hampshire and Massachusetts border. The plane was a total loss, but luckily no one was injured. Still, he felt it was time to move on. Leaving behind flying has not been easy.

“I really miss it.”

***

Massad is on the phone all day ~ literally ~ whether it is his cell phone or his office phone or his car phone, keeping a handle on his myriad business ventures.

On the day of the interview, his monthly Verizon bill was sitting on a desk.  He flipped through it.  It was 27 pages long. Each page listed about 45 calls. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of talking. And that is just on his cell phone, which, by the way, is soon to be replaced by a bran’ spankin’ new iPhone 4.

“I am always busy,” he said. “My calendar is still full … I love the fight of this. I really do.”

So retirement is not in the cards. It is not the remotest consideration. Not even a fleeting thought bubble, gently passing through.

“Retire to what?” he asked.

It just isn’t happening.

Work is what Duddie does, what he has always done. Buying and selling. Making deals.  Winning, at the serious game of business.

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