In Memory of Liston Durden
Former Senior Vice President-Marketing and Corporate Strategy
Viking Range, LLC
Liston P. Durden passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, January 22, at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, of a massive heart attack. His wife, Brenda, has lost a loving, devoted and cherished husband of 42 years. His two daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah, have lost a wonderful, loving and devoted father. Viking Range, LLC, a company Liston helped build, has lost one of its key executives and one of the dearest and most beloved members of its close-knit Viking family. The world has lost one of its best.
Liston was born in Sebring, Florida, in 1946. His family later moved to Sylvester, Georgia, and he graduated from high school in nearby Madison, Georgia, where he was valedictorian of his senior class. Liston started work at an early age, working at a rural country store near Sylvester from the age of 13 where he learned about business, selling goods and dealing with people. After graduating from high school, he attended Georgia State University in Atlanta, maintaining a full course load and also working fulltime for Thom McAn Shoes, where he further developed his sales skills selling shoes. While attending Georgia State he was a member of the Army ROTC and served as Battalion Commander his senior year.
After receiving his Bachelors of Business Administration degree in Marketing from Georgia State, graduating with honors, and being commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army, Liston was stationed in Germany during the height of the Viet Nam war, serving as Adjutant at Coleman Barracks. He and Brenda married in 1969 and lived in Germany for the two years Liston was stationed there and traveled throughout the country together. Liston learned to speak German and developed a love and admiration for Germany - the beauty of the country, its cleanliness and orderliness, the strong work ethic of its people - things that Liston could closely identify with.
Liston made Germany one of his primary interests and became an authority on German history and geography and was a true scholar of the subjects. He loved visiting Germany, both on business and for pleasure. As God would have it, Liston and Brenda had just returned from a one week business trip to Germany the day before Liston's death. How fitting it was for Liston to have thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful visit to his beloved Germany the last week of his life.
After his discharge from the Army as a First Lieutenant and returning to the United States, Liston enrolled in graduate school at Georgia State to pursue a Masters of Business Administration degree. While attending graduate school at Georgia State he worked fulltime in the furniture department of Rich's Department Store in Atlanta, further honing his sales and marketing skills.
After receiving his MBA degree from Georgia State with a concentration in International Business, Liston was hired by GE Major Appliances and was placed in the company's management development program. Liston was assigned a sales territory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he began to apply the sales and marketing skills he'd learned at the country store in Sylvester, in both undergraduate and graduate school at Georgia State, and at Thom McAn Shoes and Rich's Department Store in Atlanta.
A devotee of maps and geography, Liston quickly learned his territory inside and out and also began to increase his interest in and appreciation for demographics, both for business purposes and as a hobby. He soon knew the populations of every town in his western Pennsylvania territory and expanded his study of demographics to include the entire United States and then, of course, his beloved Germany, as well as all of Europe. Along with their history, Liston could recite the populations of most principal cities in Germany and Europe and what historic events influenced their development and the culture of their inhabitants. Liston knew more about Germany and Europe than many Germans and Europeans.
After three years at GE Major Appliances, Liston accepted a position at the KitchenAid Division of Hobart Corporation to establish a training department. Liston developed training programs and support material for KitchenAid and became widely known as one of the appliance industry's most effective and renowned product and sales trainers. He was then promoted to the position of product manager and became an authority on the entire KitchenAid product line, which primarily consisted of dishwashers, disposers and trash compactors at that time.
In 1986 when KitchenAid was considering acquiring Chambers Stove Company in Oxford, Mississippi, in order to diversify beyond the kitchen cleanup category, Liston was assigned to the due diligence team to study the Chambers line of cooking products. When KitchenAid decided to acquire Chambers, Liston was made product manager for cooking products, playing the lead role in ushering in the era of cooking products at KitchenAid. He went on to become KitchenAid's top product management executive as the company continued to expand into other product categories.
Little did Liston know when he was conducting due diligence for KitchenAid at Chambers in Oxford, Fred Carl, who was in the process of establishing Viking Range, LLC in nearby Greenwood, Mississippi, was in discussions with Chambers about making his product line for him, the Viking range. Fred soon learned that the reason Chambers abruptly decided against making his product was that the company was being acquired by KitchenAid. Not until years later did Liston and Fred realize that they were both in discussions with Chambers' management at the same time, but for two entirely different reasons. They had no idea at the time that their paths would cross again.
Soon after KitchenAid acquired Chambers, KitchenAid itself was acquired by Whirlpool Corporation. After 14 years with KitchenAid and living in Troy, Ohio, Liston and his family moved to St. Joseph, Michigan, near Whirlpool's headquarters, and Liston continued to lead product management for the KitchenAid brand at Whirlpool. Fred Carl had gone on to establish Viking in 1987 and, by this time, was in the market for a seasoned, highly capable marketing and product management executive. Due to many Viking distributors having formerly been KitchenAid distributors prior to the Whirlpool acquisition, Fred learned of a true appliance industry guru who all of the Viking distributors admired, respected and genuinely liked, Liston Durden.
Fred began courting Liston at industry trade shows and in the summer of 1989 was able to convince him to quit his secure job and leave a promising career at Whirlpool and join Viking, a little start-up company that had only been shipping ranges for two and a half years at that time. Liston saw the potential that Viking had and longed to once again be in a smaller company like KitchenAid once had been and decided to make the leap of faith and join Viking to help Fred build the company. The rest, as they say, is history.
Liston worked hand-in-hand with Fred to rapidly expand the Viking product line, serving as the company's first Vice President-Marketing. The rapid growth of Viking was largely attributable to the company constantly adding new products to meet consumers' increasing appetite for professional-style Viking appliances beyond the original Viking range. Liston played the lead role in creating a full lineup of Viking appliances for the entire kitchen over the years, including built-in cooking products, built-in refrigeration, dishwashers, ventilation hoods and outdoor grills, and Viking became a highly prestigious brand and leading manufacturer of professional appliances for the home.
As Viking continued to grow, Liston became Senior Vice President-Marketing and, most recently, Senior Vice President-Marketing and Corporate Strategy. With his serious interest in international markets, Liston led the company's expansion into Europe and ultimately into every major foreign market in the world. When Liston joined Viking in 1989, the company's sales were approximately $4 million. By 2007, sales at Viking had reached $400 million, thanks in large measure to its broad product offering that had been championed and nurtured by Liston Durden.
Liston loved the appliance industry and was one of its most enthusiastic supporters. He was a loyal and dedicated member of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), serving on various committees and as Chairman of the Major Appliance Division. He also served on the AHAM Board of Directors and was Chairman of the Board for two years. In 2007 AHAM recognized Liston with the industry's top honor, the prestigious Home Appliance Industry Leadership (HAIL) award. AHAM recently paid tribute to Liston at their annual meeting, click to view the video tribute here.
Liston had many great accomplishments in his career but he had a variety of interests away from work as well. He was an accomplished athlete and thoroughly enjoyed sports, especially baseball. Liston was a gifted baseball player and played shortstop on his varsity high school baseball team. He was also a baseball strategist and greatly enjoyed the decision making process of coaches during a game, often comparing baseball strategy to the strategy companies use in business. He could recite statistics and players from the past and was an authority on team and league history. He was also a collector of baseball cards and his collection, meticulously organized and cataloged, is probably among the most extensive in private hobbyists' hands in the United States.
Baseball was not Liston's only sport. Despite his 5'4" height, he played quarterback on his high school varsity football team. He also enjoyed basketball and was particularly accomplished in playing a competitive game of "HORSE" in which he took great pleasure defeating his much taller opponents. Liston was also a fine tennis player and very much enjoyed the fast moving sport. His quickness on the court intimidated his opponents and always kept them on their toes. He often won the tennis tournaments held in conjunction with AHAM meetings he attended. Liston was also a formidable poker player and enjoyed playing the game, although always for fun, entertainment, and fellowship.
Liston placed great importance on being thoroughly organized at all times and with all things, including his attic and garage. He was always totally organized in everything that he did. He was meticulous in keeping information in his files in an organized, detailed and logical way so that anything could always be quickly and easily located. His coworkers marveled at just about anything ever needed seeming to always be readily available and at Liston's fingertips.
Liston also felt that being properly and fully prepared for everything one does was one of the keys to success in all endeavors, be it business or personal, work or pleasure. Liston devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to preparation and was always totally prepared in every way. While coworkers would attend meetings with a few items, Liston would show up with a stack of information that he had compiled just in case it might be needed in the meeting. Very often it was and it was immediately brought out by Liston, sometimes with a slight grin on his face.
Liston was a true people person and never met a stranger. He would ask the person he was visiting with for their name and where they were from and would often know the approximate population of their home city. He would show a genuine interest in them and could make a total stranger feel important and they would instantly become comfortable visiting with Liston. He had a true gift with people and was also a highly effective communicator. Liston's speeches and presentations captivated the audience and were always interesting and usually entertaining, for he had a great sense of humor. He loved to laugh and believed that work could also include fun and always made an effort to make people smile.
Liston had many varied interests on and away from the job but the main interest in his life was his family. Liston was a devoted family man, a dedicated husband and father. His life revolved around Brenda, Elizabeth and Sarah and he felt that they were his greatest accomplishment. He and Brenda had a special, loving relationship and he adored his two daughters and was extremely proud of them. In all that he did, Liston's family always came first. There was never any doubt about that.
Something that most people remember about Liston is that he treated all living things with respect and care. All people to him were intrinsically valuable, all animals needed to be protected and cared for. Liston's daughters were taught to always keep extra dog food and cat food on hand just in case, with their father saying, "No animal should ever go hungry, ever." Not surprisingly, Liston was a tissue and organ donor upon his death.
One of Liston's missions in life was to make this earth a cleaner place. Early in the mornings before starting work, Liston could be seen picking up litter in the alley behind his office. On weekends, he would pick up litter in his neighborhood and at the nearby farmers market. Whenever he was walking down the street or sidewalk and he spotted litter, Liston would stop and pick it up no matter where he was or who he was with. Liston felt that the simple act of picking up litter would make this world a lot better for others to enjoy.
Liston was an extraordinarily kind, sincere, considerate and compassionate person who treated everyone of all walks of life with respect, courtesy and warmth. He always had a smile for them or something nice and uplifting to say. He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. He was also an extremely humble man who lived his life with great humility and, unknowingly and without trying, set a wonderful example for others to follow. He was a combination of St. Francis, who cared for life in its entirety, and St. Joseph, who cared deeply for his family. If there was ever a role model for us all, it was Liston Durden. One of Liston's colleagues chose the following scripture as one that epitomizes the way Liston lived his life:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5).
Memorial donations for Liston may be made to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 1695 Central Avenue, Memphis, TN 38104; Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, 511 West Washington Street, Greenwood, MS 38930; St. Francis Catholic Church, Highway 82 East, Greenwood, MS 38930; or a local Humane Society.
In Liston's honor, please be kind to animals and don't litter. If you see litter, think about what Liston Durden would do and stop and pick it up. He was often heard saying, "If every person would pick up just one piece of litter each day, it would make such a difference." Let's continue Liston's work to help make this world a better place.