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Things I Can't Live Without: Fred Schwam
 

CEO of American Christmas Decorations, which creates holiday displays for more than 300 New York City businesses, including Radio City Music Hall, Bloomingdale's, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
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Annual revenue and employees: $6.5 million; 21 full-time, 80 seasonal.

Age and home: 39; Armonk, N.Y.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: In 1988, Schwam's senior year in college, his father, Marvin, called to say he had sold his decorating business. The acquirer wasn't interested in the holiday décor division with its handful of corporate clients, so Schwam borrowed money to buy it. At age 21, while his friends eased into the working world, Schwam worried about making payroll for three full-time and 18 part-time staffers. "I wasn't sleeping well," he recalls.

Schwam's little helpers: Each October, it takes a crew of 20 people 12 hours to install the company's first display of the season, the 72-foot-tall Christmas tree on the Radio City Music Hall marquee. Schwam's displays range from traditional to high tech. The exterior of the Saks flagship store, for example, boasts 50 giant LED-illuminated snowflakes that are programmed to swirl, blink, and change color to simulate a snowstorm.

Tisn't always the season: Schwam's biggest challenge has always been managing cash flow in a seasonal business. He does so by budgeting carefully and negotiating three- and four-year contracts with clients. In 2001, he also began selling do-it-yourself Christmas decorating kits to national chains, such as J. Crew and Banana Republic.

Rockin' around the Christmas tree: Schwam's own home is free of mistletoe and holly (he's Jewish), but when the installation season wraps in mid-December, he throws a big holiday bash for his employees, transforming one of his three warehouses into a veritable nightclub with dinner, dancing, and, naturally, some of the best decorations in New York City.

Palm Treo 600, $270

"Whenever I'm out of the office, my Treo is on my hip. It gives me immediate access to my employees and family."

Rawlings baseball glove, $150

"I'm very competitive in business and sports. In spring and summer, I play third base in a local league."

Post-it pads, $6 for five

"I'm constantly thinking of new goals. I keep Post-its on my desk, in the car, on my night table, and in the bathroom."

... and What I Covet

Ski cabin, $750,000

"My wife and I love to ski, and our two sons--one is 4 and the other is 7--are just starting. I'd like to put on a pair of skis at my front door and just hit the Vermont slopes. Of course, I also covet enough time off to enjoy a ski home."

Last updated: Dec 1, 2005




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