Charlie Bowlus

Charlie Bowlus was not your stereotypical ceo.

Maria DiFranco, who worked for him while he led the Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM), remembers finding that out rather quickly the first time she met him.

“He was wearing jeans, had a big smile and gave me a hug,” she writes as part of an online tribute to Bowlus, who died unexpectedly last week after complications from surgery. He was 64.

“You are lucky to meet someone like Charlie once in a lifetime and you are even luckier to work for someone like him,” DiFranco writes. “I respected his criticism because he knew what he was talking about. He was always honest. When he told me something was good, I knew it really was and it felt so good to hear that from him.”

Bowlus' first job in the retail world began during college when he worked for a small drug chain, owned by a friend's father. The experience eventually led to him creating ECRM in 1993, which coordinates conferences that pair buyers and wholesalers together in private meetings.

An online tribute to Bowlus at the ECRM website has garnered a slew of comments from people whose lives he impacted, including one from Samuel Gutierrez of Chocolates Turin.

“I am truly sad about this terrible news, Charley was truly a nice person,” Gutierrez writes. “He was an innovator and a customer service guru. With his ideas he [shaped] the way we do business and for that we have to say ‘THANKS CHARLIE.’ We will never forget you.”

DiFranco says it’s amazing to see how many lives he impacted and how many people he inspired.

“Charlie will be alive in the lives he touched, whether you become more passionate, more determined, more generous, more of a leader, you are being Charlie,” she writes. “I am so grateful to have met Charlie and to be a part of this amazing family he created. I don’t think I ever thanked him as I should have, but I hope he knows how much he and this experience have taught me.”

His son, Mitch, who took over the reigns of ECRM in June after his father stepped down to focus on humanitarian initiatives and software development, says his dad would not want people to mourn his death.

“Rather, he would want us to celebrate his tremendous life and further his passion and vision for improving the way companies do business,” he writes in a letter to ECRM employees. “His courage, determination, humility and his love of life had undoubtedly touched all of our lives. We are all blessed to work for a company that has been shaped by the will, leadership and vision of my father.”

A celebration of life will be held from 4 to 9 p.m., Aug. 22, at the Cleveland Browns Stadium in the City View Club Lounge. Donations can be made in his honor toWomen for Women International,ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)andFeeding America

“My prayers are with the Bowlus family,” DiFranco says. “I know Charlie is looking down at the legacy he created, smiling, as it continues to grow.”

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