Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Knut Barth Story

                                                   The Knut Barth Story
                                        A true story as told to me by Knute Barth
                                  Written 10/2011 and rewritten 11/2015 unedited
                                                        Howard Yasgar

      When I think about all of the interesting people I have met over the years, one person that would be near the top of the list would be a fellow named Knut Barth.
      I had the good fortune to meet Knute Barth in 1992. I had met Knute through my good friend Henry Moed, Henry’s real name was Eddie Moed, and how Eddie got to be called Henry is a story that I can quickly tell you.
      When Eddie Moed started working for his uncles company, Mott Haven Industries in New York, they already had a cousin working there named Eddie Moed, so to eliminate confusion, Eddie was called Henry. It eliminated confusion at work, but created lots of confusion outside the company as everyone called Eddie, Henry, now you got how that happened.
     When the owner of Mott Haven Industries, Ben Moed, passed away, it was decided by the immediate family to close the company down. The business property in New York was more valuable, than the business was.  It appears that the Mott haven business was located next to New York swampland, and little by little when no one was looking, Ben Moed had filled in the swampland, and now, it was prime property in New York.
    When the Mott Haven business was liquidated, Henry Moed decided to semi-retire, and as he was living in West Palm Beach Florida he started coming in and working along with our company CME Arma in Miami.
      While Henry was working at Mott Haven Industries in New York, he had met a lot of top notch people that were in the military parts and supply business, and he had kept in had always kept in contact with several of them. So after Henry moved to Florida, he kept in touch with one of the people that he had known very well, Knut Barth.
      Knut a Norwegian, who by 1992 was also now semi- retired, and he was running a small military supply company out of his home in Highland Michigan called Barco.  
      Henry Moed had met Knut when Knut was a Vice President of the Detroit Diesel Military Export Division, but now, we were told that Knut ran his small one man company, mostly to keep himself busy, and to support his addiction to Salmon fishing. Knut’s main customers were the governments of Norway and Chile so that gave him plenty of reasons to travel to those countries for Salmon fishing.
     So we now met Knut through Henry Moed, and Knut used our company to rebuild a quantity of sighting devices for the Norwegian army. The project worked out well, for everyone involved, Henry found used sighting devices and we did the rebuilding. When the project was done Knut came down to Florida to inspect the finished product and that’s when we met him.
      By the time we met Knut, he was already pulling around a portable pump to be able to do his kidney dialysis while he was traveling. He would call ahead to Baxter chemical company and they would ship his dialysis exchange liquid ahead of his visit.
     When we got to know Knut, he told us that he spoke 34 different languages. He said that he was able to talk in many more, languages but didn’t count them, because he wasn’t conversationally fluent in them. He also said that in his duty as Vice President of Detroit Diesel Export division, he had traveled to every country in the world, with the exception of Outer Mongolia.
     Once we got to know Knut, he introduced us to his friends Kurt and Christine Lieb, Kurt who was from Switzerland also worked for Detroit Diesel. It turned out that Kurt Lieb was one of Knut’s top sales people at Detroit Diesel which was another interesting story.
     While Knut was working at Detroit Diesel, it was purchased by Roger Pensky, and When Pensky took over, he asked Knut why Detroit Diesel was losing money in Mexico. Knut said it was because of corruption, by the Spanish speaking Detroit Diesel employees. Roger Pensky asked Knut how he could fix the problem in Mexico, and Knut said he knew exactly how to fix it. He said Detroit Diesel had a top salesman in Europe named Kurt Lieb, and Kurt who was from Switzerland, spoke fluent Spanish and he could fix the problem in Mexico. The problem was that to promote Kurt to oversee sales in Mexico would offend quite a few Detroit Diesel employees.
     Well, Pensky did promote Kurt Lieb, and Kurt did fix the problem in Mexico by firing all the corrupt Mexican managers there. But Kurt’s sudden rise at the Detroit Diesel Company had offended some of the upper brass, and as soon as they had the opportunity they fired Kurt just out of spite.
      Kurt Lieb was heartbroken, he had made Mexico profitable for Detroit Diesel and now they had fired him. So after several months Kurt approached Roger Pensky, and told him what had happened, and Roger Pensky solved the problem by allowing Kurt to take over the Detroit Diesel distributorship in the country of Belize. So to effectively run the agency in Belize Kurt and Christine Lied bought a house, and then opened a small office in Miami to better service their Detroit Diesel agency in Belize.
     So once we met Kurt and Christine Lieb we learned a whole lot more about Knut Barth. They said that Knut had a girlfriend in every country he visited, and later when I asked Knut about it, he didn’t deny it. Knut was a bachelor at the time, and once he said he was getting close to being married to a girl from an influential family in Japan, but luckily he was able to escape from Japan in time.  
     By the time we had met Knut in 1992, he was married to a lovely British girl named Denise, and they had two sons, one who was 14 and the other 10, both were multilingual.
     Once we became part of Knut’s inner circle of friends, we were always aware of where he was heading next to go Salmon fishing. He always did it under the guise of doing business. Then one day Knut told us that he had never been to Key West which was the Southern tip of Florida, but he said he had heard all about people catching Tarpoons there, I corrected him and said they were called Tarpons, it appears it was a new word for this multi, multilingual guy. So we invited Knut and his older son, to come visit with us at our town house in Executive Bay Club, in Islamorada , I promised to take them to Key West and show them Tarpons.
     Now, we had heard that Knut was a spy for the U.S. Government during WW2 and we told Knute that we wanted to hear the story as we drove to Key West and he agreed,
So the night before we left, Knut put a bag of Baxter Chemical’s dialysis liquid into our  second floor bathroom sink with the hot water running on it to warm it up, then he came downstairs to watch TV with us. He forgot about the water and soon the house was flooded, fortunately the house was concrete and tile and little damage was done.
    On the trip to Key West, Knut told us that because he was Norwegian, he was recruited as a spy by the U.S. government while he was a student, so I asked him to tell us all about it.
     After training, Knut said he was airlifted, and dropped in the water off the coast of Poland, and he swam to shore at night. Once he was in Poland, he was in a hotel room, naked, (He was with a Polish girl) when he was arrested by the Nazi’s. He was taken to a commandeered government building and interrogated all night. He proved that he was a student and was eventually freed. Then he said, it was many years later when he was working for Detroit Diesel, he had a sales meeting in Warsaw Poland. The meeting room looked familiar. Then he realized, it was the same room that the Nazi’s had interrogated him forty years before.   
    I asked Knut how he became a Vice President of Detroit Diesel Export Division, and he told us the following story. He said that when he immigrated to the U.S., he had an engineering degree, and had applied for a job with General Motors EMT Division. EMT was General Motors, Electromotive Train Division. Knut said that he was hired there as an engineer, but as soon as an opening came up in the sales department, he applied for it.
     His first sales project was to go to Brazil, to attend the opening of the bids to build a rail road along the Amazon River. It appears that General Motors had already submitted their bid. So Knute didn’t quite understand why General Motors had sent him on such an important and big project that he knew so little about.
     Knut arrived in the Capitol of Brazil several days ahead of time, and needed something to do. So he saw there was a tourist boating excursion up the Amazon River, so he joined the tour group. Knut said he knew the tour was going up the river, but he didn’t remember the names of the various cities and towns they passed by. After the cruise he returned to Brasilia, giving him ample time to attend the bid opening.
     On the day of the bid opening, Knut sat at a long table with all the other competitors from France, England and Germany. The bids were being opened by the minister of the interior of Brazil. When all the bids had been read, it turned out that the General Motors
EMT’s bid was several million dollars higher than all of the other competitors. But the Minister of the Interior announced that the award was being made to General Motors anyway. All of the competitors stood up and protested, they wanted to know why the Minister would award the contract to GM, whose bid was the highest.
     The minister replied, and he said, it was because the representative of General Motors, Mr. Knut Barth, was the only one person that took the time to travel up the river to inspect the path of the new railroad route. None of the other competitors had done that.
      Knut was surprised as he had no idea that the river cruise he took, was the same route as the proposed railroad, so now he returned home to the States as a hero, having won the railroad contract in Brazil. Knut felt that his career and future with GM was now assured.
      It was four years later that Knut said he had learned that GM had given the Brazilian Minister of the Interior a $400,000.00, bribe long before the bids were opened. But Knut Barth’s reputation at GM had now been made, and when an opening came up for the Vice Presidency of Detroit Diesel Export Division, Knut applied for it and was promoted to the position.
      Now, we knew that Knut Barth was an avid Salmon fisherman so I couldn’t resist pulling the following gag on him.
     In June of 2000, we were in a Winn Dixie super market in the Keys, and they were selling whole farm raised Chilean Salmon  for only $2.99 a pound, so we purchased a whole 20 lb Salmon and brought it down to our new home which was now located on a  nice canal on Plantation Key, in Islamorada Florida.
     My wife Katherine took several pictures of me, making believe I was fighting a big fish in the canal behind our house, my fishing rod was bent to look like there was a real fight going on. Then she took a picture of me holding the fishing rod and the 20 pound whole Salmon. We made it look as if I had just caught it in the canal. Everyone knew that there were no Salmon in Florida, but we sent all the pictures to Knut.
     Well, turns out, we couldn’t fool him, when he saw the pictures, he immediately recognized the fish as a farm raised fish from Chile. I asked him how did he know that, and Knut said that it was because the Salmon had its tail trimmed. He told us all Chilean farm raised Salmon had their tail trimmed to make them less powerful, and easier to farm, so we really learned something new from Knut.    
     The following year, I became interested in making Norwegian Gravlax which is like Lox, a form of cured Salmon. I knew that Gravlax was very popular in all the Scandinavian countries, so when I mentioned it to Knut, he said Gravlax used to be a regular everyday meal for him when he was growing up in Norway. So I asked Knut what was the recipe they used in Norway to make it. While I was on the phone with Knut in Michigan, he dialed up a friend up in Norway, and while I listened, Knut translated the recipe from Norwegian to English. That’s how I got the original recipe to make Gravlax, which worked perfectly.
      Around 2001 we heard that Knut was hospitalized and had a Sugar Diabetes problem that would require both his legs to be amputated. We had supper with his wife Denise, at Kurt and Christine Leib’s house, and Denise said that once Knut realized the situation he was in, he asked for a telephone, and he called all his very close friends all around the world to say goodbye. He then slipped into a coma and passed away. We were all sad to lose him. Then at age 72, Knut’s Swiss friend, Kurt Lieb decided to make an around the world flying trip with a photographer, and post pictures on the internet of their travels.
      Unfortunately their single engine plane went down in the Colombian jungle on Christmas day 2007, and they were both killed.


No comments:

Post a Comment