Iconic Industry Rep Steve Zaboji Killed in Plane Crash

Industry Stunned as Zaboji Died Pursuing His Love of Flight

UPDATED: Yamaha Responds to News

Photo of Steve ZabojiOne of the most iconic manufacturer sales representatives in the consumer electronics industry in the Mid-Atlantic territory, Steven B. Zaboji, was killed Saturday just before 2:00pm, when the Piper Pawnee aircraft he was piloting crashed shortly after releasing a glider it had towed into the sky. According to the Virginia State Police, the crash occurred near the Front Royal Airport, the airport it had taken off from, in Warren County, Virginia.

See more on this shocking death of Steve Zaboji…

Zaboji, 76, lived in Reston, VA, and has been an aviation enthusiast for most of his life. Not only was he a licensed pilot, but he was also a certified flying instructor. In the incident that occurred Saturday, Zaboji’s Piper had towed a glider into the air and had successfully disconnected from the glider. According to the police, after disconnecting, the Piper developed some type of problem that led to its crash on private property just off the airport. The plane caught fire upon crashing. No one on the ground was hurt and the glider he had been towing landed safely without incident.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are on the scene today to investigate the cause of the crash.

A True Professional

The industry has lost one of its true professionals – Zaboji was the owner of Balaton Marketing, founded in 1972, one of the dominant manufacturers representative firms in the Mid-Atlantic region for 45 years. Zaboji and Balaton Marketing are mostly known for their vigorous representation of the Yamaha line of electronics, as well as other well-known brands.

As a representative, Zaboji was smart, creative, and indefatigable. Having competed against him for many years when I was VP of Sales and Marketing at Onkyo, a Yamaha competitor, I developed a tremendous amount of respect for Steve – a good competitor who represented his brands well.

Photo Steve Zaboji in flight

Steve Zaboji doing what he loved most…flying

Creative Solutions to Vexing Industry Problems

Zaboji possessed the unique ability to develop really creative solutions to vexing industry problems. Sensing the need to provide dealers with more in-depth information on his lines on a regular basis, Zaboji hired a team and developed the Virtual Representative, a content distribution system that allowed him to send email newsletters to each dealer that was customized with content specific to the particular mix of Balaton lines that individual dealer carried.

It was such a smart system that Yamaha itself adopted Zaboji’s system for national dealer mailings for several years. But beyond investing in developing this superior content system, Zaboji was also a major contributor of content for his dealers – content gleaned from the wisdom of decades of experience in the tech business. He also wrote a lot of content for various aviation media.

Powerful and Personal Content Creator

Here again, much of the content provided by Zaboji was remarkably powerful, and often personal. His contributions included what many would have considered sensitive information about some of the financial struggles he had personally encountered. We once asked him to explain why he would share this information, which was so personal and would be viewed by some as embarrassing.

“Because I want to help them [dealers] learn from my mistakes, rather than having to go through it themselves,” he told us without hesitation. This was another example of a unique attribute of Zaboji –  he really cared about his dealers. To Steve, dealers were not just a quick commission opportunity, rather, they were long term partners in business building.

‘An Inspirational Figure’

“Steve was one of the first independent reps I worked with when I started in the industry almost 30 years ago,” said Gary Yacoubian, President and Managing Partner of SVS, formerly President of Myer-Emco. “He was an inspirational figure to so many of us. He was the embodiment of professionalism and vision, and his conscientiousness in representing his brands served them and the retailers and our customers incredibly well. He will be missed by anyone who cares about our industry.”

‘An Important Force for Good’

“I spent over 20 years of my life in the consumer electronics industry, and throughout that period, I have always considered Steve Zaboji an important force for good in the industry. I’ve attended his speeches, presentations, and training sessions and have been privileged to contribute to several of his projects,” said Roger Parker, a content marketing blogger, in a LinkedIn endorsement of Zaboji. “Like all fast-moving pioneers, Steve is often a step, or two, ahead of the pack. In the early days, he helped raise the level of sales training and motivation in the industry, just as he is now making it easier and easier for businesses to connect with their consumers.”

Photo of Steve Zaboji at family event

‘Pursuing His Passions Every Single Day’

On Facebook, Zaboji’s daughter, Cameron Zdancewicz wrote:

Yesterday, my father, Steven Zaboji, passed away after being in an aviation accident.

I was truly blessed to have him as a father and friend. He was one of the most incredible people I have ever met. A loving husband, amazing father, proud grandfather, and generous and loyal friend. He had a beautiful life, pursuing his passions every single day, and always looking for opportunities to help and mentor others. Whether it was in business, aviation, travel, writing, or music, he had a passion for people and learning. I am forever grateful to have had his influence, love, and support in my life.

Please keep my family in your thoughts & prayers as we go through this difficult time.

‘A Mentor’

His son Chris Zaboji, also on Facebook, yesterday wrote:

It is with great sadness that I write tonight, my father, Steven Zaboji, was in a fatal aircraft accident this afternoon. It’s hard to believe and we are all still in shock, doubting that the reality is true. Being able to share aviation with him made us very close, and to lose such a mentor is heartbreaking.

I ask that you keep our family in your prayers as the details emerge.

We will update this story as we learn more.

 

>>UPDATE – Yamaha Responds to News

A couple of hours after our story was reported, we received this statement from Yamaha Senior Vice President Tom Sumner:

“I was shocked to find out this morning that Steve passed away in a plane crash. I hadn’t flown with Steve, but I had many long drives with him through Pennsylvania and Virginia driving between dealer visits, so we had many a long talk. Steve and his company have represented Yamaha since the 1970’s, so his depth of knowledge about Yamaha history, and in particular the history of Yamaha AV gear in the U.S., greatly exceeded mine and most folks that work at Yamaha.

“Steve always had the dealer and the end consumer in mind in all his dealings. I think every time I traveled with Steve he took me by a home that had a Yamaha installation—it was hard to believe that he had that level of detail—but he did.  I last met with Steve in August. He was a great guy. He enjoyed what he did and had passion for the industry. He was always very thoughtful and showed foresight in everything he did.

“We will miss him.”

 

About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist – primarily in the technology industry – I’ve experienced a sort of “circle of life” in business. I’ve been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives.

Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development – I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.


Comments

Iconic Industry Rep Steve Zaboji Killed in Plane Crash — 26 Comments

  1. I had the good fortune of working with Steve for 45 years. Steve was a visionary, who truly believed in the value of raising professionalism throughout the business.He was thoughtful, and in a fast-paced business, managed to stay ahead in a rapidly changing landscape. Steve will be missed by all of us who benefited from his guidance, insight and friendship

    • What a shocking and terrible loss. Steve was one of a kind, alway trying to improve things and find a better way. He was so helpful and supportive to me when I was at PARA. I am stunned. He will be sorely missed. People like Steve simply don’t grow on trees!

  2. It is with great sadness to learn of Steve Zaboji’s passing, he was a mentor, an outstanding Rep and a good friend. Never afraid to point out where we were wrong and never hesitated in letting us know when we got it right. From “Needle in a Haystack” to Virtual Representative Steve was always innovating. His proudest moments were talking about his children, his Dealers and flying.
    The tide recedes, but leaves behind bright seashells on the sand.
    The sun goes down, but gentle warmth still lingers on the land.
    The music stops, and yet echoes on the sweet refrain.
    For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.

  3. What a loss. Anyone who was involved with Steve had to respect him and all that he “represented”. The CE industry as a whole and his dealers were made better because of him. He was truly someone who I looked up too and respected beyond words.

  4. The world is a better place because of Steve. His was an innate ability to teach those around him the art of integrity and humility. Those attributes of Steve live on in all of us who had the pleasure to know and to work with him. Rest in Peace my friend.

  5. Incredible memories of working closely with Steve in the early days of my career. Thank you for the coaching and for your friendship. Rest in piece and God bless.

  6. We have lost a true professional, a man who was a leader, an innovator, a mentor, and a creator of new direction. We have also lost the gift of friendship which he gave to so many in our industry as well as privately. While his many achievements are known, his history of giving to individuals and to our industry each day had to be experienced and appreciated. Susan has lost her partner, and their children have lost their father. We share their grief.

  7. Steve was one of the most professional, educated, intuitive, and friendly people I have ever met. Early in my career I was the Bang and Olufson in NY and Steve was the B&O Rep in the Mid Atlantic region. That is when I first met Steve. Over the last 5 years I have had the pleasure of getting to know Steve on both a personal and professional level. I will greatly miss our chats on the changes in the industry and how we can address the challenges of those changes. He will be greatly missed by all that have crossed his path. He will now fly in the clouds forever.

  8. Thirty-seven years ago I had the opportunity to work with Steve at Balaton Marketing for a few months prior to leaving the AV industry to work in the IT industry. At the time Steve’s office was near Dulles airport and I had the pleasure (and the scare of flying with him) of getting to work with him. Previously I had worked for a few years at Alpha Marketing representing JBL, Harmon Kardon products to retailers in Virginia, DC and Baltimore. At the time Steve was also holding sales training programs for retail store sales folks in addition to representing Yamaha consumer electronics. While my career focus was in a different direction I always found Steve to be a man of patience and honor. It was a shock to hear of his death last night on the news and it brought back fond memories of the local retail AV business’ at the time – Schrader Sound, MyerEmco, Sound Gallery, Stereo by McGuires – local businesses gone, replaced by the box stores (Circuit City and Best Buy) in the early eighties. This was time time when CDs were replacing records. Now, its streaming audio and wireless speakers and specialty retailers. My condolences to his family and friends for their loss.

  9. Of all the great things being acknowledged about Steve and how he went about his business the one thing that always shined through about him was what a nice and caring person he was…he will truly be missed.

  10. Our little AV community will not be the same without Steve. It is a very sad day and we will miss him. Rest in peace.

  11. Steve was one of the first reps I met when I began my career in this business in the early 70s. I learned so much from him, not only about the products he represented, but about the importance of professionalism in what was then still a fairly young industry largely populated by hobbyists. He set a great example for caring for the customer; I always felt he had a true interest in my success – and not only with his products. I bumped into Steve at CEDIA last month, and despite his busy schedule he took the time to catch up with me amidst the bustle of the aisles on the show floor, even though we had not spoken in years. I’m a better person for having known him and our industry is worse off by his loss. Soar with the eagles and the angels, Steve.

  12. We at Soundcast also wish to echo many thoughts being shared here – Steve not only had a heart and passion for this business, but a love for taking an idea or vision and being a part of that growth. As a rep for Soundcast, his infectious enthusiasm for the brand fed our own inspiration. To work with, and lose, a person of his caliber that is as much a mentor as a partner is extremely sad. We send our best wishes and heartfelt condolences to his family, and those who, like us, his life touched.

  13. My heart goes out to Steve’s family at this time of his tragic loss. While I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally, I know from the expressions of his wonderful wife that he was a fine human being. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

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  15. I didn’t hear until Ray Wright let us know. Shockingly hard to process.
    At every encounter Steve was the warmest and most engaging fellow. His pride in the area he lived was so evident when he hosted the IPRO conference in Washington; the tote bag and key chain hang on my office wall still today.
    When I joined a/d/s/ in the 80’s I met the standout leaders of the specialty audio business, and many have made touchingly appropriate comments since Steve’s untimely passing. Jon Meyer said it so well. Steve’s faith was obviously one of his compass points and that has taken him to his new home. I hope that same faith gives strength to his family as they move through this difficult time. As I was once told ‘I wish I could move the clock forward 3 years, because only time can heal’
    God Bless Steve, and watch over his family who has such a legacy to celebrate forever.

    • Morning John,

      I’d like to personally thank you for your comments about our friend Steve Zaboji. Faith was a strong component in Steve’s life and we could all do right to follow Steve’s path. While I will never be a pilot and never be as wise as he was, I can certainly strive to become a better person for my remaining days. I challenge us all to take a good look in the mirror and access our lives and reroute our personal “flight pattern” to the betterment of those we touch! Thank you Steve for helping us all learn to Soar!

  16. My prayers go out to the Zajobi family, both the immediate and extended family Steve created among his peers, his customers and his friends. Steve was a mentor to me in my rep business, a good friend who always listened, and always had a kind word for you and your efforts. The world lost a true gentleman, and the only solace to be found, is that Steve died doing what he loved. Godspeed Steve!

  17. Just heard the tragic news about Steve’s passing. I had the honor to fly with Steve in the late 70’s while I was national sales manager for Yamaha.

    We lost a talented gentleman.

    Condolences to his family and friends.

  18. I met Steve when I started working as an architect for Bang & Olufsen in 1976. I was just out of college. My father was a sales representative. So I grew up with in this industry but my father wanted me to go to school and get the degree he never had. He said every company has a contract that they can cancel with thirty days notice and when your commissions exceed the sales managers salary he will likely replace you with a factory man. My father and Steve built dealer networks that trusted them and the lines they represented.

    I traveled many times with Steves in his Cessna 310 to visit his dealers to design stores or store display areas for them. I had lots of work in the Mid Atlantic territory because of Steve. He believed in the value of creating a better retail environments to create better retailers. He built his office by the Dulles Airport with a state of the art training room when most sales representative worked from home. Not because it was economically sound but because he strongly believed that training was so important to his dealers future. Steve viewed the business as a puzzle where you needed to fit the pieces of Store design, Training, Marketing and Finance together to be successful. When his dealers succeed, Steve knew he would succeed. My father shared the same values as Steve. My father always said, I can easily get new lines to represent but I can not easily replace my dealers.

    Steve told me how he and his brother came to this county at a very young age from Hungary with their parents. He always remembered his roots. He beamed with that wide grin of his when he explained to me that Balaton marketing was named after lake Balaton in Hungary close to where he was born. Steve like all of us was a workaholic in those early days. Always on the road not much time for a personal life. On one trip with Steve I remember him telling me. “I met the most wonderful woman in this small town in West Virginia and I’m going to ask her to marry me”. This surprised me and yet at the same time I knew from the look in Steve’s eyes that he had met his true love. I remember traveling to that small town to see Susan and Steve get married.

    I left Bang & Olufsen in 1991 and moved to Las Vegas. I had lost contact with Steve for many years. Steve called me to meet for dinner a few years back. He had just completed a rafting trip down the Colorado river with his brother and had one night before flying back to Washington. He described his trip in great detail but ended with the line “after seven days on the river I was never so glad to get to the hotel and have a hot shower!”

    I met Steve again just last month at the CEDIA show in San Diego. We reminisced about people and retailers we had known. Jack Trux the first president of Bang & Olufsen of America was one of many mentor’s to Steve and myself. We talked about what Jack would think of the industry today.

    Having known Steve for over 40 years the one thing I remember most about Steve is I never saw him get angry or lose his temper. That was just not his way. I remember when he had to close the Needle in a Haystack stores he had started with hopes of building into a national chain. It broke his heart but when something didn’t work out he just moved on. He always looked back and asked himself what can I learn from this.

    Steve will be missed by all of us but my heart goes out to his family who have lost more than all of us. I also lost my father on a seeming ordinary day in the blink of an eye. He was five years younger than Steve at the time. I understand your loss. I hope somehow these words will help you all smile again. Know that Steve is up there in the sky he loved so much and he will always be watching over each and every one of you.

  19. Not long after I went to work for Steve Zaboji in the late seventies, Yamaha sponsored a day long training at the Marriott Hotel just inside the beltway in Bethesda, MD. Salespeople from most of the Yamaha dealers in the area attended, so we had a good crowd. When it was time to begin, Steve walked to the front of the room to say a few words and to introduce the Yamaha trainer. He carried a single piece of paper on which he had written some notes.
    By the day of that training I’d known Steve for a few years. I worked for George Sass at The Sound Gallery, and Steve sold us some lines. I knew him, as did most others, as a confident, no nonsense sort of fellow, even authoritative. To my great surprise, as he stood in front of the crowd that day, his hands began to tremble. He looked down and read from his notes, and at one point looked up, brushed a bead of sweat from his nose, and said, “This is really hard.” Everyone in the room had great respect for Steve, and just as I did I’m sure, wanted his misery to end.
    A short time after that, whether by coincidence or not I don’t know, Steve went through the infamous “est” training that was the rage in those years. He came out of it not only without his former stage fright, but with an eagerness to demonstrate for himself and to those around him a new-found public speaking ability. He was so thrilled in fact that he began encouraging folks around him to attend the training. He urged his employees, at that time Kevin Burke, Mark Wexler, his office staff, and me, to attend and even volunteered to pay for it. After we’d attended, he offered to pay the way for our spouses or significant others.
    It was hard to be around Steve in those days without hearing him promote the est training. Many were the dealer meetings that we attended together when I would hear the promotion begin, and I would think, “Oh boy. Here it comes. May as well settle in and relax.”
    As I’ve thought about that time since, I’ve come to realize that his incessant promotion of what he thought was a good thing, along with the amazing generosity he showed in doing so, was typical of Steve. He had experienced something that had benefited him tremendously, and rather than keeping it to himself was determined to see others enjoy the same.
    When he began to run short of candidates to coerce, he began to think of a unique training seminar that would focus on the sales transaction and its underlying elements. It would be held on weekends, just like the est seminars, and would focus on getting salespeople to see beyond the stereotypical salesman/customer roles and to improve their sales performance and customer satisfaction. We thought he was crazy when he announced his idea to us.
    But once again he invested in making his idea come to life. He rented out an additional space in the building at Dulles Airport that housed Balaton’s office, equipped it with microphones, a video system, a camera for recording attendees, a sound wall for switching speakers, and a Sony VCR that at time cost about a thousand dollars and, as I remember well, must have weighed sixty pounds. He dubbed the training the Balaton Audio Seminar, and off we went.
    I don’t remember how long BAS went on, a couple of years I guess, and in that time it gained a broad following among store owners, salespeople, factory employees, and even reps from other territories. Stewart Greenburg was the president of Yamaha America at that time, and he promoted it widely, as did Jack Trux, president of B&O America (and one of my all-time favorite mentors.) Many good things came out of BAS. Steve would probably say that best of all was meeting a young lady from West Virginia named Susan there.
    Steve was a man of conviction, honest and forthright, with an uncanny ability to look through the fog and see what was relevant and what was possible. He was truly an unusual man in a positive way. As hard as his death hit me, I can only imagine how painful it must be to his family. I hope that they can take some comfort in looking all around and seeing his remarkable legacy.

  20. I met Steve Zaboji in the late 1970’s, when I was a buyer and he was my Micro Acoustic speaker sales representative. Back then he was already very passionate about the audio business, as he set out to spread the gospel of “High Fidelity” sound. I didn’t really get to know Steve well until 1982 when I was hired by YAMAHA Electronics and became his regional manager. From my first meeting with Steve, I knew there was something special about this guy. Travelling with him to visit accounts and attending conferences, by plane and by car, we became the best of friends. So much so, I attended his wedding, when he married his beautiful bride Susan, and attended Cameron’s when she married Kevin.
    Steve Zaboji was “One of a Kind”. A phrase used to describe Steve, repeatedly, this past week. Steve was the kind of person that you enjoyed being around, because he always had something of value to say. Sometimes more to say than you were expecting… As those of you who have worked with Steve know, he was a “Man on a Mission”. It was not enough for Steve to simply come into your office, sell you what he was carrying, and leave with the PO. That was not his style. He would wave the flag high for the manufacturers Balaton Marketing represented, while making a positive contribute to his customers business health. He recognized and respected their financial and physical commitment to his product, and the importance of a well-trained sales staff. He and his team, to this day, invest time and resources, helping Balaton accounts become better retailers, distributors and installers. He was our teacher, our philosopher, our industry prophet.
    Steve loved the audio products he represented and was fascinated by the technologies. He made it his goal to understand the products, so he could be a better trainer and advisor. He had unwavering support for the people who built them, the management that sold them and the dealers that brought it all together…delivering beautiful music to millions. Steve was a mentor to many, an icon in our Consumer Electronics Industry, and a gentleman always.
    From its inception 45 years ago, Steve ran Balaton Marketing as a family unit, caring deeply for the staff he hired, as if they were his children. His management style was less like a boss, but more like a Good Father, encouraging his children to follow his lead. Steve had the uncanny ability to always hire self-motivated people. With his inspiration and direction, they carried the ball and Balaton continued to prosper. As his staff today will tell you, Steve had a way about him, that got into your heart. You didn’t work for Steve…you worked with him. Side by Side to create a bond, a management unit performing better than the sum of its parts. I am very proud and blessed to have worked with Steve and his Balaton Marketing team over many wonderful years.
    Yes…Steve was a “Man on a Mission” … That Mission was to involve all of us, on his life journey. He wanted us to experience life on his level; full of passion, always learning, never settling, always grateful. Steve Zaboji will be dearly missed, but the memories of our precious time spent with him, will live on in our hearts forever.

  21. I worked at Yamaha for many years and always enjoyed working with Steve and Balaton Marketing. He was a gentlemen and a scholar. I admired the way he ran his business and the way he treated his employees like family. He loved Yamaha and Yamaha loved him. A truly wonderful man and a great loss for the A/V industry.

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