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Neshaminy Valley Home To Man Of Many Passions

Howard Dion's experiences have been marked by a wide array of talents.

 

Chef, artist, salesman, trainer, business owner, poet, photographer, author.

Howard Dion, of Bensalem, doesn't mind being called a renaissance man.

But more to the point, he says, is passion. He's had several and, even at age 68, it wouldn't be surprising if he discovered more.

While majoring in art at Northeast High School, the Philly native developed a passion for the culinary arts at the nearby LaStrada restaurant, where he started as a busboy and became an assistant salad chef.

After a year attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he enlisted in the Army and after a 13-month tour of Korea found himself as a cook at a mess hall at Fort Eustis in Virginia for the next couple years. When his military service was over he considered a career as a chef but realized that passion had died.

In the mid 70s, Dion applied for a part-time sales job with Lawn Doctor.

"I was really good at it. It was instinct. So the president wanted me to have a franchise and gave me a deal; no money down," he said.

From 1978 through 1985, Dion said he grew two Lawn Doctor franchises 264 percent from startup, obtaining a 30 percent market share.

Meanwhile, he said, he had started the first telemarketing group for Lawn Doctor.

"It was doing so well they asked me to provide telemarketing training for other franchises," he said.

"That's when I realized, this training thing is what I love. ... Sales really isn't my thing; training is my thing," he added.

In 1985, Dion founded Dynamic Learning Systems, which offered training to more than 200 Delaware Valley companies through 1991. After that he managed 401K salespeople and $32 million in plan assets as a vice president for Fidelity Federal Group through 1998. He eventually moved on to Holden International, a sales consulting firm whose clients have included IBM, Coca-Cola and Microsoft.

In 2001 he founded Matrix Consulting Group, a one-man international consulting firm. It started as a sales training company but soon began developing sales processes for companies. In doing that, Dion created hundreds of online tools for his clients such as Opinion Research Corp., which provides polling information to CNN.

"I had a lot of jobs to that point but my passion was Matrix," he said.

Matrix exists to this day but Dion, a semi-retired husband of 45 years, has spent more time of late with two other passions: photography and writing.

The walls of his Neshaminy Valley home are adorned with many of his straightforward yet varied photographs, which started getting published in the mid 2000s. Some of them feature his own technique for digital black-and-white photos called "High Key White Out.' In those photos, only the subjects are seen with the background all white, leaving more of an impression of a painting.

He first took an interest in photography in Korea but he began shooting in earnest in the mid 1990s,

"When I went to digital I became obsessed with it," he said. "I started to go downtown every weekend and started photographing people I didn't know. I would walk up to people and say 'Do you mind?'"

He acknowledges his experience in sales didn't hurt in this particular venture, which was much like making a cold sales call.

Most of the strangers he approached agreed, and some offered Dion fodder for text to accompany his work. That included a homeless man on Logan Circle who looked at his likeness on the camera and said, "I would much rather be living in your camera than where I'm living."

That photo and countless others, some taken at the annual carnival outside Neshaminy Mall, were part of Dion's one-man show several years ago at a gallery in Quakertown.

"What really fuels my passion for photography is the fact that people are nature's masterpiece and most complex organism," he said. "One person is capable of communicating their life experience in 1/60th of a second."

Dionn also has shot landscapes and animals. Much of his work can be found at photo.net/photos/afterthoughts, where viewers are effusive in their praise.

With Matrix work increasing, Dion virtually stopped his photography work in 2009. But that doesn't mean his creativity has taken a break.

Late last year he published "A Doer Seller's Guide for Being Successful at Sales," which is available on Amazon.com.

"I have a lot of knowledge and experience and I wanted to leave a legacy," he said.

About 30 years earlier he had published a poetry book, "The American Pizza Poetry Company." So maybe it shouldn't surprise that his writing took yet another turn earlier this year. At that point he started turning out short childrens stories at a fairly rapid-fire pace.

"I don't know where they are coming from. It just flows out of me," he says with incredulity. But he does know where the seed was planted two years earlier.

"My granddaughter, who was 16, and I were watching CNN and they were talking politics and she had no clue about anything political. I asked her "Don't kids your age even look at the news?" and she said, "No it's boring.'"

Unbeknownst to Dion as he continued writing business articles, that conversation had stuck with him.

"I'm writing all these business articles, so I started writing children's stories, one per week. By week 13 or 14, I was in the groove."

The first story was about a talking fish who wanted to teach other fish about human politics and find out whether the inhabitants in his fictional setting of Egred Lake wanted a democracy or dictatorship. Dion's politial views seep through that and some other stories but he says that's not what his writing is about. The bigger themes in the approximate 1,000-word chapters include life, death, getting along with others and the idea of community.

"What I recognized was happening was that a parent could read a story to their child and it could open up a window of discussion about the concept in the story," he said.

In the last few months, Dion has written 27 of these related pieces.

"How do I know when it's going to end?" he said when asked. "I can write another 25 probably."

"I don't know where they're coming from," he repeated. And he doesn't know exactly what will happen to them although he does hope many children will get to read them.

Regardless, his smile makes it clear he's enjoying the new ride.

"People have passions in life. I had a passion for photography. Now I have a passion to write."

Cindy Cossabone Kamm September 07, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Living two doors away, I now know a whole lot more about Howard. Wow!

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