Avalon Man’s Book Examines his Father's Journey from Troubled Childhood to CEO
By Linda Dougherty
1970s photo of the Yoh family
Harold ‘Spike’ Yoh Jr. and his son/biographer Bill Yoh
A gray cloud did indeed have a silver lining for Avalon resident Bill Yoh, as a very sad time for his family turned out to be the impetus for the writing of his first book, “Our Way: The Life Story of Spike Yoh,” published earlier this year and available at Amazon and other booksellers.
“Our Way” tells the story of Yoh’s father, Harold L. “Spike” Yoh Jr., who overcame a troubled childhood to become the head of Philadelphia-based Day & Zimmermann, which specializes in construction, engineering, staffing and defense solutions for corporations and government agencies worldwide. As CEO, he took Day & Zimmermann, which was founded by his father in 1901, to new heights, growing it into a billion-dollar company and thus one of the country’s largest family businesses. He used that position as a force for good for his family, his community, and his country.
The book is also a testament to Spike Yoh’s leadership, and discusses the importance of giving back to local business, educational and civic communities, and addresses family-business best practices.
The idea for “Our Way” came to Bill Yoh after long car drives with his father, during the time his mother was ill in 2015.
“On our drives, I talked with him about his past,” says Spike’s youngest child. “I then decided in 2016 to write his biography, and it took 18 months to complete the entire project.”
The younger Yoh said three words have come to define the meaning of his father’s life: learn, love and lead.
Spike as a boy with his mother
“He learned from his childhood, and the arc of his life was defined by that,” Bill says. “The loves of his life were the friends he met in college, with whom he remained close throughout the years, and my mom, with whom he had a 56-year marriage. And he was a leader, as he led the family company, was a business leader in the community, was on the board of Haverford College and Duke University, and led through his philanthropy.”
Spike Yoh, who now divides his time between homes in Key Largo, Fla., and Avalon, took the reins of Day & Zimmermann from his father in 1976. It experienced tremendous growth under his leadership, and he retired in 1999 at age 61. Now headed by his son, Harold L. Yoh III, Day & Zimmermann has become a $2 billion company, with a global workforce of 45,000 and more than 150 worldwide locations.
Through Spike Yoh’s philanthropy and volunteer work with the U.S. Olympic Committee and other organizations, he was able to meet eight U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
Spike and his sister Barbara
“My father is very patriotic, and I chose a picture of him wearing a red, white and blue tie for the book cover,” Bill says. “He is very humble and relatable, and people never know who he is. He’s down to earth.”
Bill Yoh, who is chairman of Yoh, Day & Zimmermann’s multinational recruiting business, found writing his father’s biography to be a fascinating process.
“I approached it like a project,” he says. “I’m a data guy, an information junkie, and I did 20 interviews with Dad and 75 interviews with people in his life, for a total of 95 interviews. When I transcribed them, I had more than 1,500 pages. I also had a lot of material like correspondence between him and my mother, report cards from elementary school, things like that.”
Spike Yoh with his father
Bill’s finished manuscript was 135,000 words. After working with an editor, 26,000 words were taken out, representing about five weeks’ work. Because he was a business writer, the editor suggested he work on the character development of his mother, grandfather and other family members.
“I wanted the book to be genuine, not a puff piece,” he says.
Spike Yoh read the manuscript throughout the process, and “didn’t push back on anything,” Bill says. He even suggested that Bill contact people who might not be as complimentary, including former employees and business competitors, for a balanced and candid profile. And since its publication earlier this year, Spike has joined his son at speaking engagements and book signings.
“The book is 85 percent positive,” Bill says. “If it didn’t have all the warts, it wouldn’t be genuine.”
Upon Spike’s retirement from Day & Zimmermann, his life became busier with volunteer roles, but he has pulled back recently and is now working on a “bucket list” of places he wants to visit. His most recent adventure, Bill says, was an African safari.
Spike and Mary Yoh enjoyed a 56-year marriage.
As for Bill, he’s working on his second book, which is about a mission trip to Nicaragua he took with a Christian organization his brother runs.
“It’s a first-world glimpse into a third-world life,” Bill says. “Each chapter expands on a theme from the trip – dignity, gratitude, forgiveness, themes that inspired me.”
Bill has also co-produced an independent movie, “The Middle of X,” that won the Best Local Feature award at this year’s Philadelphia Independent Film Festival. It’s the story of a group of aging Gen-Xers, lost in the maze of midlife, who come together for a high school reunion.
“It was made on a shoestring budget and shot in Philadelphia,” Bill says. “Just last month, we made a deal for distribution through major digital platforms like iMac, Hulu, iTunes, etc.”
More information about “Our Way: The Story of Spike Yoh” can be found at www.ourwaybook.com.
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