Superior Group of Cos. Inc., a 103-year-old Pinellas County company, has lost one of its early leaders.
Gerald “Jerry” Benstock, chairman emeritus of the company board, died June 30 at 93. Benstock first joined the uniform company 72 years ago, in 1951. He was a young industrial engineer then, fresh from New York University.
His father ran Superior Group in 1951 but suffered from health issues, so Jerry Benstock soon took the reins of the family company, according to a company press release. He served as CEO until 2003, and as chairman until 2012, then earning the title of chairman emeritus in his retirement.
The company board’s lead director, Paul Mellini, says Jerry Benstock wasted no time as he worked.
“I knew Jerry for many years,” Mellini says in a written statement. “He was a leader whose vision transformed a small company into the industry leader it has become.”
Over time, making dozens of deals and absorbing other companies after Jerry Benstock became CEO in 1963, the company grew into three main segments: health care uniforms, promotional items for companies, and a call-center business that employs about 5,000 people. In total, Superior Group has about 7,000 employees and has factories in 11 nations, says Michael Benstock, Jerry's son and CEO and chairman of Superior Group.
"He loved factories," says Michael Benstock. "He loved making deals."
Michael Benstock took over as CEO in 2003 after his dad retired — becoming the fourth family member to lead Superior Group since its founding.
Originally founded by Benstock’s Lithuanian grandmother, Superior Group of Cos. was a New York provider of medical apparel, such as straitjackets. (Back in 1920, hospitals did not have tranquilizers, Jerry Benstock noted in a 2018 company video.) Over time, Superior Group became one of the largest U.S. designers, manufacturers and distributors of branded uniforms, even though some ventures, such as paper hats and ladies’ underwear, failed.
“We were smart enough when we knew we had a failure,” says Jerry Benstock. “That’s important. Take your first loss and get out.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, Jerry Benstock helped Superior acquire 63 companies. In the 2018 video, Benstock boasted of how little turnover his company had, and how loyal his clients were. Much of that loyalty was likely driven by Benstock’s work ethic.
“I love manufacturing. I love time in motion,” Benstock says in the video. “If I were physically able today, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you. I’d be on a manufacturing floor somewhere.”
Michael Benstock says his dad was active in his synagogue, in philanthropy and in community affairs. He also noted his dad's spirit, often stimulated by instructing others.
“For decades (my father) molded future leaders of Superior Group and embraced those less fortunate than he, never forgetting the lessons he learned in childhood before Superior Group reached the heights it later earned,” Benstock says in a statement. “We will remember Jerry for his enduring spirit, indomitable legacy, and unwavering belief in the power of our organization.”
The company went through several changes under Jerry Benstock’s leadership, but also kept expanding revenue upward. Benstock moved the company to Seminole in 1979. He changed the name of the company to Superior Uniform Group in 1998. Superior Uniform Group changed its name to Superior Group of Cos. in 2018.
Superior grossed $536 million in 2022. It is traded on Nasdaq and has been traded publicly since 1968. The company’s success from the 1950s through 2003, through today, can be traced to Jerry Benstock and his vision, as well as his desire for input, Mellini says. Mellini says the two would discuss and even debate how to direct the company into the future.
“I enjoyed debating strategies with him and watching the results of our engagements bear fruit at (Superior Group of Companies),” saysMellini. “Even after his retirement, he never stopped offering advice, which always was welcomed and insightful. He will be missed.”