Milwaukee Talks: Attorney David Gruber
Podcast: "One Call, That's All"
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David Gruber is arguably one of the best-known personalities in Milwaukee. Thanks to his abundant advertising, his "One Call, That's All" slogan is top of mind for nearly anyone in the area.
Walk Downtown with him, as I did last week, and almost everyone turns their heads, points and says, "Hey, it's David Gruber" or, of course, "Hey, it's the 'one call' guy!"
The New Jersey native has more than made Milwaukee home. After graduating from the University of Delaware, where he was co-captain of the men's basketball team, Gruber attended Marquette University Law School, graduating in 1983.
At Marquette, he met his wife of 27 years, Nancy, who was born and raised in Milwaukee. Gruber says it was her that kept him here.
Today, Gruber leads Gruber Law Offices, LLC and has built one of the most well-known accident firms in the area.
He's a huge sports fan, personally involved in many charitable organizations, including the MACC Fund, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Operation Dream and United Way of Greater Milwaukee. And, like many men his age, he's a proud father and happy that his kids have found success and are following their dreams.
But, does being the high visibility come with a price? What about Aaron Rodgers? How'd Gruber strike up that partnership? A Superbowl MVP and an accident attorney? It's either marketing genius or odd couple.
Just because someone's on TV "all the time," it doesn't mean you know him. But maybe you will a bit more after this latest edition of "Milwaukee Talks."
OnMilwaukee.com: OK. I'm just going to get it out of the way right away. Why don't you just give me a good "one call, that's all," please?
David Gruber: One call, that's all!
OMC: Very nice.
DG: (It's) my identity.
OMC: Give me a little background on it. Did you come up with the slogan – what's the "Behind the Music" story here?
DG: It's an accident. The success – how people relate to me – it's an accident. In the late 1990s, an advertising agency, one of my advertising agencies, came up with it, and others started using it, and it developed a life of its own. (Hear the rest of the answer to this question at the podcast link here or at the top of the article.)
OMC: You're not a Milwaukee native, correct? You grew up in New Jersey?
DG: I am a Jersey guy. I came to Marquette Law School, and that was an accident. I grew up in Northern Jersey, and I relish my upbringing. I grew up in a city called Passaic, about six or seven miles outside of New York City.
Pretty tough school – in the '70s, we had – let's start this way. I used to play my high school basketball games most of the time to an empty gym. When people ask me (about) the environment I grew up in, people relate to "Lean on Me" Joe Clark, the movie, that was our arch rival where I was playing basketball games, and our bus would be attacked after the game – things knocked over.
In 1975, the year I graduated, we had five full-time officers, police officers assigned to our school. But, the good news was, nobody had guns, in those days, except the cops.
That being said, I got a really, really good education, because while I went to this rough high school, I went to honors classes. The interesting thing about it was that my father was a police captain in my town, so I was relatively well-behaved compared to my peers.
My education, the first 17-18 years on the streets of New Jersey were pretty interesting. We lived "The Sopranos," let me just put it that way. One little tale: when my dad retired as a police captain, I believe he was one of the four – my wife was shocked – superior officers that had never been criminally indicted. So, that was the environment we grew up in. Very, very blue collar.
OMC: And your wife got you to Milwaukee, or was it Marquette Law School, or was it a little bit of both?
DG: Well, after high school, I went to the University of Delaware. I was a basketball player at the University of Delaware, and those were five great years especially with my love for basketball. I went there with the promise that I would be able to play baseball, too, but of course they changed their mind on me, but like everyone else, I dealt with coaching changes, but it was a great education.
OMC: Division one?
DG: Yes, D1. I was a Political Science and Criminal Justice major. I spent five years in college. I was ahead of my time, inadvertently red-shirted, but it was a tremendous time. One of my college roommates applied to the Medical College of Wisconsin. A year ahead of me, and he graduated in four years and I graduated in five. So, he was out here and he said, "Why don't you come to Milwaukee? We'll get back together. We'll reunite. Milwaukee's a great town. I love it."
And, the interesting thing about it is that I just wanted to get away from ... I needed to get away from New Jersey. I needed to get away, and that's what's funny. I didn't know what I was getting into when I went to Marquette, because I was trying to get away from basketball. I just had to pull myself away from basketball and concentrate, because I had a pretty easy time in college. I also had a pretty good time in college. I believe a case of Rolling Rock was $2.99 at that time, and we were very close to Latrobe, Penn. (the home of Rolling Rock makers Latrobe Brewery).
So, I could've gone to California, I could've gone to Rutgers, I could've gone to someplace on the East Coast, but I decided to come out here. And, probably the funniest thing that ever happened here was, I drove out here, I'd never been out here before. Threw everything I owned in my '71 Camaro and drove the whole distance – a drive I ended up taking about 15 times.
I got to a mile away from my destination and my car's on fire. I can't believe I drove all this way in my '71 Camaro and my car's on fire. And I'm literally in tears, and I pull over by County Stadium. I'm going to live on 6th and Wisconsin – I've never been there.
I pull over at County Stadium, open my hood and I can't find anything. Open my trunk and I can't find anything. So, I'm standing outside, it's like Aug. 28, I'm going "sniff, sniff, sniff" in the Menomonee Valley, and at that time, everything stinks terribly from beer. So that was my first memory from Milwaukee. I'll never forget it.
My first day at Marquette Law School was pretty interesting, because I didn't know anything about the school. So, I walked into this intro session where everyone was being introduced, and half the kids have on suits, half the kids have on sports jackets, as Marquette was a very different place in 1980, and I walked in at 8:01-8:02, because I was at a liberal university, and walked in and everyone was there already.
Everyone's wearing ties and suits, and I walk in wearing flip-flops, gym shorts, a cut off. I have a bandanna around my head; I've got this tan from the Jersey Shore, and I have my bags and a backpack, and my first thought afterwards was, "What in God's name have I done? What am I doing here?"
That one, people talked about when we graduated three years later. I didn't know what I got into. I was very unsophisticated, uneducated, and I was very much out of my element. I was just a raw Jersey kid when I arrived, and I was not very mature.
OMC: What year did you graduate from Marquette Law?
DG: 1983 – three years. And I graduated. That's my claim to fame. I graduated. I won't tell you where I graduated, but I can tell you one of us graduated, over 100 in the class, and my wife ... one of us graduated in the top five. I won't tell you which. I'll leave that to you. Somebody graduated over 100 and somebody in the top five.
OMC: I want to go back to "One Call" a little bit. Obviously, your ad program has made you one of the most visible people in the Milwaukee area. Is there any downside to that? From a business perspective? From a personal perspective?
DG: Well, I've embraced it. I've embraced it completely. I'm very comfortable with it. I try to make everything that evolves from it positive. People come up to me all the time. Of course, I've become a pseudo celebrity in Milwaukee because of (my) advertising, and everybody recognizes you.
It's sometimes not that easy to be me in the eighth inning at Miller Park, when everybody is drunk at the urinal and ... it's easier to be me in the second inning than it is to be me in the eighth inning.
That being said, I meet hundreds of people there and they all have very positive things to say and I'd say, literally, the only negative thing is my kids are always saying, "Hey Dad, people are listening to you. Hey Dad, people are taking pictures of you." There are people listening to me, taking pictures of me. So, I behave well.
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I've heard he was a nice guy and after reading this article...he appears to be a nice guy...I just hate his ambulance-chasing advertising...much like I don't like most law firms advertising. I really like that he's involved in the community.
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