Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Take A Galvanized Tub, Add Water And Prayer

A number of years ago there was a big event at the Richmond Coliseum and a friend of mine who was participating in the event needed a galvanized tub for drinks or some such thing. Somehow he found out we had such a tub and that we weren’t using it to dip sheep or dogs or to make home brew, so he asked to borrow it.

Now I know that going to downtown Richmond can be problematic at times, as in many cities (sorry Richmond Council on Tourism), and I know that you have to watch your pocketbook or purse – but of course I guess you pretty much need to do that wherever you are these days, and even in those days. What I didn’t know was that you also needed to watch your galvanized tub. Someone must have needed the tub more than my friend because when he went to pick it up in order to return it it was gone.

Now if I’d known about the value of the thing I’d have insured it or placed a GPS thingamagigger on it – though I don’t know if they had those GPS thingamagiggers back when this happened.

When my friend told me the tub was missing I told him not to worry about it, after all the event was the Lord’s event to serve the people of Richmond so the Lord could do what He wanted to with the tub. My friend and I referred to it afterwards as, “The Lord’s tub.”

There is a passage in the Gospel of John, Chapter 5, (that would be page 1078 in the Bible), about a man who Jesus healed at the Pool of Bethesda. Seems that the water of this pool was occasionally touched by an angel (no, not Della Reese) and that whoever made it into the pool first was healed. Since this was long before Jacuzzi or other jet-type tubs I have no reason to doubt the Gospel account. It seems the old boy in the Gospel could never quite make it in on time – kind of like going to a ball game where they give a free gift to the first 100 people through the turnstiles and you are always number 101.

I have worked with folks who never seemed to make it in on time; the dog ate their keys, or the car had a flat, or they stopped to give CPR to a stray cat – but I digress.

Years ago in a little country church in a little town I saw a Pool of Bethesda service. I never saw one before that night and I’ve never seen one since that night, but I did see one that night. But why make this post any longer than it already is? Why not wait a day or two to finish it?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Parson’s Cause – A Tip For Richmond Locals

Here’s a tip for something neat to see if you live in the Richmond area.

On Saturday, June 19, Vickie and I went to the Historic Hanover Courthouse to see a reenactment of the damages portion of the Parson’s Cause trial. It’s a historic case that was argued in 1763 – in that very courthouse - and which some view as fanning the flames of revolution. 

If you’ve ever been to St. John’s Church for the reenactment of Patrick Henry’s, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, this is just as good. In fact, the man who played Patrick Henry (Mike Wells) in the Parson’s Cause trial also plays Henry at St. John’s.

Admission is FREE, though you are given an opportunity to drop contributions in a basket on the way out. I think the production lasted about 45 minutes, but it seemed like only 10 because it was so well performed and the legal issue was interesting. In fact, I’d read about this case previously but couldn’t quite understand it prior to seeing the reenactment; now it is much clearer.

Additional presentations are scheduled this summer, you can go to this link for more info:


Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part IX

One evening Charles and I had a meeting outside Annapolis, MD. At the time our office was close to the D.C. Beltway. Charles lived about 30 minutes on the other side of Annapolis. As our office day drew to a close Charles came into my office and said, “We’ll leave here about 6:30 for the meeting. You can ride with me.”

I responded, “You want me to ride with you? But then you’ll have to drive all the way back here after the meeting and then turn around and drive back home. It would be much less driving for you if we went separately.”

“I know that,” Charles said, “but I want to spend some time with you.”

That was one of the great management and leadership lessons of my life; I’ve never forgotten it and I have endeavored to practice it – spend time with your people. I was important enough to Charles for him to drive an extra couple hours just to have time with me. I have no recollection of what we talked about – that wasn’t the point, was it? You can see that 30 years or so later I still remember the experience and the lesson.

I’ve been amazed over the years at how little time some leaders spend with their people, and how little about their people some leaders know, and this can include pastors, denominational, and seminary leaders. I’ve often had people ask me, in business and in a church setting, “Why did you want to have coffee with me?” And my answer has often been, “Oh, I just wanted to spend some time with you.”

I know I have often not been the best leader in business or in ministry, I know I’ve blown it at times, but thanks to Charles I think I’m better than I otherwise would be.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part VIII

One day Sammy and Charles came to me with a complaint from a client and asked me to look into it. It had to do with a deal that had been done years before; a defect in the deal had just surfaced that would cost our firm a few thousand dollars to remedy.

Charles said, “If the  idiot [he used another description, but this is a family show] who designed this deal is still with the company I want to know about it. How could anyone be that stupid?”

After doing my research I identified the idiot in question – it was Charles. Oh that was rich! When I told Sammy he got a good laugh. Being the diplomat (yes, I can be diplomatic at times) I was elected to share the news with Charles. He gave me a look during one of the few moments I’d ever seen him speechless and then told me to just solve the problem.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part VII

One day Charles sent a memo to the division regarding personal phone calls during the day. It was a dumb memo. After all, most of the people it was written to worked far more than 40 hours per week, didn’t pay much attention to “the clock”, and were hardly slackers. Charles’s personality could be reactionary at times, and this was one of those times. No doubt someone had caught his attention by being on a personal call which he thought took too long and hence the memo. Well, I can be a bit reactionary myself.

When I got the memo I went to Charles’s office but he wasn’t in. I waited for him to return before I left that day, knowing that I’d be in the field the following day and preferring to have a direct chat with him. When it became apparent that Charles wouldn’t be back that day I took the memo and wrote on it, “No doubt this was designed to improve morale,” and put it on his desk.

The next morning Sammy called me, “Where are you?” he asked.

“I’m down in Waldorf,” I replied.

“Well, Charles is looking for you. What did you do? He’s as mad as hell.”

So I told Sammy about my little note and said I’d see Charles when I got back to the office. Sammy couldn’t say too much because he wasn’t one to let things pass either.

Later that day Charles and I had our little chat, he cooled down, and life went on.

Monday, June 7, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part VI

Charles was promoted from Division VP to Division President after Joseph was fired, after which Sammy became VP and I shortly thereafter became assistant to Sammy.

Because of the diverse nature of my position I had a lot of interaction with Charles and worked with him on special projects – in a sense I reported to both Sammy and Charles.

Charles was 6 feet tall, around 240 pounds and had the energy of a nuclear power plant. Whereas Joseph had been affable and reserved, preferring to let his vice presidents imbue the division with energy, Charles was the source of energy for our division. Sammy, vice president of operations, and Charles were like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin on the basketball court, they were both high-energy and working with them was electric. The vice presidents of marketing and finance, whose predecessors were fired along with Joseph, were overshadowed by Charles and Sammy.

Charles had come up through the ranks and we had many people in the division with whom he had worked for a number of years. Charles was loyal, but his loyalty was without accountability on the part of the people to whom he was loyal. This was finally too much for me and led to my resignation. One of our key managers was known to have stolen from the firm, but Charles not only retained him, but promoted him. True, his promotion was in a position in which he would not presumably be able to steal, but I thought it unconscionable that Charles would promote this person when we had other qualified and honest people for the position. 

Since I had assisted the firm through significant litigation, and since I had helped Charles on special projects, Charles was also loyal to me and gave me many opportunities professionally and educationally. We had a pretty open and frank relationship; he knew, as Sammy knew, and as Mike before him knew, that I would always look out for him. These guys knew that I’d tell them the truth, they knew I’d disagree with them, and they knew that I’d look out for the firm and for them.

In spite of my misgivings over Charles’s personnel decisions, it was fun working for him and Sammy. I probably had the most pure fun and exhilaration in that part of my career than I’ve ever experienced. We worked hard, sometimes into the night when a quarter was closing and we needed production. We pushed ourselves, our people, and our vendors and contractors – we loved what we were doing.  

Friday, June 4, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part V

Not long after I went to work for Sammy he was in an auto accident that almost cost him a leg, in fact, it did cost him a part of his leg by the time they were through putting him back together. He got a wife out of the deal – one of his nurses.

During his convalescence Sammy ran our department from first his hospital room and later his home, so I ended up spending a lot of one-to-one time with him in those early days. Now my friend Sammy is as rough as coarse sandpaper – but I couldn’t ask for a better boss or a better friend. In some respects Sammy and I are a lot alike, I’d say we are both acquired tastes. We also tend to speak our minds to peers and people in authority and we try to protect people who work for us. When Vickie and I were married Sammy and his wife, Sharon the nurse, stood up with us and took us out to dinner. Prior to that I had been with Sammy at his wedding.  When Sharon’s mom died I delivered her eulogy. Considering that I didn’t want Sammy to get the VP’s job, and considering that I didn’t think I’d like him, I think we’ve done pretty well over the years.

Sammy may be the most aggressive person I’ve ever worked for – in a good sense. Now I’ve worked for aggressive people who brought with their aggressiveness a callousness toward people and a disregard for ethics, but while Sammy was (and is) no social worker, I never saw him do anything ethically questionable and I always saw him treat people equitably – he was hard in his expectations, but he was fair. I’ve seen men as smooth as can be outwardly, but devious and untrustworthy in their affairs – I’ll take Sammy’s sandpaper anytime.

We had a great working relationship, I trusted him and he trusted me and that trust led to a lifelong friendship. You just never know do you?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part IV

Joseph had spent most of his adult life with our company. He had given it all he had. Sure he made money, and I’m sure he did quite well financially, but there was more to Joseph than money – or else you’re reading a writer who is about the dumbest man you’ll ever know. As I said in my first post in this series, either Joseph was naive and he didn’t know about the fraud, or I was naive and I didn’t know the real Joseph. To this day I don’t think he knew what was happening right under his nose. Should he have known? Yes, he was president and he should have known – I can’t argue with that.

The VP of sales and marketing was also fired – you can be damn sure he knew about the fraud - and he was replaced by a boy-wonder from our national office, who was actually a pretty nice guy. Joseph was replaced by Charles which created the opening for Mike and Sammy to vie for, and you know from a previous post that Sammy got the job and I ended up working for Sammy. I’ll have more about both Sammy and Charles in this series.

When Joseph was fired it sent him into a tailspin. He had a wife and children and I would think that he was set for life financially – but he couldn’t get over the fact that this company that he had given so much to had pushed him out the door. Maybe there was no alternative to terminating him, after all he was the division president and he should have known what was happening in his division – on the other hand the fraudulent practices were so widespread – it affected other divisions and perhaps even other firms  in our industry were engaging in it – that you have to wonder what was going on…but he still should have known about it.

Joseph went into depression. He’d take off from home and not be seen for weeks. He’d call his wife from the West Coast. It was a mess. During this time I thought about trying to connect with Joseph – but I felt out of my league so I didn’t…I regret not trying.

Joseph committed suicide out in California. I couldn’t believe it. This professorial gentle man who had considered becoming a priest had gone and killed himself, leaving behind his wife and kids.

I recall looking at the corporate headquarter's representatives at the funeral and wondering what the heck they were doing there. Why didn’t they get him help? He had grown up in the firm with some of those very men, he’d known them for years – why did this happen? How could this have happened?

Now maybe they did try to help at some point, the fact is that I don’t know, I’m just sharing where I was then and what my thoughts were. Hey, if Joseph should have known what was going on, perhaps some of those guys in corporate should have known too – after all, the fraud wasn’t confined to our division.

I realize you didn’t know Joseph, but I think if you had known him that you’d agree that he didn’t know about the fraud.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part III

Joseph, our division president, had wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest in his early life. However, after graduating from college he went into sales for a national company and then moved into sales with our firm. He had been with our company virtually all his working life. I imagine Joseph was 45 or 50 when I met him – when you’re a young adult it seems that you have your chronological peers, then there are the old people, and everyone else is in-between; but I’d say Joseph was late 40’s or early 50’s.

A comment folks would often make after having met Joseph for the first time was, “He is professorial.” And indeed he was; slightly built and around 6’1”, dark neatly trimmed brown beard with hints of gray, glasses, soft-spoken, relaxed, and he even wore Harris Tweed. Being president of a division in our firm was a BIG deal, lots of money and, of course, lots of responsibility.

Joseph treated me well. He was always courteous and when I worked on the litigation project and he and I were meeting with lawyers and other executives he made sure I was part of the discussion. Considering I was shy and unsure of myself in social and some business settings this meant a lot to me – it means even more now in hindsight.

One day I was informed that Federal auditors were coming to the office and that they’d be with us for a while. I also learned that Federal auditors were at our national office and at other division offices. It appears that during the economic downturn that had resulted in personnel layoffs, that when our sales were “in the tank”, that some of our salespeople had taken some liberty with Federal regulations in order to close deals – taking “liberty” with Federal regulations is illegal – it is criminal, and the Feds frown on the practice.

I don’t recall how long the audit took, but after it was done I was told by Sammy that Joseph would be leaving the company – someone had to be the corporate fall-guy for the regulators and it was Joseph – there may have been similar scenarios at other divisions, I don’t know. What I do know is that a prince of man was destroyed.  To be continued….

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

One Company – Four Men: Part II

Mike had a lot more responsibility with his new company than he’d had with the previous one we’d both been with. It was a fairly autonomous operation than ran into the millions of dollars. My role was coordinating operations and serving as backup to the various front-line managers in our region. We had a fun and hardworking group of men (and the occasional woman) and vendors and contractors. Ours was a business that had you either on top of the world or in the septic tank; there wasn’t much in-between.

During this time I was enrolled in a graduate-level program in legal studies. This became significant when Mike was visiting our division office one day and was made aware of litigation the firm was involved in up in Baltimore. Our division had just absorbed the company’s Baltimore region and had inherited a lawsuit. Mike mentioned to the division president that he might want me to take a look at the litigation and the next thing I knew I was asked up to the division office to meet with Joseph, the president of our division.

This litigation project, which involved substantial sums of money, was an opening into the world of contract law, civil procedure, and dealing with professionals and executives on a level that I had rarely done before. I became our national firm’s ball-carrier in this matter, to the point of briefing our corporate legal counsel flown in from out-of-state.

During the months I worked on this project I developed a relationship with Joseph, the division president. I’ll come back to Joseph in a future post.

Before I close out my thoughts about Mike there are two things I want to be sure I mention. The first is that I was exceptionally loyal to Mike and that when a Division VP position opened up and he was one of two men considered for the job – I really wanted him to get it. While I didn’t really know the other candidate, from what I had seen of him I thought Mike was the better candidate, and I frankly didn’t know how well I’d work with Sammy, the other candidate. Mike didn’t get the job, Sammy did, and I ended up working for Sammy. Sammy has been a dear friend for over 30 years…you just never know…do you?

Our industry was cyclical, as I mentioned you could be on top of the world one minute and the next in the septic thank. When we hit an economic downturn the word came down from our national headquarters that overhead had to be cut – that meant management. Our division had some deep cuts. During this time an opening arose in the division office – it was as an assistant to Sammy. One day Mike asked me to go up and see Sammy and the next day I was working for him – it was a great job and really advanced my career, and as you now know Sammy and I became great friends.

One day, months later, I was with the new president of the division, Charles, and Charles looked at me and said, “I don’t know what you ever did for Mike, but I can tell you than when we had those personnel cuts a while back that he called up here and lobbied hard for you to get the job you’ve got.”

Mike never said a word to be about that, not once, not even a hint.

The last time I talked with Mike has been so long I can’t remember. He had started his own company and seemed to be doing well. I don’t know if he ever thinks of me, but as you know, I think of him.