Thursday, October 15, 2009

In the Beginning...

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to start this Blog off than by sharing some thoughts that I also shared at my father’s memorial. I feel it develops a strong foundation for a lot of what I hope to say in the future.

When I was a young child my father worked in a service station. This was when a service station was just that. There was no AM/PM, Taco Bell, Carl's Jr, or Baskin-Robbins attached. It was a sheet metal building with a glass front and a garage, used for repairing cars. There was no little booth with bulletproof glass. There wasn't some idiot sitting in said booth that didn't know the difference between the hood and the trunk of a car, not even capable of changing a cash register tape, and afraid for his life to leave. There wasn't even pay-at-the-pump. This was when you pulled up and a guy, or two, came out and pumped your gas, checked your oil, checked your tires, and washed your windows. I spent many days sitting in the office with a coloring book and watching the goings on. What I remember the most is the energy and enthusiasm of the employees. Even in the nastiest weather there were smiles coupled with friendly greetings. They had a strong commitment to seeing that the customer’s vehicle was in safe, working order prior to leaving the lot. This was the greatest.

When I got a little older, early grade school, my father began working for my grandfather (my mom's dad). My grandfather owned Tire Sales and Service and specialized in servicing big rigs. One of my father's main duties was to get up in the middle of the night and track down some poor trucker that was stuck in the boons with a flat tire. At that point in my life the greatest thing was to have my father wake me up in the middle of the night to go with him. My job was to hold the flashlight so he could see while he changed the enormous truck tire. If I was good and actually pointed the light at the flat tire, a rare event, I was allowed to "shift gears" on the way home. I'm surprised that old truck’s transmission survived. That, as all good things eventually came to an end. What I remember most about that was the look of relief on the trucker’s face, as he saw us pull up, and the gratefulness he expressed when we were done and he could get back on his way. It made me feel that at that moment in time we were the most important people in the world for that man and we had the serious responsibility of getting him quickly and safely back on the road.

After the stint with the tires, he got a job as a manager of his own station. I spent many of my late grade school and junior high days working at that station. Sometime in the middle of that my parents got divorced. Because of this, the time working at that service station meant so much more to me. Hey what could be better than getting paid to hang with my dad, pump gas, wash windows and work on cars? It was a small neighborhood station and most of our customers were “neighbors.” Many were also elderly. They also relied on us to keep them safe and they trusted us to not take advantage of them. What I remember most about these years were the relationships that were developed. How important these relationships were, with both customers and vendors, I will never forget.

When high school came, my mother and stepfather packed us up and we moved away. When looking for a job in high school, I quickly found that the only thing I was qualified for was working in a service station. I got bitter. I hated the job and resented the fact that I couldn't do better. This coincided with the purchase of my first motorcycle. It was my only form of transportation. I rode to that horrible place in rain, hail, and snow. The longer I worked there the more bitter, and later humiliated, I became. What I now remember most about that part of my life is how easy it was to forget all I had experienced and learned.

As I got older, I found myself embarrassed by my past as a "pump jockey" and father’s chosen career path. I swore that I'd do better for myself. One evening, after getting my own gas, and noticing the poor guy that sat cold and shivering while hiding behind the glass, I began to realize how ludicrous those festering feelings were.

Much of whom I have become, and most of my professional success, is owed to those early lessons. I learned the things I needed to get me where I am. I learned how to "cash out" a register; you'd be surprised how many high school graduates can't count a cash drawer. I gained the mechanical confidence to allow me to work on my own cars, trucks, and motorcycles. This confidence allowed me to move into computer repair and later system administration. Most importantly I learned a work ethic that includes dedication, professionalism, personal responsibility and accountability, and also the value of quality customer service and careful listening. These are probably the most valuable lessons I could have learned. These are lessons that many of the younger, college graduate, professionals I meet have failed to learn.

Before my father finally retired he worked for a company that owned and leased several gas stations in Oregon and Washington. My father was a dealer representative for many of these stations. To him, his "customers" were #1 and his first priority was to make them successful. From what I can tell, he was darn good at it.

My father is gone now and as I reflect we really weren’t all that different. I have managed IT organizations, and projects, with multi-million dollar budgets. I'm there to make my customers successful as well. Yes, I will always be very proud of my father. Also, I can't thank him enough for all that I've learned from him.