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August 13, 2007: Being ‘The Boss’: It’s much more than just a job

August 13, 2007
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It was a beautiful red brick home on the curve of Wasatch Boulevard high above the Salt Lake valley. The barn at the side housed at least a dozen fine horses, and the graceful white rails of the round corral contrasted cleanly with the manicured lawns and flowerbeds that surrounded it all. I couldn’t help but wonder about the owner of that beautiful home, and what he or she had done to be able to create such comfort and beauty.
I was at a meeting that included neighbors from a large area around my home. At the conclusion, a man about 40 years old walked up to me, stuck out his hand and said, “Hello Hal!”
I couldn’t place the face. He could see that I didn’t recognize him, so he expanded the greeting, saying “I’m Randy, your parts manager from the Honda store about 20 years ago.”
I instantly recalled him — a sharp young man — and we spent a few minutes catching up. Randy explained that after leaving my employ, he had taken what he had learned about shipping and receiving at the store, built a business on it, eventually sold that business and recently retired. I told him I was happy it had worked out so well for him and inquired where he was living now. The answer was quick and simple: “Up on the curve of Wasatch Boulevard, the red brick with the horse barn and round corral on the side.”
My wife and I were seated in a restaurant in Price, Utah. We were enjoying our meal when a young family nearby got up from their table and curiously walked out of their way toward us, rather than directly to the cashier stand. As they approached, the father stepped forward, stuck out his hand, grinned and said: “Hello Hal!”
I was at a complete loss for a name, so he quickly supplied it, proudly saying, “I’m Donny, The Lot Boy!” His wife smiled, introduced herself and explained, “It’s been 15 years since Don worked for you, but he talks about you and working at that Honda shop to this day.”
We all laughed, I shook Donny’s hand, and after a few shared memories, he and his family continued on their way.
It was 11 p.m. and the phone rang. “Hal, this is Ron M., and I wanted you to know that today I graduated from dental school!”
Ronnie had washed bikes for me and later changed flats. Now, he’s a dentist.
Vernal, Utah, was an open point and I was exploring applying for it. I called Dan, my long-time service manager, in and talked with him about running the new operation. The open point did not happen, but years later, Dan told me that day was the beginning of a new life for him. Just knowing that I trusted him and wanted to make him a general manager, had given him the confidence to go on and do bigger things in his life. He had never known that others could see potential in him — a potential that he himself did not recognize.
So what is the point here? People go on from menial jobs all the time. They learn, they grow, they progress, they gain professions and they become productive, responsible members of society. It happens all the time. What strikes me about these few examples is the fact that each one of these previous employees went out of their way to come up to me, stick out their hand, remind me who they were and thank me for their time spent with me.
We, as owners and managers, are seen in a light we don’t often think about. Beyond being just “The Boss,” we are the coaches, the teachers and the examples that our employees watch and learn from. They watch to see if we lose our tempers or keep our cool, they notice if we manage through intimidation or if we do it with encouragement and patience. They observe what we do with our time, the truth and our money. And always, always, they observe how we treat others. They watch, they learn and they develop their own set of rules — their own recipe for success or failure.
I returned last night from a store here in the West. The owners are now a distinguished-looking, patient couple who have worked side by side for 25 years to create a successful Honda dealership. It is time now to sell, and they had asked me to come and help arrange the details. They have had hundreds of employees of their own through the years and have gained the respect and admiration of the community where they live. Years ago he was my parts manager, and her sister worked in my office. They will walk away with millions, and the fact that they asked for my help is an honor. The money is great. But the respect — the respect and my joy in their success — is priceless.

Hal Ethington has been associated with the powersports industry for more than 30 years. Ethington is a senior analyst at ADP Lightspeed. He can be reached at Hal_ethington@adp.com

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