John Howman's TEC Blog

Friday, November 14, 2014

The CEO Speaks through a Megaphone




Once upon a time about 18 years ago, my company was going through a very, very, difficult period.  We were about to lay off 20% of the team.  We were losing money.  Personally, I was close to being clinically depressed.  While she never admitted it, I am quite sure my wife Laura was about ready to get rid of me as well.  Suffice to say, 1996 was not my best year. 

I really did think I was holding up pretty well.  I made it into work everyday. Then I went straight to my office, shut my door, and effectively shut out my team.  I either blew off our E-Team meetings, or I attended them but was disengaged.  Then one day my TEC Chair, Jutta Parsons (one of best TEC Chairs of all time), came in for our 1-2-1. The first words out of her mouth were, "John, what the hell is the matter with you?  You're destroying the culture in your own company.  Don't you realize the CEO speaks through a megaphone?"    (Jutta was never known for beating around the bush.)  I said to Jutta, "What does that mean?"  

Jutta said, "John, the minute you drive into the parking lot, you are ON-STAGE.  People are watching your body language, the words you use, even how you walk.  Right now, when things are down, 80% of your job is about showing up.  And not just walking in and closing your door.  But showing up with a positive attitude and a vision for the future.  If you can't do that, you're better off staying home!"  Talk about tough love.  I made the decision that day:  If I was going to show up for work, I was going to show up positive, upbeat, and thinking about the future.

People who know me, know I leave a fun, topical, outgoing voicemail message everyday.  If you want to hear today's message, just call 262.389.8000.  I started doing this the day after my meeting with Jutta.  I change my message the first thing in the morning, and by recording an upbeat message, I start the day on a positive note both for me and for everyone who hears my voicemail. 

I picked up a client for lunch recently.  Paul was worried about a recent drop in sales -- not sure if it was temporary setback, or a much deeper issue.  Paul got into my car and stared out the window as we drove out of his parking lot.  Just before we pulled out, two of his production employees  on a lunchtime walk waved at him.  Paul just stared right through them.  I said, "Paul, did you notice your two guys who waved at you?"  He said, "Oh yeah, that's Pete and Jim.  They spend their lunch hour walking around the plant.  They are setting a good example."  I said again, "Did you notice they waved at you?"  He said, "I guess I didn't notice."  I said, "Well, I guarantee they noticed you didn't acknowledge them!"

Jim Wessing is CEO of a manufacturing company called Kondex in Lomira, WI.  Kondex has one of the best corporate cultures of any business I know.  And it all starts with Jim.  When Jim walks the floor, as he does often, he not only greets each Kondex Associate by name, but he knows their kids' names, and often their grandchildren's names too.  Kondex encourages innovation, family, and fun!  They have a highly engaged team.  And I have never seen Jim have a down day.

I realize it isn't easy to be positive, grateful, and engaged every single day -- especially when things aren't going wel .  But YOU'RE THE CEO.  IT'S YOUR JOB.  If you need somebody to talk to, join TEC, or get a dog, but don't bring your worries and your attitude to the office.  And unless your spouse is a saint like my wife, you'll want to remember to be positive and grateful at home too.

Remember, you are the megaphone. Loud and clear!



Sunday, July 21, 2013

Every CEO Should Work in Customer Service At Least Once a Month

John Howman  -- with Laura Gille

One of my businesses is TranquilEase.  I hold a patent for a portable Heated Stadium Cushion with a frame.  Patent # 7438356 - a very nice product.  Perfect for those frozen tundra games at Lambeau Field or a interminable, boring, and cold spring track meet where your kid competes in two events (one at the beginning and one at the end of the 5-hour meet, of course).  I also import other products from a reliable factory in China where we've manufactured for many years.  TranquilEase is truly a Mom and Pop operation, except there is no "Mom.”  It’s just me.  So I do the product design, produce the package photography (and you might notice a model or two who look remarkably like my children), awkwardly Skype at weird hours with my Chinese counterparts, manage the Sales Reps, and navigate Customer Service.  We sell our products through premium catalog retailers such as Frontgate, Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer (“America’sOldest Catalog,” by the way), Amazon, and regional retailers such as Fleet Farm and Blain's Farm and Fleet

Some of the most interesting and rewarding experiences in this venture involve my work (remember, I am “Pop” and there is no “Mom”) as the TranquilEase Customer Service Rep – especially during the holiday season.  I handle dozens of customer calls per week from November through February, which then gratefully slow down during the spring.  Dealing directly with customers is a wonderful, educational, and believe it or not, fun experience!  Here are a few takes: 

1.         Most customers are honest.  So honest, in fact, we no longer require proof of purchase to handle a warranty claim.  If my customer correctly identifies the place of purchase with an approximate date, I happily handle the warranty issue without any further proof required.  To date, I have never been burned.  One of our value-priced heated car seat cushions discolored the upholstery in the Honda Accord of an Iowa customer.  I offered her $500 to repair her car seat.  She refused my first offer.  I stayed silent and waited to get held up for more money.  Instead, she said $500 was way too much, and $100 was more than adequate. 

2.         Most customers want to help us be a better company.  I’ve had customers offer to re-write our product instructions (written by me, of course).  I’ve had customers help us with product design.  We recently introduced a premium auto seat cushion product retailing for $150.  A gentleman from Florida called to tell me it didn’t work correctly in his Porsche convertible.  I really wanted to ask him why he’d put that product (albeit a fine product) in a Porsche convertible, but instead I asked him if he wanted a refund.  He said, “No way!”  He loved that car seat cushion.  He really wanted it to work for his Porsche convertible.  He wanted it to work so badly he brought our seat cushion to a sewing shop and had the seamstress move the straps.  He reinstalled our premium seat cushion in his premium car and graciously sent me some photographs so I could incorporate the changes in the next version of this product.  This experience is not unusual…we receive all sorts of product improvement ideas from our customers and we've incorporated some of them into our product designs.  As a small company, we don’t need, and probably can’t afford, fancy marketing consultants or product redesign engineers or customer focus groups – we accomplish our product improvement and evolution in good part just by working directly and honestly during everyday Customer Service calls.

3.           Different demographics require different communication channels.  Although we usually handle Customer Service over email, the “65 and older” crowd still prefer to call a toll-free number and talk on the phone, which is fine by me.   I have an 800 line that comes directly to my iPhone -- it costs $12.95 per month.  (From “Line2.”)   I have to admit, phone communication is time consuming, but it is necessary and critical     to servicing this particular group of important, loyal, and enthusiastic customers.  I have had to learn and must continually remind myself to  S L O W   D O W N  when talking to customers on the phone, especially our older customers.  The occasional, real time conversations with these customers are productive and humbling lessons for me and help make our little company a better little company.

4.           Canadians are just as nice and honest as Americans.  No particular comment here, just an observation…eh?


Remember, I am not just talking about an online phenomenon here, either.  Whether you’re the CEO of a B to B manufacturer, a retailer, or run a professional services firm, I highly recommend you TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS…. and not just your customer’s CEO or senior executive.  Take some customer service calls every month.  Or better yet, do a few customer service calls and a few A/R collection calls every month.  A/R problems are excellent barometers of product or customer service issues – and that’s probably a great topic for another article.

As a consumer, I also like to shop online.  I would say our household likely spends more money at Amazon than anywhere else.  But, I am blown away by the proliferation of other Mom and Pop online retailers and am impressed at the level of customer service I receive from them when I shop there.  It’s like the old internet joke: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog!”  The small retailers know they compete with Amazon for delivery times and sometimes just can’t win that battle…but they can and do beat Amazon on live customer service seven days a week.

I ordered the wrong part for my BMW Motorcycle from Jerry Finley at The Pirates Lair,  www.pirateslair.net, whose slogan is “Exotic Parts for Exotic Motorcycles.” When I contacted him, Jerry already knew which bike I owned, emailed me I may not be bright enough to be his customer (good sense of humor which I appreciate!), but said he’d send me the correct part, unless I’d prefer to be frustrated.  Great customer service!

I do worry sometimes Mom and Pop (like TranquilEase and other small companies I shop with and admire) will not be able to compete with Amazon and other large online retailers.  But I also believe it still comes back to mining the data we small companies can receive directly (and usually easily and happily) from our customers and then using that data to both improve our products and “out-service” the mega retailers.




For me, it's been an incredible education.  I've learned more about our products, our documentation, our third-party fulfillment company, and of course, our customers.  It’s made me a better Customer Service Rep and a better business person.  It’s made TranquilEase a better company.  And it has reinforced my belief in America, American-style enterprise and capitalism, and ultimately the greatness of doing business with Americans (including those Americans north of our U.S. borders)! 

Ride on!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Up Until Now, Everything has been OK!



You’ve probably heard the joke about the six year-old boy who had yet to say a word…..

One morning at the kitchen table with his mother he said:  “Mom this cocoa really stinks!”  Of course, his mother was very excited and said, “Jack, Jack! You’re finally talking. How come you’ve not said a word for six years?”

Jack replied, "Well, up until now I haven’t had anything to say – everything’s been pretty good!"

Well, that's been the story with my blog over the past couple of months. I just haven't had all that much to say, and rather than write something I didn't care about, I thought I would just take a break.

But, this month I would like to talk about the book, The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton, President of the Gallup organization.  He sums up the book in the first sentence.  “The coming world war is an all-out global war for good jobs.”

This is an important book whether you are an employer or an employee.  While I won’t do a book review here, below are a couple important points.

·         There are 7 billion people on earth, with 5 billion 15 years old or older.  Of this group, 3 billion tell Gallup they want to work.  But there are only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world today.
·         The real unemployment rate in the U.S. is approximately double the government-published statistics (about 18.6% today).
·         The unemployment rate for educated and highly skilled people is about 5% in the U.S. today.  Employers are having difficulty finding quality employees for key roles.
·         Better leadership, NOT government intervention is the solution to creating good jobs.
·         Employee engagement leads to customer engagement, which leads to more demand for your company’s goods and services, which fosters job creation.

Starbucks

This last bullet point brings me to my need to give Starbucks a major shout out and a “Thank you!”  My 20-year old daughter, Marielle, is now working for Starbucks.  I am amazed at her transformation since she started with Starbucks in November 2011.

The first very impressive thing about Starbucks is their training.  Marielle received more than 30 hours of training in her first 3 weeks on the job as a PART-TIME partner.  And the majority of the training was not focused on customer service (they took care of that in the selection process by hiring a person who had an inherent “personal culture” compatible with Starbucks “customer service culture.”  Her initial training was on Starbuck’s business CULTURE, including coffee history, Starbuck’s history, corporate responsibility, sustainability, and more.  Even more impressive to me was their emphasis on savings and investing in the company.  Of course, she received training focused on customer service too.  Today Marielle has a Fidelity 401K account and she is a Starbucks shareholder.  (This from a kid who didn’t save a dime before this!  Wow!)

Since starting at Starbucks, she’s learned about improving revenue, managing inventory, reducing waste, how labor costs affect store profitability, and the importance of customer engagement and treating her fellow partners well.  She speaks with passion about new products her company is testing and gives us updates on how those tests are progressing.  She was recently promoted to a shift manager.   She absolutely loves her job and is highly committed to it and to the Starbucks culture.  While sitting at breakfast with Marielle, I was very pleased when she mentioned that she would like to start taking business classes. 

In my opinion, Starbucks sets a very high standard for training our future employees and leaders.  I’d be proud for either of my kids to have a career with them.

Leadership

There are just over 100 million full time jobs in the U.S.  Typically, there is a supervisor to employee ratio of 10-1, and the same ratio for managers to supervisors.  Roughly speaking, that means about 1 million managers are leading the nation’s workforce.  What’s scary according to Gallup, is about ½ of U.S. managers are dangerously lousy  (“DL”).  They are neither developing their people, nor leading their teams.  They fit my favorite description of bad employees (which definition is: “worse than nothing”).

If you have some DL managers in your organization, fire them now!  You will not train them to become good managers.  Then develop a criteria for excellent leadership in your organization, and hire to that standard.  Remember, we are not just competing with the guy across town anymore.  We’re competing with China, Korea, and even the EU.  But we know how to lead.  It’s our competitive advantage.

To wrap it up, maybe up until now, everything has been OK.  But today, almost everybody in the world wants a “good job.”  With the exception of fixing up our screwed up immigration policies, government would do us all a favor by staying out of the “Job Creation” business.  Employers create good jobs with creativity, innovation, and leadership.  By creating engaged employees, especially at a young age, we are creating the future managers and leaders of our organizations.

Time to hop on the bike.  Happy Spring!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We are all the 1%


We had a great TEC speaker for my TEC 20 group spouses meeting in December.  Boaz Rauchwerger (www.boazpower.com) is an author, trainer, coach and inspiration!  He is without a doubt, the most positive person I have ever met.

We learned a lot from Boaz, and I encourage you to check out some of his video blogs his YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=BoazPowerTV).  But what I like best about Boaz is that he started his program with an appreciation of how great we all have it here in America.  And despite all of the issues we deal with in our business or personal lives, there are about 6 Billion people who would trade places with us in an instant.  (6.9 Billion world population-307 million Americans-600 million world citizens who are happy just where they are).
By the way, we’ll be hitting 7 Billion next year.

 http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html


Philosopher, and the best left-handed golfer on the PGA tour Phil Mickelson put it this way AFTER losing (choking) at the US Open at Winged Foot in 2006 said, “I want you to know that I am happy for what I have, and am a very lucky guy.  I am not unhappy for what I don’t have.”  I think about this statement a lot. 

I consider myself a high-achiever, and I hang around a lot of high achievers who are my TEC members.  There’s a tendency among many of us toward dissatisfaction.   Never quite getting the results we want, never totally happy with the team we’ve got, often not satisfied with the path our kids are taking.  Of course, it’s that wiring in our brain that makes us achievers, and entrepreneurs.  But it’s so easy to go from being driven, to being unhappy it’s scary.  One of the things I have to work on personally is to remind myself how lucky I am for what I have.

So if the US represents 4.5% of the world population, I contend that every citizen in the US is part of the 1%.  I am certainly NOT dismissing social and economic problems that exist in the United States.  But as Boaz puts it, we are a nation of opportunities and freedom.  We have the opportunity to succeed or fail, and the freedom to choose which path we prefer.  Or as another philosopher, my Dad, Dick Howman put it long ago, “John, people just need to get off their ass!”

So my New Year’s wish for everybody is to enjoy being part of the 1%, be thankful for what you have, to be a positive force in your home, your company and your community.  Have an Unbelievable! New Year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Would you hire a Steve Jobs to run your company?



I just finished the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs.  It’s an excellent book about a very complicated man.  All through the book I kept asking myself, “Would I hire a Steve Jobs to run my company?”  It’s a difficult question on several different levels.   So in some coherent fashion, I’ll take a stab at this question….

First, I need to start by admitting a few of my biases.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are personal heroes of mine.  I met Bill Gates in 1988, well before he was the second richest man in the world.  I regret never having met Steve Jobs.  I also regret the fact I didn’t really appreciate all that Jobs accomplished in a career played like an American drama production in two acts.

His first act (before Jobs’ firing in 1985) was an amazing combination of insight, bravado, luck, and timing.  Think about this.  The year Apple booked its first $1 billion in revenue, Microsoft’s sales were $32 million.   Jobs’ second act, beginning in 1986, included building Pixar; selling Pixar to Disney; returning to save Apple; then saving Apple; and forever changing the animated film, computer, music, and telephone industries.   At the time of Jobs’ death, Apple’s market value was 70% higher than Microsoft’s and Apple was the second most valuable company in the world.  (Gates remains the world’s second richest man.)

It’s pretty clear Jobs had both an extreme and an extremely difficult personality.  A visionary, his social skills bordered on mild Aspergers syndrome.  His impatience for anything that was imperfect—including food, people, products, and more, was legendary.  Jobs was a very emotional man who often cried if he was losing an argument.  He never forgave a slight or failed to hold a grudge.  Jobs himself had enough insight to know he was an Asshole, and he frequently called himself one.  I think he saw being an Asshole as an asset, not a liability (as most Assholes do, by the way).  But would I want a Steve Jobs running MY company?

Jobs had some terrific leadership insights.  Among them was his description of what he thought the CEO should be.  His first leadership insight was the need to have and demonstrate extreme focus.  Isaacson described Jobs as a visionary who was capable of having a Laser-like focus on a small number of things.  When Jobs returned to Apple, he slashed the number of products Apple made and sold.  He was as concerned about what to stop doing as he was about what to do.  He believed you could not focus on hundreds of SKUs and have any of them be really great.  His second leadership insight was the importance of collaboration—internally and externally.  For example, Apple could never have survived without Microsoft.  And certainly Apple launched Microsoft into the applications business.   Jobs was committed to keeping his businesses organized like start-ups:  Pixar in the 90’s and then Apple.  This meant maintaining a flat structure in his businesses, with a minimum of politics and committees, and organized his business work groups into relatively small teams.  Jobs spent the majority of his work time meeting with his team leaders.   His third insight was hard work.  In every part of his career, Jobs was a very hard working CEO.  I think he worked so hard because he loved his work.  But the leadership insight that resonated with me the strongest was Jobs commitment to being a “talent scout.” He was constantly on the hunt for “A” players.  One example was after his liver transplant, he took a tour of Sun Records in Memphis.  The tour docent was a young guy who really knew the history of The Blues and early Rock and Roll.  When Jobs toured Sun Records, the docent didn’t even know Jobs was the Jobs.  But the docent so impressed Jobs, Jobs flew him to Apple’s headquarters and hired him to run part of the iTunes store.  So how could a guy who was so brutal in his treatment of subordinates build a great company?  A big part of the answer is that he hired “A” players.  In fact, I think the majority of people who were less than “A” players washed out because they couldn’t deal with Jobs’ tyrannical nature.   So do you need to be an Asshole like Jobs to build a great company like Apple?

I really don’t think so.  It’s the same problem I have with so many business books like the Tom Peters books, which highlight a small number of successful companies and then attempt to connect the dots of cause and effect in hindsight.  Using this approach, one might conclude in order to have a successful company like Apple, the CEO needs to be a tyrannical, impatient, socially-impaired, perfectionist Asshole.  I could argue for every Apple, there are hundreds or thousands of companies that failed or went bankrupt with leaders possessing the same “Jobsian” qualities.

What really set and still sets Apple apart  -- and it starts at the top -- was a fanatical dedication to a higher purpose….best said in Jobs’ words: “Putting a dent in the universe” and building “an enduring company.”  Certainly Jobs was a very wealthy man and Apple has $76 billion on its balance sheet to prove it, but he never ran his businesses putting profits first.  He simply believed making money was a license to continue to do great things.   And his team believed this too. 

Now, if I were a real writer, I’d have to list about 30 acknowledgements for this blog.  But rather, I suggest you buy the Isaacson book and it will cover about half of it.  The other half of the credit for my quotes and musings goes to SIRI, the iPhone 4S electronic assistant.  It’s amazing.  She (SIRI) found Apple’s balance sheet cash, Gates net worth, and the size of Ellison’s boat.  SIRI and the iPhone 4S are great legacies to Jobs.

Obviously, we can never answer the question about Jobs running MY company.  But the question of whether I would hire a tyrannical, impatient, socially-challenged, perfectionist Asshole to run my company is clear….
Only if he was “The” Steven P. Jobs!
  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Next Killer App--Revolution


Mark ZuckerburgTime Magazine 2010 Person of the Year, and my Choice for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize
 
I am in awe of what has changed in the Middle East in 2011.
When I was growing up in the dark ages of the computer business (in the 80’s), there began to be the discussion of what will be “The Next Killer Technology”.  For those of you old enough to recall, the main driver of PC technology was replacing dedicated word processing systems such as Wang Word Processors, or simple accounting systems such as the IBM Datamaster with PC’s.  LAN’s and servers replaced mini’s and mainframes, and on and on.

Of course, the late 90’s saw the invention of The Internet (Thanks Al) and the web, which we all can agree was The Next Killer Technology.  In the words of William Shatner, “The Internet is going to be big—really big!”


So here we are in 2011, and it is clear to me that the next “Killer Technology (or Killer App in our current language) is “Revolution”.
The convergence of smart phone technology, the web and social networking has done more to change the world than 100 years of Middle Eastern diplomacy (Yes, I know Middle Eastern diplomacy is an oxymoron).  The Arab Spring certainly would never have happened they way it happened had it not been for the invention of Tim Berners-Lee, credited for the first browser prototype, Marc Andressen (raised in Wisconsin, by the way), creator of Mosaic, the first useable browser, Sharp & Kyrocera, creators of the first phones with integrated cameras, and Mark Zuckerburg, creator of Facebook. 

RIM deserves a lot of credit (before they go out of business) for proving in 1999 that wireless email communication was addictive and a “Must Have.” 

2011 saw hundreds of gatherings of hundreds of thousands of repressed Egyptian, Libyan, Syrian and other Middle Eastern citizens was coordinated on Facebook.  It gave a voice to people who have had none.  We saw, practically in real time, the gruesome documentation of the end of the Gaddafi, captured on cell phone video.  Imagine if our own Civil War had had this historical record!  But what is most amazing is that 20 years worth of technological developments converged and in nine months changed the world!

Look at this time line:
1990:       Tim Berners-Lee develops first prototype browser
1993:       Marc Andressen’s Mosaic Browser appears
1996:
       Kyocera VP-210 Visual Phone, First phone with video Camera
1997:       Phillipe Kahn (Founder of Borland, & Turbo Pascal) wirelessly sends the first digital pictures of his daughter’s birth from his cellphone
1999:       First Blackberry sold (BTW, my company was one of the first 10 Blackberry dealers in the US)

2004        Facebook founded by Mark Zuckerberg, at the age of 20, ONE YEAR AFTER THE BEGINNING OF THE IRAQ WAR

2011        As of October 2011, revolutions have resulted in the overthrow of three heads of state in less than one year. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January following the Tunisian revolution protests. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011 after 18 days of massive protests, ending his 30-year presidency. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown on 23 August 2011, after the National Transitional Council (NTC) took control of Bab al-Azizia. He was killed on 20 October 2011, in his hometown of Sirte after the NTC took control of the city.  Lot’s of gruesome video available on YouTube.  (Taken from Wikipedia)

So here is my big take on all of this:

1.    These major, major changes in our world all started with a simple idea.  (Cataloging online information, wirelessly sending a photograph, meeting girls.)
2.    Much of the technology that changed the world was invented by somebody in their 20’s.  I vow to listen more closely to the 20-year olds!
3.    As Carlos Rizowy said 1998 at a TEC meeting, “The Satellite Dish will do more to overthrow dictatorships than tanks.”  The only thing Carlos missed was the key technology, but he had the concept spot on.

So at the risk of showing my age, I’ll admit I can’t get this song out of my head

John Lennon—Revolution, 1968

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right



 


You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
all right, all right, all right

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Two Dads




I have been doing some TEC/Vistage talks recently called, “There’s NO Training after Toilet Training!” taken from my August Blog.  The goal of these talks is to convince business people there is no use in trying to coach “C” players into “B” or “A” players, because it’s just not going to happen.  Or….it happens so seldom, it’s usually not worth the energy and time expended, since the ROI will likely be negative and the coach (i.e. you) will be frustrated and exhausted from the effort.

My belief is personality and its suitability for a person’s role in the work place, is the major, if not the sole determinant, of success on the job (and in life, too!).

One of the interesting questions that ALWAYS surfaces is, “Where does our personality come from?”  Followed by….“Are we born with our personality or is it a function of our environment?”  Which, in turn, is followed by….”When is our total, adult personality formed?”  My reply to these questions is always the same:  “How the hell should I know??  I am a business guy!”  But, in truth, I am more of a “one-man sociology study” than I’d like to admit.  Here’s why…

I am adopted.  Dick and Katie Howman brought me home on April 1, 1958.  I had a modest, but awesome upbringing in Neenah, Wisconsin.  My Mom, Katie Howman (now 86 and with a better social life than most 20-year olds) was the secretary at our high school.  She was and still is a superb Mom.  Funny, Irish, kind, unselfish.   My Dad, Dick Howman, was a fairly quiet guy, who, while friendly, definitely wasn’t in charge of the social calendar.  He wasn’t a Reagonesque communicator, but he loved and could tell a good and dirty joke (and so do I!)  My Dad was a rural letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office before it went bankrupt.  My Dad and I were extremely close.  We played catch almost every day after school from my 1st grade on.  We fished and did my paper route together.  We bought my first dog together (for which my Mom didn’t speak to either of us for a couple months, by the way).  He got me into gun collecting and hunting.  We even tried to start a business together until the neighbors discovered he was converting our garage into a gun store.  I learned what a zoning violation meant when I was 12!

As I was working on my Psychology Degree, my parents and I would often talk about the “Nature versus Nurture” question.  I would always tell them it was my loving home and their wonderful Nurture. My folks would always say, “We didn’t do much.  You came to us with great genes.”  They were on the Nature side, of course.

My Dad, Dick Howman passed away in 1998.  He was an incredible guy.  He loved my Mom until the moment he died.  A bittersweet anecdote about his death I cherish is that just before he died, he was having a Brandy Manhattan (which I'd never drink!) after which he and Mom had planned to go out for a Friday Fish Fry with friends.  He died with that glass in his hand; I put it in the freezer when I got to our house to help Mom and it stayed there for about a month until she finally made me throw it away.  I just know he would have loved and chuckled at this last story.  I really miss him!

About 15 years ago, more or less by accident, I met my “other” Dad, my birth-father, Richard J. Callaway.  My Dad, Dick Callaway, was a lawyer and a judge in Madison, Wisconsin.  The first time I met my Dad was at the Badger Candy Kitchen in Madison.  He had on a blue, pinstriped, Ralph Lauren suit.  So did I.  He wore a set of yellow suspender braces.  So did I.  When we went outside that first day, we both put on our crushable Bailey hats (his was green, mine black).  My Dad and I both drank Scotch as our preferred vice.  I’ve signed my name as “JRH” since I was 12.  He went by “RJC.”  We even had friends in common.  If I sat down and made a list, I could come up with at least 40-50 things I did the same as he, without any rational explanation -- except “Nature.”

My Dad, Dick Callaway, would be described as a larger than life guy.  A one-of-a-kind character with a real memorable personality, he knew everyone and made friends everywhere.   He was non-conventional, non-conformist, and very politically-incorrect (especially for a lawyer and a judge).  Funny, smart, he had a wide variety of interests from boxing, flying, golf, cars, and politics.  He once helped prospect an old underwater silver mine in Canada.  Enthralled with the area (which was once an old-time mining camp in the late 1800’s), he bought the camp’s old Methodist Church and converted it into a cabin.  Each summer for at least the past 25 years, he “went to camp” (as they say there) at Silver Islet, Ontario, Canada. 

Interestingly, most of these personality traits have also been used to describe me.

So when I was growing up, I was all-in for the “Nurture” side of the argument.  After meeting my Dad, Dick Callaway, I swung way, WAY back to the “Nature” side of the argument.  I have been constantly surprised and amazed at the similarities between my Dad and me over the past 15 years.

But in reality, it doesn’t matter.  Because no matter where it comes from -- your genes OR your environment -- your personality just doesn’t change.  And I really believe it’s a waste of time to try.  So, here’s my business tie-in…are you ready?  Please, do me and your company a favor:  Select the right people and don’t try to change them.  (P.S. This applies to employees and spouses.)

Finally, and most important, I am writing this on Friday, September 23, 2011.  My Dad, Dick Callaway died today at the age of 84.  While I only knew him for 15 years, I so appreciate the gifts he gave me.  My intellect, personality, sociability, my non-conformist bent…and, of course, an appreciation of great Scotch!  Plus the 1,000’s of other traits that make me who I am.

On a very personal note, I am most grateful for the three “other” brothers who I found at the same time as my other Dad.  I can’t say I share as many personality traits with them as I did with Dick Callaway, their Dad, our combined Dad.  Yet, the legacy Dick Callaway so graciously gave me (beside just the “ME” that I am and will always be) is a lasting relationship I now share my newest brothers, a relationship which I will forever cherish and Nurture….because of the Nature!

Many Thanks to my Editor and Muse, Laura A. Gille.  She does a great job!

JRH