To All The Bosses I've Had Before

Happy Boss’s Day

Yesterday, October 16, was Boss’s Day. In honor of that, I’d like to thank some of the managers that helped me get where I am today.

There are a great number of people that have helped me get where I am in my career. I have a great boss today and my career has been shaped by a number of other great bosses. I consider myself very lucky to have only had a couple of not-so-great bosses, but they are not the subject of today’s post. Nope. Today’s subjects are just some of the incredible bosses I’ve had during my career.

John P. was my first boss, at Shakey’s Pizza where I worked while in high school. He gave me my first taste of success when I was “promoted” from the scullery to the kitchen. The truth was I actually enjoyed washing dishes and was likely better at it than I was at making pizzas, but I fell in love with the feeling of doing a good job at work.

As a teenager, I worked at Kids R Us where Jeanne, Julie, and Teri, taught me, especially after a traumatic takeover robbery, the principle of truly caring about your co-workers.

Sue hired me at Pizza Hut where I eventually met the woman that would become my wife so she will always have an honorable mention in my list of great bosses.

Alex, during my second tour of duty at Providian, always seemed to know the right thing to say at precisely the right moment, and encouraged me to stick my neck out and volunteer for more work. Karen, the executive that took advantage of my volunteering and gave me a wide berth to try some crazy new things as a Team Manager, was instrumental in getting me recognized as a leader, which opened so many doors.

There were two more bosses that, had it not been for the randomness of the universe that put us together, I am sure there is no way in the world I would have the career I have today.

Photo by  Perry Grone  | Unsplash

Photo by Perry Grone | Unsplash

Len Sipe was my manager at CalPage (which became ProNet and then Metrocall). It was January 1996 and wireless communication was an exciting industry. And by wireless communication, I mean pagers (aka, beepers), not cell phones. We had cell phones in ’96, but pagers were far closer to ubiquity than the big hunks of plastic we called cell phones. I met Len on my first day (it was the department supervisor that hired me) and I knew right away he was something special. He had a huge grin on his face and was genuinely excited to see me. Our customer service department was pretty small, maybe 10 or 12 employees, and I felt like a million bucks when he introduced himself to me that first day. Len taught me so much in the couple of years I worked there. He taught me that a manager could be loyal to the company while still putting the needs of the employees first.  

In every situation (and masterfully, in every crisis), Len considered his employees first, not his boss, not even the owners of the company (which kept changing every several months). When the power would go out to our building in the summer, Len would leap into high gear and do what he knew would help the situation: he would buy ice cream! It got warm in the building and one might expect the boss to tell us to just suck it up and get back to work. That wasn’t Len’s style. He made sure someone was working on getting the power up and running, and then he would make sure we all had ice cream!

I craved more and challenging work and Len gave me interesting side projects to work on. For one of the projects, I had to learn QuattroPro, which began my life-long love affair with spreadsheets!

Len was always a warm smile, a high-five, and a “come in, sit down, tell me all about it” kind of manager, one that I still think of regularly, nearly 25 years later. I look back on the time I spent at that company with great fondness, and through it all, it was Len that was the center of what made everything great.

Most people that work with me now, or that have worked with me in the last 10+ years know the name John Green, and the significance thereof. John Green is a legend to me, and to many people that have never even met him.

Fifteen years ago, John hired me back to Providian after I left for greener pastures. John was part of the new regime that came into Providian the year prior, and I was hearing good things about the company from former colleagues that were still there. I was in a pivotal moment in my career, on the cusp of making a big change in direction, and then I realized how lucky I was being given the chance to go back to Providian.

In addition to being fortunate to work for John, I had even more good luck because John worked for Mike Laubsted, who reported to the vice chair of Operations, Susan Gleason, who reported to the CEO, Joe Saunders. I am so thankful to have worked with John, but I continued to hit the manager lottery with the rest of the leaders of our company. Mike, Susan, and even Joe, gave me opportunity after opportunity to do great things, and most of the time I did just that. John gave me not only the runway to grow, but also the encouragement, guidance, feedback, and recognition I needed to excel.

John taught me many things.

He was the manager that taught me that everything important can be boiled down to a process. If you care about it, document it, and make sure it happens the way it’s supposed to.

John taught me the importance of understanding all of the details, and all of the data, including all of the financials, of my operation. And also taught me one of the most important lessons in my career: if I don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make something up, and then make sure you find the answer and get back to the person that asked it.

He also taught me the value of always looking to increase the “bang for my buck”. Customer Service departments and call centers often have to find creative ways to do more with less, that’s what most of my career looked like anyways. John was always challenging me to get the most impact for every dollar I spent!

John taught me to never, ever, skimp on food (or anything else you invest in for your people). If you buy food for 100 employees but you needed food for 105, your team may never forget that. If you need food for 100, you get food for 110. And, speaking of food, if you bring an employee to lunch and they want to order two meals, or three meals, you let them! If they want to order an appetizer AND three meals, because they can’t decide which they’d prefer, and a couple desserts, you let them! If you’re going to be impacted by the extra $100, you should re-think how you’re spending any of your money. And you’ll get way more “bang” when everyone finds out you really meant it when you said they could order anything they wanted!

Most importantly, John taught me the value of always asking, “why?”. That question was at the cornerstone of so many great initiatives. It forced us to look at things through the impact it had on others. Anytime I did anything new, John would ask, why, repeatedly. He wasn’t trying to poke holes in my decision, he was truly wanting to understand why, which forced me to question more, and, ultimately, make better decisions.

John was incredibly forgiving. I made many mistakes working with him, but he was always there to make me feel valued. I never made any fatal mistakes, so he never treated them as such.

Most of all, John reinforced in me that if you invest, over-communicate, trust, and genuinely care for your team members, they will move mountains with you.   

I can’t bring up my bosses without also giving credit to two others that have shaped who I am as a manager, Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne. Mark and Mike built Manager Tools, and created the playbook I use each and every day of my career. I’ve been privileged to know Mark and Mike since nearly the very beginning of their Manager Tools podcast. I have attended their conferences, and had the incredible honor of presenting their material alongside them and others. So many bosses helped create me as a manager, but Mark & Mike’s methods became the foundation of that.

I take my role as a manager very seriously. I understand that managers can have the influence to help someone have a bad day or a good day. And I understand that, in turn, can have an impact on the lives of people I may never even meet. And I understand, and can totally appreciate, that managers can have a great impact on the direction and success of people’s careers. Every day, I strive to be for my co-workers, what Len and John were for me.

Thank you to every boss I’ve ever had.

Happy Boss’s Day.