It’s Time to Ramble On

It has a been a most spectacular three and a half years. To all my co-workers, schoolmates, friends and family in Orlando, I really cannot express how wonderful the experience has been, and how much I have learned from all of you. I hope I have created some positive impact and maybe taught you a thing or two along the way. I am most certain, I have left you laughing at least once or twice.

We worked tirelessly over the last three years to build a company out of some disparate parts and pieces. It was rewarding, fulfilling and educational. It was fun, exhilarating and exhausting. At times it seemed insurmountable, but we persevered. We shared the most exciting wins and the joys of marriages and new babies. We suffered and supported each other through professional setbacks and horrific personal losses. We pulled together and were hugely successful, and because of the shared experience, we are forever linked. Truth be told, there is a business book (or at least a Harvard Business Review Case Study), to be written about our journey.

As the sun breaks the horizon and illuminates Lake Eola, now we think about what the future holds. As Robert Plant sings in the line from that classic song “When magic filled the air”, we should look at it and see this as a completely magical time. For all of you, please take the opportunity to help drive our company to the next level. For me, I look at that sunrise and wonder where I’ll be watching it a few months from now. Maybe it will be here, but most likely not.

While you must understand how sad it makes me to leave, and how much I will miss everyone, there is a tremendous excitement about what’s next bubbling inside me. I had to chuckle this morning about an entry I wrote five years ago called Transitionary Times (https://jimhoefflin.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/transitionary-times/), and how relevant it is today. So as we explore the possible, and begin our next journeys, I would say “Thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay.”

It’s time to ramble on …

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Hey Bailey, I Don’t Understand!

Dear Bailey,

Something has changed, but I don’t understand. My humans are trying to tell me something. The one that feeds me, smells nice, and walks me most of the time sat with me all yesterday. The2005, Q4 182 other one, that wrestles with me and doesn’t have any fur up top, was telling me my friend Bailey is gone. They had that strange water coming from their eyes. I can tell they are sad.

But I don’t understand. I only know “Bailey”, my first and best friend. I only know of meeting you when I was a crazy little puppy, and chasing and annoying you relentlessly. I only know hanging on your ears and pestering you like you were my big sister. I only know when I hear your name, I remember how you taught me to wrestle, how you would wait for me to grab the toy you held so you could swing your hips around and knock me sideways. That was so much fun.

When we got a little older and bigger, I remember big wrestling matches in the house … and getting told to go outside. We couldn’t help it if we knocked a few things over. What was the big deal? And I remember walking around the neighborhoods once a year with those smaller humans all dressed up in costumes. That was a little scary for me, but you never seemed to mind.

2007, Q2 002

I came to your new house to see you because it had been such a long time. I could tell you didn’t feel well, and it made me sad. You were sleeping even more than I do, and we both know how much I like my sleep. But, I was so happy to see you because it had been such a long time. Now, my humans … they are trying to tell me something, but I don’t understand. All I understand when I hear “Bailey” is my good, happy and fun friend. Every time somebody says your name, and I hear it a lot so everyone must know you and love you, I think of my best friend that taught me so much, was never mean to me, and was so nice to hang out with. When I hear “Bailey”, I always get happy and perk my ears, looking around to see where you are … but most of the of the time you aren’t there. You must have already gone someplace else. I know you’ll be there someday, but until then, I will be missing you.

2007, Q2 005Love and kisses,

Your dear friend,

Bella

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Building a Dream Under the Arizona Sun

At 3:26 AM on this mid-October morning, I am unable to sleep any further into the Mountain Time Zone morning. I lay awake wondering what the day will bring. I have never participated in a community build project, but many weeks ago, when I received the invitation from our good business partner The Home Depot, I immediately checked my calendar and blocked out the days.

After arriving the day before the build, the sponsors and participants were treated to a business presentation in the main ballroom of the resort. We heard about The Home Depot Foundation’s commitment of over $80 million during the next five years for the purpose of ensuring every veteran has a safe place to call home. For this build, coordinated by The Home Depot Building Services and Operations team, I would be joined by a couple hundred participants from The Home Depot, their vendor partners, and Habitat for Humanity of Tucson. After the presentation, a welcome reception was held on the patio, nestled in the hills of the High Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona. This is not just a few people with hammers. This is a massive nationwide initiative.

The next morning, I enter the breakfast ballroom almost 30 minutes early. I am pleased to see a couple of other early risers. I grab a coffee and join Mike and Scott, a pair of burly non-office dwellers in their 50’s. I shake their calloused hands, confirming what was already obvious; both of them work with their hands and are likely skilled tradesmen. I am quite sure they realize I don’t, and am not.

Just before 7:30, I settle into my seat on the third of five coach buses on our way to the work site. We pass through Tucson, from the north, towards the south side. Some thirty miles later, we pull into a subdivision named Copper Vista. As we exit the bus, volunteers and neighbors cheer our arrival. They form a path for us to walk through, much like a football team greets their teammates coming onto the field for a game, clapping and thanking us. We are ushered to supply tables to get our work belts, gloves and hard hats. A variety of sunscreen products are at hand to encourage us to protect ourselves from overexposure. Under a cloudless, crystal blue sky, I don’t hesitate to wipe and spray sunscreen liberally. An impressive sound system, complete with a DJ, fills the neighborhood with music.

I find my team near the front of a house that has the walls rough framed, but not much else. We gather around the foreman and are informed we will be “rolling trusses” today. I am not sure what that is, but he explains he needs a team of three with hammers on scaffolding on one side of the house, and another team of three on the other side of the house, and the rest should follow him. Given the chance to swing a hammer while precariously perched on rickety scaffolding is irresistible, so I grab a hammer and nails and head to the far side of the house, followed by two other men.

From our vantage point, we observe an impressive stack of roof trusses between the framed houses. If you don’t know what a roof truss is, just think of a very large triangle made with framing lumber. The base of the triangle is wider than the house, which creates the overhangs that become the eaves, and the top of the triangle is the peak of the roof. Rolling trusses is the process of getting each massive and heavy hunk of framed wood from the stack and nailed into position on top of the sidewalls of the home. It is heavy, awkward, and exhausting work.

We work our way from the back of the house towards the front, and pick up speed as we go. The sun is hot, and the work is tough. I constantly remind myself that having a hand place incorrectly when a truss is rolled will minimally result in broken bones. We stop for a fantastic cookout lunch, rest for a few minutes, and force ourselves back to the scaffolding before we doze off. We continue our mid-afternoon quest towards the front of the house as the blue Arizona sky intensifies. As we work, we are treated to low flyovers from nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Pilots practice touch-and-go landings in fighter jets, bringing them close enough over the peak of our roof that we can see their faces turned towards us. Completing trusses, we move onto cutting and hanging external wallboard on the front of the house. The combination of saw dust and sunscreen quickly turns our exposed skin into something that resembles Macadamia Encrusted Sea Bass. We ignore it and continue to work our way up and finish off most of the peak before we are stopped and told to turn in our tools. The foreman gathers the group and congratulations us on a fantastic day of building. As we step back and look, we now have a house ready for roofing. As I look down the row of houses, the rest of the teams have made similar progress. A dozen framed houses working their way towards becoming homes. Not a bad day’s work for a mob of volunteers turned makeshift construction crew.

All of the teams are marshaled down to the far end of the street. A small stage has been erected and we are told there is going to be a dedication ceremony. As the sea of orange shirts and hats watch, the Hernandez family is welcomed to the stage by one of the Board members from Habitat Tucson. We listen to the congratulations, praise and thanks for our support and time. For the first time, the weight and mission of the day really registers across the crowd. Right here, right now … this is the reason for us to be here. It isn’t the receptions or the networking. Tired and dirty, we become silent, still and attentive.

LuzMaria Hernandez walks to the microphone with her three-year-old daughter in front of her. As she begins to speak, it is clear she is overwhelmed looking out into the hundreds of faces that have been working so hard all day. These aren’t the faces that built her home, or at least not all the same faces, but she is here to voice her appreciation for all of us and the others before us. As her young daughter tries to melt into her legs, LuzMaria struggles through her speech. She haltingly pushes the words out as she loses her battle with her own emotions. She is going to cut the ribbon on her new home, a safe place for her and her family, and it is apparent to everyone it is more than a just hard day’s work … it is her dream come true. LuzMaria probably thinks she isn’t doing a good job with her speech, but judging by the silent crowd, and a few subtle wipes of tears from leathered faces, she is doing a wonderful job.

A little before 4:00 PM, we board our buses to be driven back to our resort. The evening will hold more food and entertainment and activities intended to thank everyone for their donations and participation. I am, and I suspect my silent bus mates are, completely cognizant of the fact that we have just seen the high point of the event. As the bus rolls down the highway, The Home Depot branded hardhat perched on my knee, I feel a much stronger sense of community, a much more direct connection. I look at my grimy hands realizing that for one day under a brilliant Arizona sky, they were instrumental in building a dream for a family. I glance up a row to my left and catch my breakfast mate, and career tradesman, Mike watching me. He gives me an enlightened smile.

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Space or No Space, Is That The Question?

I was flying back to Orlando a couple weeks back, and preparing for a big meeting. Crammed in my middle seat, I was tapping away on my presentation. I was adding a bit of content, but for the most part, I was diligently polishing the presentation. As I was flipping back and forth through the slides my seat mate, who had the aisle (lucky dog) asked what I was doing. As I aligned one of the graphic images to the same horizontal and vertical starting point as the previous slide so that the viewer would notice no “jump” between the slides, I explained I was getting ready for a big meeting, and making sure the presentation was done. He repeated the question, clarifying by asking what I had just done at that moment.

I stopped working and explained that I was going through the presentation, making sure that everything was lined up as perfectly as I could. I was checking fonts and sizes on each page to make sure they were the stylistically correct ones. I was making sure each of the colors on every slide was correct and from the color palette of our brand. I was making sure there were no errant periods at the end of sentences, incorrectly capitalized words, or double spacing. Of course the content of the presentation was critical, but how it looked mattered just as much. “Yes”, he said, “I do the exact same thing.”

“Oh”, thinking he must slide PowerPoint presentations for a living, “you are as picky about your presentations as I am?” “Nope.”, he replied, “I am not a ‘computer guy’. I am a mechanic.” He explained that he was a mechanic for Delta. Not an aircraft mechanic, but rather, held the less sexy job of maintaining ground equipment; jetways, ground air conditioners, tractors, etc. However, he pointed out, he did exactly the same thing as I was doing. He described how he made sure every electrical wire or hydraulic hose was placed with care, never crossing other lines unless intended to do so. He talked about making sure a line of screws or bolts were all lined up and oriented exactly the same, unless of course they required specific torque. Finally, he described how he would make sure every cover or piece of trim was cleaned and lined up as it should be; everything exactly back in its place. We chuckled … two persnickety perfectionists, just putting things “just so” when it really doesn’t matter. Or does it? As I thought further about that conversation, I realized just how proud he was of his work and the professionalism with which he performs his job. He realizes that how that job looks in the end, in addition to how well it performs, is a reflection on his personal brand. He obviously cares deeply about what his work says about his brand, as do I.

In my last few roles, I have been in charge of corporate brands. I was notorious for spotting minute details that didn’t align to the brand. Ask anyone I worked with … I could spot a shade or two off of Pantone 186 a mile away! I think people started to slightly tinker with RGB values, which were (204,0,0) and likely imbedded in my brain forever, just to see how good my skills were. If you slipped a space into the corporate name, where one obviously didn’t belong, I had to resist the urge to fly into a complete conniption. How simple can it get? There is no space! When an unlucky soul would say, “Jeez, it is just a space.”, I would take the opportunity to educate them. You may think it is just an errant space, but it is really so very much more. It says you are either too dense or care so little about what you do that you cannot get the most rudimentary brand element correct, the company name! It says you don’t take your job very seriously, or your responsibility to represent the company correctly. It says you care so little about your personal brand that it makes me wonder what, if any, level of passion you have for business. It says we should be wondering why you are working here.

It all may sound like much ado over a space, or other superfluous details, but it is really about passion for the work you do and the company you do it for. It is really about whether or not you are committed to excellence, and driving yourself forward. It is about whether or not you have that same drive and energy for elevating others around you. Space or no space isn’t really the question. It is the answer. It is your answer, and you give it through your actions.

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What is Love Anyway?

A few weeks back, I was honored to be asked to officiate at the wedding of two very important people in my life; my nephew Elliott and his fiancee Bridget. Truth be told, I was simply blown away by the request, and without hesitation or thought, I immediately agreed. I love them both, and so there was no need for thought. If that is what they wanted, I would do my best. In the subsequent weeks, the question posed for thousands of years by philosophers, poets, scholars, religious leaders, and Howard Jones bounced through my head. After all, if I am going to do my officiant role justice, I should have some words on the topic, should I not? What is the essence of true love?

You have to consider the people in your life that you truly love. Those that are obvious and close, and those that may not be as close. As you would expect, I thought about the love I hold for close family, and what that really means. I thought about our love for our son Connor. Many say there is no love like you experience for your child. Of course I spent a lot of time thinking about my wife Anne and our love. But I also spent a great deal of time thinking about the love for friends, both those still with us, and those no longer here. There is a stark contrast between those friends that you truly love, those that you will always be connected to, those that may not be in your life everyday, but will always be in your life; and those friends that enter and exit your life.

It was in thinking about the more obscure love of friends that will always be part of your life that I realized what I thought was at least key part of the answer to the question, what is love anyway? To me love is defined by the unseen point in a relationship, when you become completely unguarded about who you are with the other person. There simply are no walls, no pretenses, no hidden agendas. The connection that is forged is elemental and enduring. It transcends the boundaries of time and distance. It doesn’t always fit nicely into social norms nor legal constructs. But to me, what I see as the fundamental theme is a connection in which you stop wanting anything from the other person; but instead, you want everything for the other person. Obviously, these connections have different facets when between family, lovers or friends, but I believe the common essence and enduring quality are the same.

So for Bridget and Elliott, and my most humbling upcoming ceremony, I do have at least this observation to answer that most important question. Whether or not you have already reached that point in your relationship, or will find your way there together, only you two can know. For you, with much love, I wish it to be a wonderful journey of lifelong and loving friendship.

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5-Hours of Energy, and a Crash!

I realize that energy drinks, those little insidious bottles of chemicals, are ubiquitous at this point, but I don’t really have much desire to try them. With names like 5-Hour Energy, and 5-Hour Maximum Strength, I am to be leery of a tiny plastic bottle, shaped a bit like a bomb, that promises oodles of healthy energy with no side effects nor crash at the end. It just doesn’t seem right.

The other morning, I had an early flight and called the local taxi service for a ride to the airport. As I slipped into the back of the cab, I greeted my driver who excitedly spat his return greeting over the top of my ‘ing’ of my ‘good morning’. Clearly he was in a hurry, had places to go, and he wanted to go immediately. As soon as my rear hit the seat and my remaining foot left the asphalt, he hit the accelerator. I had noticed the brightly colored, bullet shaped bottle peeking out from the bag of his supplies tucked next to him on the front seat. Sometimes I sit quietly, but sometimes I simply can’t help myself. I glanced at the name badge and said, “Hey Brad, I see you have one of those energy drinks …”

Before I could finish question, Brad erupted with excitement at the prospect he had potentially found a kindred spirit in the world of bottled energy … five hours at a time. After being informed that I didn’t drink them, Brad began his accelerated dissertation on the virtues, health benefits, and complete safety of the boost bombs. For years he continued, Brad has been turning himself from what was likely a reasonably normal person, into a Jimmy John’s talking, overclocked human, race car driving maniac. According to Brad, it was all completely safe and without any harmful side effects. To punctuate his endorsement, Brad said it was time for his morning drink, ripped the cap off the bottle peeking from the bag, and downed it in one quick gulp. Being a social juice junkie, he pulled another out of his bag and offered it up. I politely declined.

As we rocketed towards the airport, weaving and bobbing through traffic as if they were cones on an obstacle course, my sarcastic amusement began to transform into apprehension, and then a good dose of anxiety. I offered up to Brad that I had plenty of time before my flight, but as the second dose kicked in, I began to imagine him moving into hyper-reality, much like the original Star Trek episode where they had to alter Kirk’s metabolism so that he may communicate with the speedy aliens that were heard by normal humans as only an annoying buzz. I am quite sure he could no longer keep focused on my slow talking. And he was most certainly annoying to me.

Fortunately, our trip was nearly over as he rounded the curve heading into the airport passenger drop area. I believe he had almost enough speed going to get that cab up on two wheels, as he simultaneously scanned the chaos of cars jockeying in and out of curb position. As he neared my airline sign, he spotted the last open spot next. Like a NASCAR driver throwing his car into a pit space at maximum speed, Brad was proudly executing a slide into the targeted spot. It all was working well, until the moment the car he was pulling in front of pulled forward and harpooned the taxi on the passenger side rear door.

As I slide across the rear seat, and opened the remaining rear door that operated, I said as quickly as possible, “Well, Brad … I guess sometimes those drinks do have a crash on the end.” I am quite sure I lost his attention after a word or two.

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A Shoeshine Life Story

I was on my way back from Minneapolis to Orlando a couple weeks back and found myself down at the end of the G concourse. As I neared the end of the moving walkway, I noticed an elderly gentleman finishing his lunch, sitting in one of the chairs of his shoeshine stand. As we made eye contact, he reached his hand to his forehead and gave me a pantomime tip of the hat. It was a very quiet day in the airport, and he looked lonely and bored. I saluted back, exited the walkway and took the chair next to him.

As he climbed down from his spot, he proclaimed his desire to make my shoes shine better then when they where brand new. Slowly, he started his preparation of moving the laces, rolling up the pant legs, and looking for just the right hunk of shine cloth. From the deliberate pace he managed, and the way he looked, he was well into his 70’s, or maybe even his 80’s. I apologized for interrupting the end of his lunch. He asked where I was headed, and when I said Orlando, he wondered aloud about hurricane Isaac. I replied that it had headed west away from Orlando, and up into New Orleans. “That is my home.”, he replied and continued, “I am from Biloxi, Mississippi.” I asked him what had brought him north from Mississippi to Minneapolis. I wondered whether or not he was displaced a few years back by hurricane Katrina.

As it turns out, he had been asked by his cousin to drive him from Biloxi to Minneapolis, and he had decided to stay. “That was in 1963.”, he said, staring up at the ceiling to pick the correct year out of his memory. As the story continued, I learned he had a wife and two children in Biloxi, but when he had asked them to come with him, his wife told him she wouldn’t follow him across the street, much less to Minnesota. So he left, and they divorced. He had planned to stay single after that, he informed me with a slight twinkle in his cloudy eyes, but his second wife had something to say about that. They have been married 42 years, and have four children. As he continued his story, I learned he drove a city bus for a few decades, putting two of his children through Bethel University and two through University of Minnesota.

As he reached for the heel polish, he smiled at me and said the second marriage seems to be working out better than the first. The smile shifted to a mischievous grin, when he informed me that he had heard from his first wife a few years back. She wanted him to know she wouldn’t ever marry anybody but him. He paused for effect and said he had kindly let her know that she had had her chance, so at this point, she had better just get used to being single. After he retired from the city, he started shining shoes three days a week, and the other days he goes fishing. As he straightened my laces, he said, “At my age, you just gotta keep moving, because if you stop, things don’t work no more.” I told him I believed that was true at any age.

After I said my goodbyes and headed to the gate, I couldn’t help but think about how well he told his life story, and how well he synchronized it to the length of a shoeshine. I wondered if that was a well-worn rendition he shared with many people, or if hurricane Isaac had inspired his storytelling. Or just maybe, I have inherited my mother’s ability to ask a few questions and have strangers share their life stories. Whatever the reason, that was the best shoeshine I ever had. Come to think of it, I never even looked at my shoes.

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