He came as an immigrant to this country. He arrived like so many others, with only three possessions to his name; the shirt on his back, the change in his pocket and a burning desire to build a better life.
His work ethic convinced him that taking more than one day a month off from work was a sure sign of terminal laziness.
His first task was to learn English and his first investment was the purchase of a tiny radio that he would listen to at all times while he cleaned toilets at the airport by day and washed dishes in a restaurant by night.
The tiny room he rented in a cheap rooming house served as the study in which he taught himself to read and write and the office from which he dreamed of one day owning his own business.
His only extravagance was the purchase of a used iron that was put to work every day to ensure that he never left home without his clothes being pressed. He shone and buffed his one pair of shoes every day.
It wasn’t long before his extraordinary zest for life and his always positive attitude caught the attention of his employer in the restaurant and he was promoted to the lofty position of waiter.
He immediately attacked this new challenge with his customary enthusiasm and committed himself to delivering a quality of service that would leave every customer with a sense of delight.
He even went as far as telling each customer that if they were not delighted by his service he would personally pay for their meal.
Needless to say this never happened and by the end of his first month in his new position he had earned more in tips that any of the other, more experienced waiters and by the end of the third month he was routinely earning more than all the others combined.
His warm, welcoming smile and friendly disposition served as a magnet to attract customers to the restaurant with the understanding that they would always be seated in his section.
Each day he opened his dictionary and randomly selected five new words that he wrote in his pocket notebook and took great pains to ensure that he used each word in a sentence at least three times during the day.
After six months of doing this he acquired the habit of selecting a headline from the newspaper and writing a three hundred word essay on that topic each night when he got back to his tiny room, before sleeping a few hours and happily heading off to his washroom cleaning day job.
By the time I first met him he had been in the country some twenty-five years and owned a manufacturing company that employed more than two hundred people.
He also owned several other businesses and had even purchased the restaurant where he had toiled as a dish washer.
He had hired me to provide some training to his staff and, while I believe that I did deliver value to his organization, that value pales into insignificance when compared to what I learned from him.
He valued people above all else and it showed in the absolute loyalty and devotion showered upon him by those in his employ.
In the four years prior to our meeting only one staff member had left his employ – and that was because her spouse had been transferred to another city.
His dedication to treating his staff, suppliers and customers with kindness, respect and dignity was, and still is, a model for showing how a great company can be built by great people and that greatness is developed in those people by treating them the way they want to be treated.
He never missed an opportunity to heap praise and recognition for good work and spend much of his time telling his staff how much he valued them.
And he never spoke critically of anyone.
Oh, and his reason for buying that restaurant? It was a place where any staff member in any of his businesses could take their family and friends for a meal and receive a 50% discount.
Stories of his management style, generosity and treatment of people became legendary but my favourite story has to do with the way he went about hiring managers for his businesses.
Whenever he hired an outside person to come into his company in a management position he would subject them to a test to determine whether they were worthy of being in his employ.
Once a candidate had completed the usual round of interviews, background checks and tours of the premises and had managed to progress through to the final round, the test would began.
The candidate, of course, did not know that he/she was being tested.
He would invite that candidate for lunch at his restaurant a few miles from the factory.
The candidate was told that they were in the final round of the hiring process and the reason for the lunch was for the two of them to get to know each other.
What the candidate was not told was that the real reason for the lunch was so that they could be observed.
And they were.
He watched their every move. He was particularly interested in how they treated the staff in the restaurant.
Did he/she greet the waiter who was serving them?
Did he/she say ‘please’ when ordering an item or asking for service?
Did he/she say ‘thank you?’
Did they criticise their previous or present boss or company?
What tone of voice was used when addressing the staff member?
Was the staff treated as equals?
And finally, at the end of the meal he would excuse himself to go to the washroom and would leave a $100 bill with our candidate with which to pay the tab.
The restaurant staff had been recruited to participate in this exercise and the waiter would always bring back change that was $50 short.
So that my friend could observe how his potential employee would handle that situation.
Would he/she confront the waiter aggressively?
Would he/she raise his/her voice?
Would he/she become angry?
And many a time a promising career opportunity would be lost because, in the eyes of my friend, if the candidate did not treat the staff in a restaurant with respect, if he/she was not polite, if he/she did not sway ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ then, to my friend, that was a sign of how he/she would treat his staff and rudeness and impoliteness were not optional behaviours in his company.
My friend’s view of the world is very simple. He truly believes being polite and respectful is not a way of treating people it is the way. The only way.
And add to that incredibly hard work, dedication, commitment and according to him, failure is then forever removed as a possibility.
So when he called to wish me a Happy New Year I was delighted to hear from him. I love the guy. He lives his talk every day of his life.
So please; let all of us follow his lead.
Till we read again.
P.S. Our group is growing. We now have over 700 folks who have “signed up” to the pledge in “Blog 74 No more judging. Now what am I supposed to do?” and to the request in “Blog 75 I don’t want things to get better.” To recruit 10 friends to join in.
Please, let’s work together and aim for 10,000 to take this pledge.
Ten thousand out of a world population of six billion.
Surely we can do that.
And what a difference we would make in the world!