On Monday I met with an old friend for breakfast. It had been 24 years since we last saw each other.
Thirty years ago, I moved from Pennsylvania to California. I needed a job and was hired by small entrepreneurial chemical research group. The name of the company was Catalytica, and one of its two principal founders was Ricardo Levy. On Monday, Ric and I had breakfast – 24 years after I left the company for my first sales job.
We talked about a variety of subjects, including how Catalytica had continued to grow rapidly, expand, go public, quadruple in size from the purchase of a much larger corporation, and eventually be sold and absorbed by another company – it was the era of rapid growth and mergers.
Ric asked about my own entrepreneurial ventures and the fortuitous events that led to my Gump career.
We talked of co-workers and friends, the personalities encountered along the way, family, and mentors. The discussion sprung from a perspective reserved for two humans who knew and respected each other. We both shared a concern for and curiosity about human nature, modern business, and the combination of human needs with corporate profits.
Here are five highlights (or lessons) I took from my breakfast with Ricardo.
The first two lessons were at the forefront of my mind as I anticipated our reunion. Lesson three comes directly from Ricardo as he shared his experiences of the past 30 years. The final two are a combination of my own thoughts with Ricardo’s as I review our meeting 24 hours later.
- Always leave the door open. In 1987 when I decided to leave Catalytica, they gave me a going-away party. Ric spoke and said something like, “Job well done, good luck, and I hope our paths cross and we can work together in the future”’ It was an olive branch.
- Mentors/Coaches. In ’82 and ’83, I had the opportunity to work with Human Performance Coach Dorothy Jongeward. Dorothy was hired by Catalytica to work with any employee who chose to use her coaching – it was 100% voluntary. I greatly benefitted from those sessions, and specifically wanted to thank Ricardo for providing me with this opportunity. It established a foundation that I still stand on to this day. Ric shared how he also benefitted, and continued to work with Dorothy for many more years.
- Balance corporate profits with human needs. Ric shared one of his most difficult experiences, which occurred when a major investor decided to stop funding the fledgling Catalytica. He had to lay off 25% of the workforce.
- We are all very different; we are the same. Ric and I come from very different backgrounds. The people we have worked with over our lifetimes have different religious foundations, educational opportunities, degrees, credentials, work experiences, ethnic and cultural backgrounds … but as we sat and enjoyed breakfast, it was overwhelmingly apparent that we were the same.
- Embrace the moment. One of the principles of Gumption is presence – being able to fully participate in the here and now. Over the years I’ve viewed my experiences at Catalytica with mostly positive thoughts, but not always with the understanding of why the difficult lessons were necessary at the time. Ric counseled me with a quote about youthful enthusiasm and wisdom from experience – and how they reveal themselves at different times of one’s career. They are different skills. They are different abilities. They arrive at different moments during one’s life.
Lesson learned: Don’t burn your bridges.
Lesson learned: Human performance (i.e., good coaching) makes for better workplace performance and increased profitability
Lesson Learned. Make decisions with your head, implement the decisions with your heart. In other words, be compassionate in doing what needs to be done.
Lesson learned: We are all simply human beings – nothing more, nothing less.
Lesson learned: The mistakes made in one’s early career are OK – especially those of youthful exuberance. Allow them to become the wisdom gained from experience.
When Ric and I said goodbye, he said, “We are now reconnected.” I took it to mean that it wasn’t goodbye … rather, it was let’s keep in touch, let’s continue the work of living, producing, and helping each other that we started 30 years ago.
I’m glad to have reconnected with an old friend. Today, I see Ricardo more as a peer, a friend, and a fellow human being, rather than ‘the man I worked for’ … but, I see him as a wise friend, accomplished, and always still a mentor.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”
Do you routinely keep the door open to future possibilities in your relationships?
Are you willing to plant seeds today that may not bear fruit for 24 years?
Next Blog Title: The Highest Praise: Recognition from One’s Peers
Next Blog Date: February 28, 2011