Giving Thanks By Remembering

Now that the holiday is past I thought I would share with you something I was remembering and giving thanks for. It’s been a private reflection over the years yet, I’ll be incorporating it into my next book. So in some ways it will go from private to public regardless.

This story will be in the chapter,“You think you’ve been screwed?” Yes, I have enough stories from first hand experience to not only fill a chapter but rather, may be enough for an entire book. However, here’s one but, it’s rather important as well as a useful reflective for me.

This story and why I remember it often is because of a person that helped me when no one else would or could during a very turbulent time in my life. His name was Dave. There is far more to this story however I thought this was appropriate to share because so many think the road to the top of the mountain isn’t fraught with perils. As if people like myself or others were just “lucky.” Trust me, there were times where it seemed, if not for bad luck – there was no luck at all. On a side note Dave passed away a few years ago from heart disease. We were basically the same age. So it puts a lot of things into even more perspective for me when I reflect. So as I was saying, from the chapter noted above…

Early in my career I had hit my stride after overcoming some difficulties. I seemed to be firing on all cylinders. I was single, owned property, sold a business that was my first leverage buyout, and returned to a company I basically grew up in where everyone seemed to be my adopted family. I felt for lack of better words: “Home and on top of the world.”

I had multiple new cars, every status symbol credit card available, (with little to no balances) and life seemed to be mine for the taking. Then – The savings and loan debacle manifested and everything changed for everyone in a heartbeat.

To make a long story short the people who bought my business (that were renting my building) went belly up and closed without notice. The company I went back to work for went belly up and closed. Again, without notice. Local businesses that had been around for decades were closing as if a plague had hit the area. If you needed or wanted work in the field I had been a rising star in, that universe was being swallowed into some black hole never to emerge from again.

During all this turmoil, right smack dab in the middle of it, I met my wife. When we met I had 3 new cars parked in my driveway. A sports car, sport touring, and sedan. The town I lived in was and still is considered a wealthy city. During our courtship she thought that I was rich. (“Rich” is a relative term but, it’s fair to say I was doing very well.) Little did we know less than 12 months later – I would lose everything. And I mean everything!

I went from top of the world to bottom of the barrel when I had to leave the keys in my cars so the repo-truck didn’t need to break the windows or ignition when they came for them. (It was all voluntary and discussed with the banks, I didn’t hide like those on some reality TV show.)

I lost everything, my phone was disconnected and more. I went from deciding which car I was going to use that night – to riding a borrowed 10 speed bicycle. I had to pedal down to a pay phone downtown to call my then girlfriend of about 6 months (now my wife) to see if she was home. (there were no cell phones then like today) Then ride 3 towns over in the middle of winter.

Remind you, this is winter as in January, February in New England with temperatures in the below zero category. Where 6 to 8 inch snowfalls are the norm near weekly. At the same time this bicycle is not some mountain bike. Rather it’s a road bike with the absolute skinniest of tires made for fair weather racing. All this and I’m far from being some kid on a bike at this time. I’m 30.

During this very brief time I’m doing anything and everything to gain employment. However, every job and more I seemed to acquire was met with disappointment. One after another things seemed to go from bad to worse. Till suddenly I thought I finally was catching a break.

I was moving and moving fast, seeking opportunities where ever I could. Then I met someone I vaguely knew however, he was the older brother of two others I knew very well. The three were now partners in a growing local business. I knew his brothers very well and we discussed how things were going for them at their new location. He was excited because they recently took over a larger building and seemed to really be growing.

During our discussion he realized who I was from discussions with his brothers. (I was at one time a supplier to them.) After picking my brain for a few hours he asked if I was happy where I was currently working. At the time I wasn’t where I wanted to be so I said as much. He then said, “What would it take for you to come work for us?” I was a little taken back but then we entered into a discussion of what I could offer, ways of helping them grow, and what type of compensation package that would entail. “Fantastic!” he said. “We could use you. You’re exactly who we need to help take us to the next level.” 

With this taking place in an informal setting I asked if he needed to go over this with his brothers? He said he would and invited me down to view the new facility the next day. And so I went.

The next day I arrived and met both him and his brothers. The meeting was casual and cordial. We all made small talk then he took me off to view the facility leaving the others to go about their own business. Later we went into his office where we began discussing what we had previously talked about.

We went back and forth till I finally hit the point straight: “So, are you offering me a position here based on this criteria?” He said, “Absolutely!” I reiterated every detail: Salary, commission, quota, territory, expectations. etc. Not leaving one detail out without a confirming yes to the question.

Then I wrote every detail as we were speaking making sure that I was doing it visibly so to push the point if it was said by either of us an expectation of payment or fulfillment was in order. There are times where a “contract” can’t or won’t be offered. This was one of those times. And besides, I knew everyone here pretty well and this was about a job not a business deal. So I felt as confident as one could and stated I would give my current employer 2 weeks and start the following Monday if that was acceptable. He said, “Great! Welcome aboard, we’ll see you then!” And off I went.

The time goes by and that Monday I show up at the facility early and ready to go. When I arrive it’s very early and only one of the brothers is in the office at this time. I know him rather well and as I walk into the main office, he’s currently on the phone retrieving messages left from the overnight service. He looks up, sees me, and acknowledges me with a wave. I wave back and find a seat.

For near 30 minutes I sit as he finishes the call then begins in answering the now incoming orders customers are now phoning in. I just sit and stare around the office. After about another 15 minutes there’s a break in the calls and he turns to me and asks, “Sorry about that Mark. What can I do for you?”

I said, “Well I’m not exactly sure where you want me to go or, what to start with. So just point me in any direction or, I’ll just wait till you have more time.” He looks at me with a blank expression and says. “Huh? What are you talking about?” I respond with, “Remember? I start work today. Two weeks went by pretty quick right?” Again, a blank stare followed with, “What in the world are you talking about?” My heart begins beating faster than I ever remember for I know somethings wrong with this picture.

I reiterate my discussions and dealings with his brother. I state every word, every interaction to no avail. He doesn’t know of anything I’m talking about. He’s also being honest. Reason? Well, when I did come to the office and talked and toured, the actual discussion or topic of me coming to work there never came up. It was assumed on my part they had been filled in because his brother said he needed to before any finalization would be made. I was under the impression since I was asked to come down after we had discussed the idea, I wouldn’t have been asked to come down if there was nothing more too it.

It just had all the appearance that it had. And with everyone knowing each other it was easy for me to assume they knew why I was there just as it was easy for them to assume I was there just to “see” their new facility on recommendations from their brother. And then the laughs just keep coming…

I then ask where’s his brother? He said he’ll be in a bit later but, (and it’s a very big but) wanted me to know that I was not starting there on this day. I feel absolute panic throughout my body at this moment in time mixed with frustration, and downright anger. I can barely keep my composure. I’m furious. Then the second brother comes in. As I approach him the other puts down the phone and shouts across the office, “Do know anything about Mark coming to work here?” Same expression and words as the first brother came out. “Huh?”

I sit him down and go over everything once again as I did the first. The response? “Geez, that’s crazy. He never said a word about this. That should have never happened. But, (and again a very big but) there’s nothing I can do for you. Sorry.” And basically signaled the discussion was over.

I am in full panic mode at this point. I just left a job, albeit one I didn’t truly care for but, one that I was grateful for having because I needed it. I was just working myself back up from a bicycle to owning a car. It was a junker but it was something. However the worst part – I would not be taken back. My former employer was not the forgiving kind. No matter how good I might have been.

In full brain scrambling mode I ask, “Where’s your brother?” They say he’ll be in any minute and I plead, “Can we at least wait till he gets here so we all can find out what is happening here?” They agree yet insinuate that it wont change things. Again, I can barely stop myself from shaking I’m so frustrated. Then, in he comes.

He reacts to my being there as, “Hey, good to see you!” And I unleash. I sit him down along with his 2 other brothers and go step by step, line by line, promise by promise, along with all the terms requisites and others agreed to. At every single point I ask, “Did you say that?” Or, “Did you agree to that?” And at every one he nods and says, “Yes.” As he does I look at the other two brothers with a look of; “See, I told you.” Then move on to the next point.

At the end of this interrogation I turn to the other two brothers and ask, “So now what?” They look at each other, then look at the other brother and say, “Sorry, he shouldn’t have said or promised you that. However, that doesn’t change things. We not having you come aboard. We’re not ready for someone like you yet. Again, sorry.” And that was it.

Just when I thought things were going my way they went south in a hurry. What in the world was I going to do now? I was in full panic and desperation mode. Getting kicked in teeth would have felt sweeter than a kiss compared to what I was feeling a that moment. I just can not describe the sinking vortex I felt caught in. I went from thinking I acquired a great job to feeling I had more in line with the biblical Job. It was a perilous time for me.

Then a few weeks later I ran into the person I named earlier. Dave knew these brothers very well himself. He also understood my predicament. Dave himself owned a business but his was very small. A mere 3 person outfit. Yet, Dave gave me a job. We both knew in our heart of hearts it wasn’t going to work. What he was doing was not of a sufficient size to handle what would be needed to keep me but it was worth a shot for him. And besides, I needed the work, and I was grateful. So we tried,

It didn’t work however, that short period of time that Dave allowed to give it a chance saved me. For if he hadn’t at least given it a chance, I have no idea where I might be today. As I reflect it’s not that far removed to think I just might not have made or held on long enough for my next break had he not given me that opportunity.

David was one of those people you meet in life whom are more along the lines of a business acquaintance than a friend. Yet, from out of nowhere seem to offer or give you help, or something more when you most need it – your most trying of times. Times where it seems every friend or family member in the world has forgotten who you are or would rather not know who you are.

For as much as I have made and done in my life, without the helping hand that Dave offered at that critical time in my life, I believe it’s safe to say I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. He was that important at such a critical time for me.

So I say with all humbleness: I remember, and I’m thankful I had the opportunity to meet him while he was here.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr