PICTURES ON THE WALL
I recently read Louis Galambos’ excellent book on Dwight Eisenhower. (Eisenhower, 2018 Johns Hopkins University Press, all rights reserved.) Mr Galambos was the long-time editor of The Eisenhower Papers and has insights into “Ike” that are unique.
The book got me to thinking on the subject of “heroes” because Ike’s picture was one of three on my office wall during the latter part of my career. The three pictures were of men that I had tried to pattern my behavior after. Each one possessed a particular trait that I wanted to emulate.
The first picture was of my Grandfather, William Zinnecker. Known by intimates as “Bill” or “Will” but by his six very respectful grandchildren as “Grandpa”, he was born in 1876 in Carson City, Michigan and died in 1962 in my home town of Cass City, Michigan. Along the way he, at age 26, married a girl, 8 years younger than he, raised five sons, all born between 1906 and 1912 and farmed a less than desirable 60-acre farm in Novesta Township, south of Cass City.
William Zinnecker was a man of integrity. You could trust him and take him at his word. If he said something was so, it was so. Towards the end of his life, he told me that he had never paid taxes. This was so out of character that I was dumb-founded. When I asked how he could do that, he responded along these lines. “I worked this farm and I raised five boys on this farm and I never asked the government for anything and they never asked me for anything and I figure that the government and I are even.”
I admired my Grandfather very much and respected him. I had the opportunity, in my teenaged years, to work beside him on his farm, bringing in his crops. Those memories and the memories of him rocking in his big platform rocker by the window of his farm-house while smoking his pipe or sitting at the head of the family table at a holiday with the eighteen of us sitting around it are what I will take to my grave. Grandpa had a coffee cup that was larger than any other coffee cup in the house. No-one ever drank from Grandpa’s cup but him! It was a symbol of his leadership of our family. He was a rock-solid man of his word and you could make book on anything he said. That is what I have endeavored to do. I have not always succeeded but I have tried.
The second picture was that of Dwight Eisenhower. I was born in 1938, just before the second World War. When I had just turned six, Eisenhower commanded the greatest amphibious assault ever made against the entrenched German defenses at Normandy. That meant very little to me at the time. But, eight years later, I was a Freshman in high school and Ike was running for President. Our high school staged a mock election and I remember voting for Ike and hoping, for some reason that I could not explain, that he would be elected. He won the election in our school and later in the year the national election as well. Those events launched my interest in his life. I learned that he, like me, was from a small town and had a farm-related background. This small-town boy had led epic events on the world stage and now was the President. As I learned more about him, two events stood out in my mind. On the night before the D-Day invasion, Ike visited the young men of the airborne divisions that would, the next day, parachute into German held territory. He walked around and asked them their names and where they were from. (He later said he was disappointed that no one that he talked to had been from Kansas!) I found it remarkable that the Supreme Commander of the Allied invasion had visited with the troops, asking them their names and where they were from and letting them see the Commanding General who was asking them to risk their lives the next day. As President, he boarded the former Presidential yacht and met a large group of WW II veterans, all who had been injured in the war. He dismissed the Secret Service with the words, “I know these men”.
I resolved that, if I ever was in a position of authority, I would be visible to the people who would do the work on the front lines of the organization. When I managed operations in Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and New York, I made it a point to go anywhere that my co-workers were and talk with them and listen to them and let them see “the boss”. Tom Peters in his book “In Search of Excellence” (1982 – Harper and Row) talked about MBWA – “Management by Walking Around”. Dwight Eisenhower practiced it in 1944 and in the 1950’s and I tried to do it in from the 1960’s to the 1990’s.
Ike was President during the time that I fell in and out of love, grew into manhood, went off to business college, met the girl who has been my wife for 60 years and celebrated the birth of our first two children. We bought our first home and I embarked on a career in the Telecommunications industry that would last for over 55 years. When the train carrying Ike to his final resting place in Abilene, KS came through St. Peters, MO, my family and I stood beside the railroad tracks and said goodbye. His is the only Presidential Museum I have seen and the only Presidential home I have toured. I still “like Ike” and that unifying personal touch that he modeled.
The third picture on my wall was of Phillip J. Lucier, the first President and CEO of Continental Telephone Company (later CONTEL) where I spent the majority of my career. I first met Phil in Michigan in 1964 when Continental took over the company that I was working for. At the end of our first meeting, he gave me my first promotion to corporate office and inspired me to be more than I had thought I could be. For the next six years, until his tragic death in 1970, Phil Lucier would be my benefactor, my leader and one of my heroes. He paved the way for our family to move to Missouri in 1966 by giving us, interest free for five years, the down payment on our first home in the “Show-Me” state. I still have the personal, hand-written notes of encouragement that he sent me at various times during those years. He led Continental through one of the most dynamic growth spurts in American business history. Continental would acquire 107 companies in 1967, a feat then unequaled in business.
Phil had the ability to inspire you to do things that you had previously felt you could not do. I remember on one occasion when a group of us were involved in a meeting where we were debating what to do about a particular problem. There seemed no logical solution and we were, frankly, at our wits end. Phil walked into the meeting and sat down and listened. Then he talked to us about the future and our role in it and that he believed we were the group that would lead the company to even greater success in that future. When he left, we solved the problem and left the meeting convinced that there was nothing we could not accomplish. Many of the people who were in that meeting in the late 1960’s went on to become the top management team for CONTEL in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Phil Lucier’s ability to inspire you to do things you thought you were not capable of was a skill that I tried to imitate in leading the turn arounds of several companies that I was responsible for as a Divisional President and General Manager. I tried to inspire those with whom I worked, that we were capable of bigger and better things. In most cases we did bigger and better things.
I owe my success to my faith in Jesus Christ and to the many men and women who helped and guided me throughout my life. They are too numerous to mention. But the three pictures on the wall were men who inspired me to have integrity, be a unifying leader for those with whom I worked and to inspire others to achieve all that is possible.