Dear Grandpa: Here Is What I Have Learned the Past Year

robert hoffer

The first week of March always reminds me of my grandfather because he was born on March 3, 1919. What follows is a letter to him.

Dear Grandpa,

Little did I know on your birthday last year how much things in our country would change. The past year has been unlike any other that I have lived, so I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learned while leading the company with my two sisters.

COVID-19 brought a countless number of challenges with it. I would have to write a book to explore them all. Suffice it to say, I have thought a lot about your values, and how you lived your life, when making COVID-related decisions this year. For example, my sisters and I thought you would be slow to take out loans so we did not. Nor, did we have to, thanks in part to decisions you made decades ago. This reminded me how decisions I make today can, and probably will, impact future generations.

You would be amazed at the technology we have these days. It allowed some on our team to work from home early on in the Pandemic. But, I suspect you would caution the reliance our society has on technology. In fact, your example of walking the production floor daily motivated me to mask up and do the same, even when the Pandemic was at its worst. I suspect you would also advise that if our people on the plant floor are working, we better be there to support and show appreciation. So, that is what I, and our entire Executive Team, did.

I mentioned masks in the last paragraph and I should clarify that you have to wear them everywhere these days. I am not a fan because I do not like how they fog my glasses, and how they can make it harder to breath. But, I wear them anyway because I want to set an example. When I was an intern working on the roof cleaning air conditioners, you reminded me that everyone would be watching. That “lecture” made it easy to push my preferences aside and lead by example with regards to masks, temperature checks, and other personal protective equipment requirements we must adhere to these days.

Some of our team members still tell stories about what you would put up with, and often, the many things you would not! The latter has challenged me this year as a leader. Too often the human side of me, the one that wants to be liked, wins over and I fail to do a good job leading. You seemed to balance this better than me, or that is how it appears so many years later. Regardless, the topic of leading others, and nudging them out of their comfort zone, are the topics I would want to talk to you about if I had the chance.

Here are two things you would approve of:

Our rally cry during the downturn last year was to save as many jobs as possible. To that end, we did not lay a single person off!

We will go back to meeting face-to-face with customers when it is allowed. “Get your butt out and sell” is still an unofficial motto.

And, here are two things you would not approve of:

We often wear jeans to work. Even my dad occasionally!

The office is often quiet and we rely too heavily on technology to communicate.

While the former is going to stay, we are working on the latter. We are still a family, which means that relationally we have to be together in person.

A week ago I was driving home from an appointment and went a little out of the way to drive by your old house. Grandma and you lived there from 1953 until the end. This was a shining example of contentment. It struck me that you were always content at home and never content at Hoffer Plastics. I hope to model this in the year to come.

I miss you.

Signing off to go walk the floor.