I just finished eating some yogurt on an airplane ride to the Plastic News Executive Forum. Even though I really like this particular brand of yogurt, it will forever be tied to some bittersweet memories for me.
As a sales person a few years ago, I came in runner-up in a project this yogurt company was launching. It was a a difficult loss because we really believed in the project and believed it would take off. Besides the business component, I am a fan of the company and wanted to be part of its supply chain. To make matters worse, we had also recently finished second in another yogurt project with a different brand. It was a rough stretch for my self-confidence.
At about this time, our sales team was undergoing some changes. As the newly appointed hiring manager, I wanted to improve the talent (i.e. get people who were better than me into sales positions!). Enter Tammy. She does not take no for an answer, which makes me feel sorry for her husband and kids. Kidding aside, she lectured me that we were going to continue to pursue the second project that got away. And two years later, she—along with our “change-over team” —had realized that dream.
With growth comes expansion, so it was time to hire again. One of the readers of this blog, Roger, suggested that I talk to Lee. So a few days after New Years Eve, I flew to New Jersey and met with him. I told him that I wanted him to challenge my (and our company’s) assumptions, help us build our proprietary product line, and grow relationships in the pouch space. He has exceeded expectations on all fronts.
Joel is better than most at having crucial conversations with customers. Patricia does things most sales people dread doing, and does them with humility and excellence. Marion is constantly considering ways to push the organization to get better, and his energy tires us all! Pete and Kevin both have unyielding tenacities, and relentlessly pursue new opportunities in difficult markets. Mike very humbly goes about his business, and always brings positive energy to the conversations I have with him.
And Jack…well, he’s just Jack! But, his guidance has deeply impacted me in more ways I can adequately count here.
All of these people are older than I am. (Sorry!)
All of these people are better at sales than I am.
And I am incredibly grateful for their humility and pursuit of excellence.
Down the path comes Drew, Justin, and possibly some of the entrepreneurial students I spoke to recently at Loyola, or Judson! (When are we getting together again?)
If they have the drive — Drew and Justin do — they, too, will also be better.
This is THE pursuit of leadership.
Always hire up. Always hire people that are better, or can become better.
It is humbling.
And that’s because it is leadership.