I was the director of strategic business development at Iomega in the late 1990s. Among other things, I was the lead contract negotiator for big agreements. I spent most of that time doing license and associated agreements, but I also did M&A, purchase, joint development and other deals. I loved it because I felt like I was making a difference.
My manager, Tony, walked into my office one afternoon and asked me, “When are you leaving on that vacation with your boys?” It seemed like he had something on his mind. I figured that he wanted to learn the details of our trip. I had been traveling for work so much that I planned this trip specifically to create some isolated time with my two sons who were 9 and 7 years old at that time. The plan was for us to drive through a few national parks on the way down to San Diego and do the touristy things there. I also set it up so that my parents would fly down to meet us there.
“I’m leaving tomorrow.” I replied.
Instead of asking me any questions about the trip he just said, “Have a nice trip,” and walked away.
The week-long trip was great. It was fun to see my boys and their grandparents together. It was also nice to have some consecutive days away from work.
When I returned to the office I noticed that Tony wasn’t there. I asked our administrative assistant where he was.
“France? Why?” I questioned.
We had been in a court battle with a French company called Nomai. They were making imitation Zip disks, violating our patents and copyrights. Their product looked just like ours but the media inside was inferior. Unsuspecting customers were buying what they thought was the real thing only to damage their drives. This company was defrauding people, stealing from us, and creating a huge customer satisfaction problem. That day that Tony came to my office we learned that we lost our case in Europe. The judge basically said, “They are a small European company and you are a big American company. They win and you lose.”
The board decided that the best thing we could do is buy that company, and shut it down. It wasn’t fair, but it was the best thing we could do for our customers and our own reputation. This is the worst sort of negotiation: dealing with people with whom you don’t like or trust. The board assigned me to fly out immediately and get the thing done as fast as possible. Tony flew out in my place. I think he was there almost three weeks getting it done.
This is the explanation that our admin gave me: “Tony figured that if he had told you about the assignment that you would have postponed your vacation and gone. That’s why he didn’t tell you.”
I probably would have done it, and that would have been a big mistake. My parents died within two years. That trip with my boys was great experience that they and I treasure.
There are plenty of books written about management. I don’t know that any of them say that a Senior Vice President should jump on a plane to go do an ugly, extended negotiation so that one of his employees can go on a vacation with his family.
Tony didn’t just want to make a big difference for the company. He made a big difference in my life, because he cared about me as a person and not just as an employee. We can all learn from his example.