As I look back on my career path, there have been many people I have met along the way that influenced my leadership style. At the time, I didn’t recognize the impact these people ultimately had on my personal development. But they actually became very instrumental in helping me define my leadership skills.
When I first joined Marco as a young sales guy, I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize how much I had to learn. There are so many people who have influenced me within the walls of Marco, starting with Marco founder and my long-time mentor and friend, Gary Marsden. But today, I’d like to share some of those people outside of Marco who had a positive impact on my life and leadership early on:
- Harold Lutz
Harold was my first formal boss. He owned the Camp Ripley Laundromat where I spent two summers working during high school. Harold was a no nonsense kind of guy who taught me about responsibility, performance and motivation. He set the bar for what he expected from his employees each day (pile of dirty fatigues and blankets) and then left counting on us to deliver. We never wanted to let him down and always got the job done. I learned about self-management, was motivated to perform and I had a lot of fun doing it.
- Master Sgt. Dave Beard
Air Force Master Sgt. Beard was your quintessential military leader. He was a burly guy with a flat top who chain-smoked Camel straights. He had a reputation for being hard core and was the boss nobody thought they wanted – most people were afraid of him. I quickly learned all he really expected was accountability and performance. He taught me about the importance of creating a circle of influence and how to get along up and down the food chain and perform in the bureaucracy of the military. His guidance defined my career in the military, helped me gain an early promotion and still influences my style today.
- Don Wetter
Don, then controller for Coborn’s Inc. grocery stores, was among the people I called on early in my sales career. At that time, the grocery chain was small with only a few locations and the headquarters was on the second floor of the Sauk Rapids store. Don later led the company through significant growth as CEO. His personality style was analytical and I didn’t realize that I should modify my normally expressive style to more effectively make a connection with him. So I talked more than I listened. Shortly after, Don connected with my boss, Gary Marsden, to commend me for my enthusiasm and encourage me to learn to do a better job listening so I could better understand my customers and be more effective in my sales calls. That was a valuable lesson that I still use today. Coborn’s became one of my best accounts, and Don was one of my favorite customers.
- John Delinsky
It was with John that I first learned what the term “vaulting” meant. John owned Apollo Insurance, a customer I wanted to expand our business with. I went over the head of my contact, the office manager, directly to John. He shared with Gary that I was not recognizing the decision making hierarchy within an organization. I learned the importance of being respectful of the decision makers, influencers and process. There may be times that vaulting seems like a good idea, but you really better think it through because it seldom works in your favor.
- Jim Bowkamp
Jim served as vice president of finance for Herberger’s and was one of the top accounting professionals in St. Cloud at the time. Herberger's was building a new corporate headquarters, so of course I made sure I found a way to connect with Jim. He helped me understand the importance of pricing integrity and to never take advantage of your good customer relationships. We agreed upon a pricing structure and I learned to never deviate from it, no matter how comfortable our relationship became. I worked hard to earn every nickel of business from Herberger’s and always respected the relationship.
These five men helped define the principles and practices that helped establish the foundation for my early business career. They were good leaders who influenced my development. I recognize these lessons go back 30 years, but they will always be relevant.