No One Can Do This Alone

May 10th, 2023 by Nick Jacobs Leave a reply »

            My career has been a roller coaster ride, but I learned early on that persistence, patience, creativity, and luck are all factors in business survival. So is blood pressure medication, Tylenol, and an occasional glass of something that does not emanate from the spigot in the sink.

            If you trace my work history, it was rather interesting. My first adult full-time job was in an already successful program that had been established in the Pittsburgh area. Because it was a fully functional program, all I had to do was maintain what I believed to be a good thing. Then, when I first moved to Johnstown, I landed in an incredibly successful program that, in comparison, made that initial job look mediocre at best. My new challenge there was to attempt to find ways to make this amazing organization even better. That’s when the persistence, patience, creativity and luck really came into play.

            For the next two decades, however, I was thrust into at least four failing, failed, or forgotten organizations that were described in my graduate program at Carnegie Mellon as “dogs.” I’m not sure why they chose such a noble descendant of the wolf to describe a deteriorated or destroyed business situation, but their teaching revolved around what you might do in order to turn a dog-like corporation into a winning one. That, my friends, became my life’s primary work, and thank goodness, it forced me to develop skills that were hidden deep within me. Fortunately, I had mastered a formula from my teaching days that was replicable and allowed me to do just that.

            That plan involved having an open door and an open mind, allowing people to enter my office and my life with sometimes outlandish, over-the-top, and even bad ideas. My secret was to never assume that any idea was a loser until I had a chance to hear it out and, in some cases, to implement it.

There was one very good idea I had stolen from a former CEO who, due to his hubris on both sides of the equation, first built and then destroyed a business/healthcare empire. According to legend, when he became the CEO for the first time, he cancelled all of his meetings and spent weeks interacting one-on-one with every one of his employees to introduce himself and get their input. Well, that was an amazing idea that had broad implications. (I didn’t steal his other idea of eventually misappropriating donated funds.That’s the one that resulted in his eventual imprisonment.)

            On the first day of my new job, I had my assistant clear my schedule, asked that she arrange for each employee to come into my office where I invited them to sit across from me at either my desk or the conference table while I introduced myself and my philosophy of transparency and openness. Then I got up and had them change seats with me as I asked them what they would do if they were president.

Not only did I hear a boatload of amazing ideas, but when I also got around to implementing many of the good ones, I gave them credit for it being their idea. Many of their suggestions were things I had planned to implement anyway, but having their name attached to the implementation of those ideas was a tremendous hit.

            Over the next 11 years, I received a lot of professional kudos that sometimes resulted in my own personal misappropriation of hubris. In fact, near the end of my CEO tenure, I began to believe my own press and sometimes failed to recall that had there not been a powerful local Congressman, an incredibly supportive staff and family, and a least three or four amazing local civic leaders who also contributed to this success.

The take-away? None of us, not one of us can do this alone. It truly is a team effort.


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