I had never really thought about that question because I had always been too busy doing the “business of my business” to give it much thought.
So I stopped and I thought long and hard about the question. I began to realize that whatever success I had achieved came from the teachings of my family and friends.
I thought about what my grandfather, a man I adored and highly respected, had shared with me. What my aunt, a Cherokee of great wisdom and compassion who raised me, had taught me.
I reflected on the teachings from my mother, who, according to my wife, adored me. I remembered lessons learned from my favorite uncle, who never met a stranger. And then there was my father-in-law, who always reassured me, and my adopted dad “Jim” who continues to inspire me.
And yes, I even recalled the lessons taught to me by one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Cunningham, who taught me manners in the fourth grade.
All these people had contributed to my success in one way or another. I was overwhelmed with humility and an understanding that I had not experienced before.
My grandfather was a self-made and self-educated man. He was, as we say in these politically correct days, a Native American of the Cherokee tribe. He taught me the lesson of reliability.
As he would often say, “When you tell a man you will be somewhere at a given time, you are always there early, waiting for him with a drink of cool water.”
My Aunt Anzie, who was my caretaker from age 1 through about age 12, was a saint of a woman. A large lady with an equally large heart and smile, she was always the one the family turned to in times of need (“uduladi” in Cherokee) because of her responsiveness.
She read incessantly. The Bible, history and classic literature were her favorites.
One of her favorite sayings was, “We must always go quickly to those who need us the most.” Thus, she taught me the importance of responsiveness.
Our clients expect us to be responsive to their needs on their time schedule and to provide timeliness of service throughout the relationship.
My mother was married to my father for more than 50 years. She had staying power to say the least, and she possessed the necessary skills and knowledge to make the relationship work.
She was a Cherokee child of the earth who had learned many of the ways of her parents.
Whatever she did, whether it was being a knitter, a waitress, or a gardener, she was always the best at it. And, man, could she cook. She taught me the lesson of competence.
Even today I still am learning, and I strive daily to be as competent as possible.
Our clients expect us to have or to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to help them solve problems. They expect us to demonstrate our competence.
You meet people in life that you like from the first meeting. They make such an impression that you never forget them. Enter Uncle Ross. A World War II veteran who came home unscathed from the war, only to be run down by a drunken driver on the streets of Detroit, Uncle Ross was the embodiment of optimism and goodwill.
Although both of his legs and feet were broken and severely damaged by the accident, his good humor and charming personality never faltered.
Uncle Ross taught me the importance of being accessible to all people. He showed me how to approach people and put them at ease.
Uncle Ross also taught me to be a good listener and to put people at ease. He often would say, “Remember God gave us two ears and one mouth.” I believe you can readily see the value of learning such skills to benefit your own customers.
Our customers want someone they can be comfortable with as a partner. They want someone that they can talk to about their issues, problems, concerns and frustrations.
I miss the old East Side Elementary School in Princeton. I am especially fond of the memories I have of my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Cunningham.
Mrs. Cunningham taught me some of the most important life and business lessons of any of my mentors. She taught me to stand up when a lady entered the room, to hold the door for them, to always say “Yes ma’am” and “No sir.”
She also gave me a love of reading as well as the curiosity to question things to discover my truth.
I believe that too many business people today have not learned the rudiments of courtesy and politeness. Or, perhaps they simply don’t understand the importance of courtesy and politeness in building a relationship with their customers.
And Mrs. Cunningham also taught me the value of writing personalized thank you notes and mailing them promptly to the person being thanked. This is truly a lost art.
Communication and credibility
Our customers, if they are to be courted or retained as a customer, expect us as business people to keep them in the communications loop, even when the news is bad. They expect and deserve open, honest and forthright communications and information from us because they have entrusted their business to us.
As Brit Hume, the famous journalist, once said, “In the end, you make your reputation, and you have your success based upon credibility and being able to provide people who are really hungry for information what they want.”
This brings me to the subject of great importance: being assured.
Mr. Tommy, my father-in-law and a successful salesman of electrical equipment and components for 25 plus years in Atlanta, steps in here. A man of few words, the words he did offer were very important to me.
When I told him that I was leaving the government and corporate worlds to pursue the dream of creating my own business, his response was totally unexpected, especially since I was placing the security of his daughter’s future in jeopardy as I pursued this dream.
Frankly, I expected him to cringe at the idea, as my own father had. Instead he said, with confidence in his voice, “You will do just fine. I don’t know why you haven’t done this before now. And remember, you can always go back to work for someone else if you choose, although you will never do that once you taste the freedom of your own business.”
Mr. Tommy was right. His belief in me reassured me even when I did not have the confidence I needed.