Most times when I write these articles it has little to do with metrics, budgets, margins, etc. The reality is, most of what I write has much more to do with the “Organic Reality” and happenings I’ve been a part of (or observed) over the almost 60 years I’ve been in this great industry. So, this is one of my “Organic” true stories.
Back in my other life with the big corporation… Wickes had a large “Merchandise and Marketing” department. At the time they were servicing about 350 Lumber Centers around the country. Wally Spitka was part of that department. He was a true gentleman. I really liked and appreciated him, and so did my peers. While a lot of that huge department was distant, aloof, ineffective ,etc., Wally was always a breath of fresh air. You could call in to Corporate (Saginaw, Michigan) and nine times out of ten, get patched right into Wally. If he wasn’t in a meeting or on the phone, he’d take the call--not only take the call, but really be helpful. He represented that Merchandising Department in the best, most professional way possible. He more than stood out!
Anyway, in one of our conversations, Wally mentioned that the Senior V.P. in charge of the whole thing was being promoted, and that position had to be filled fairly quickly. Wally felt he not only could do a great job (for all of us) running the whole program, he felt that he was by far the best qualified. He asked if I wouldn’t mind sending a letter recommending him for this promotion to this all-important position. And, of course, he reached out to all of us Center Managers. I know he got the same enthusiastic endorsement from everyone. So it seemed it would be a slam dunk for Wally.
But, about two months later, I had to talk to Wally about some product issues. I didn’t even know if I’d get to talk to him, because at this point I felt he was “The Man” running the whole show. When I rang up Saginaw, and asked for Wally Spitka, he picked up right away. We covered a little business, and then I commented that I’d kind of lost touch with the structure, and said something about his “new” position. He quickly said, ”Al, I didn’t get it. It appears I wasn’t even considered.” I was blown away. I knew he was so far ahead of the competition, that it wasn’t even funny. After I recovered from my stunned surprise, I blurted out…”Wally, you were the heir apparent, without a doubt…And we all felt that way out here...What happened?” There was a pretty long silence (amazing how deafening silence can be!). Then he said...”Al, I was never good at performing at Christmas parties.”
Performing at Christmas parties? Anticipating my reaction, Wally went on to explain that “Jim” (I have changed the name) had always been wired into the social events, and “showing himself off” along with his brilliance to the Corporate leaders, i.e. the president, Senior V.P.s. etc. He was (falsely) projecting himself as the best, the smartest, the latest and greatest thing that ever came to Wickes...” (And I was thinking to myself, yes, in truth, he was a pretty useless turd. Sorry, that’s the way we all felt about him.) Wally added, “So, when the opening came up for Senior V.P., head of Merchandising, with the people at the top, it was simply, ‘Hey, no one is better qualified than good old (worthless...my word.) Jim.’”
I’ll end with these comments and admonition: I think while we’re even better at “Interviewing” for a position, I feel we’ve also become better at “vetting.” Anyway, the above was a lesson learned. In Jim’s case, the glitzy, polished, smart window-dressing that was projected at social get-togethers, was in fact just an “Empty Suit” with its own agenda. And eventually, and certainly with examples like this, Wickes finally went bankrupt.
Our associates (our family of company folks) are the most important asset we have...In fact, without them, all of us in ownership or top leadership roles would be...dare I say… nothing! We should never doubt the quality of the “Gems”...and by the same token be honest enough to recognize the “Empty Suits,” even when they’re standing right in front of us. ’Nuff said...