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Imagine How Many Lives You Have Touched?

31 May

Do you remember that elementary school teacher?  The one that gave you that little extra push, that encouragement that you remember to this day?

Back in 1979, I started dating a young woman, an elementary school teacher.  She taught in what was called a ‘Resource Room’ at an elementary school Agawam, Massachusetts, working with students that needed that little extra help.

On occasion, I would pick her up from school and I would get to see her in action.

She had this smile, you see.  This special smile saved for her kids.. and they knew it.  They responded to it.  There was a connection there with every single child.  She would crouch down so that they were eye-to-eye.  She made them feel special.

You can’t teach that.  You have it or you don’t.

That young woman made a career out of education, her own, her children, her students.  Her Doctoral dissertation was on improving the social skills of students with special needs.

I never saw her cross or critical when it came to children.  She was masterful at drawing them out, getting to the heart of the matter.  Teaching them to use their words, to think for themselves.

Now, on June 1, 2013, she’ll retire, after decades of teaching, a career that covered teaching in preschool through college, from students with special needs to “gifted and talented”,  from teaching students to teaching teachers.

So, as my wife moves on to the next phase of her life, all I can say is,

Honey, do you have any idea how many lives you’ve improved and enriched?  How many people you have made feel special? How, in your own way, you’ve made the world a better place?

God Bless You.


Patriot’s Day

16 Apr

Boston is my home.  Though I grew up 100 miles Southwest most of my 20 Aunts & Uncles and scores of cousins were in Boston.  Every April, I was green with envy as they would get this holiday off, Patriot’s Day, the anniversary of the revolutionary war battles in Lexington and Concord.  My cousins would flock to Boston to watch the end of the Boston Marathon and then attend the Red Sox Patriot’s day double-header, while I sat in school.

In my 30’s, I took up running, joining a couple dozen co-workers at UTC every lunch time for 5-7 miles.   In the locker room afterward, someone would ask the question, “You doin’ Boston this year?”.    That question separated the great runners from us not-so-great.  You see, you have to qualify for Boston.  You have to have run a ‘qualifying marathon’ at below a certain time, based on your age.  There is an exemption if you are a medical doctor, I’m told.  One of the ‘elite’ runners at UTC jokingly suggested my best route to qualifying would be medical school.

The Boston Marathon is special, iconic, quirky.  Just like the city and the people.  The events of April 15, 2013 hit hard.  In the first hours, I was checking Twitter, my wife was emailing her sisters.  Everyone we know back home is ‘fine’.

…. but, Patriot’s Day will never be the same.  And that’s a sad thing.  Boston, I cry for you.


MY Uncle Pep

9 Feb

I want to talk today about Joe (Guiseppe) Piro.  He was my uncle.  MY uncle Pep.  He was born in 1910, married my Dad’s older sister Ida.  Pep’s sister Mary was married to my Dad’s older brother Phil.  That’s how it was done in those large Italian-American neighborhoods.

My Dad was the youngest of eight, and before he was a teenager, he lost both of his parents.  Ida raised my dad and the other young Franzosa sibs, so she and Pep waited to get married. They had one child, Theresa, when Pep was in his forties.

Let me tell you a little bit about Pep & Ida.  Neither of them ever learned to drive a car.  Living in Somerville, Massachusetts, there was no need.  You could take a bus, train or trolley anywhere you needed to go.  If the weather was good, Pepe would walk the 6 miles to John Hancock in Boston, where he worked as a printer.

Pep was a mercurial Red Sox fan.  Long suffering, like the rest of us.  Attending a Red Sox game with Pep, that was a treat!  He would fill shopping bags with homemade popcorn.  We also used to bring our own drinks, until Fenway no longer allowed it.

Pep’s LARGEST role in our lives was a family ritual.  He and Ida and ‘Tree’ (as he called Theresa) would take the bus down to Manchester, Connecticut to visit us every 4th of July weekend.  Whichever one of us was the ‘appropriate’ age would be taught how to ride a 2-wheel bike by Pep.  No one else would do.  His endless patience and good humor did the trick.  Every one of us learned at his hand.  It was his ‘thing’.  He would also take the bunch of us for a walk to Friendly’s for ice cream (my parents thought 35 cents for an ice cream cone was outrageous).

Ida passed away in 2000, but somehow, Pep never aged,  I went to see him a few years after Ida was gone.  He was probably about 93.  He had a new girlfriend.  I asked him if he was still walking everywhere.  He said “30 minutes a day”.  He had me drop him at his girlfriend’s house, I asked how he was going to get home, he winked and said, “It’s just a 15 minute walk”.

The last time I saw Pep was at his 100th birthday party.  He was as bright, cheerful and strong as ever. He shouted out, “Ricky” and gave me a bone crushing handshake.  He had outlived his girlfriend, but told me he was still lookin’.  I asked him if he was still walking everywhere.  He said he had slowed down, but he still walked to the Arlington Public Library every day to read the Boston Globe, “because it ain’t worth payin’ for”.   When he was asked how one lives to be 100, he said, “Eat healthy, get plenty of exercise and go to bed happy.”  I thought about that.  I may have seen him annoyed at the Sox once in a while, but never angry.  As my cousin Bill said, Pep didn’t have a mean bone in his body.

Two summers ago, I saw an article about a 101 year old man throwing out the first pitch at a minor league ball game.  Yup, MY Uncle Pep.

On December 24, 2012.  “Tree” succumbed to cancer after battling the disease for many years.  Like her Dad, she never complained.

Last Friday, at 102 years of age, Joe ‘Pepe’ Piro joined Ida and Theresa.  I suppose that the loss of his only child was the one thing that finally slowed him down.  I hope he didn’t think that Theresa’s passing was the end of the line, because it certainly was not.  Here’s why:

When I was working at Computervision in the 1980’s, I met a woman named Susan Piro.  I didn’t make the connection, but eventually found out that her husband Jim was Pep’s nephew.  I said, “So you’re relate to MY Uncle Pep?”, she said, “No, you’re related to MY Uncle Pep!”

So you see, Pep.  When you look down from heaven, there are dozens and dozens of us that will always remember you as ‘MY Uncle Pep’…

and we all miss you.


Dreaming and Doing

5 Jan

Maybe Mikey has it right….

There was an interesting blog over at HBR this week; Instead of Making Resolutions, Dream.  It puts forth the idea that, perhaps rather than working on “what’s wrong” and making New Years resolutions to exercise, lose weight, perhaps you should look at what your objective is?  What is your dream?


“While resolutions are about “shoulds,” dreaming is about hope — and who we may become.Dreaming is at the heart of disruption — it is only when we dream that we can hope to create something truly new, something that will overtake old habits, old customs, and old ways of thinking and being. And we all know by now that a disruptive path leads to a greater measure of success.”

Which brings me back to Mike.  Mike is my 23 year-old son.  He has a dream.  He just graduated college with degrees in Computer Science and Music Performance, and, like many in his generation, a load of college loan debt.  He would love to try his hand a the music profession, but has enough sense (from his Mom, I think) to know that paying off his loans comes first.  Luckily he also really enjoys computer science and has an excellent job at a local software company.

This past fall, he came home with a new tattoo on his right arm…  we had a tongue-in-cheek text session on the subject:

Mike: “I told you once before [about the tatoo].  You may have thought I wasn’t serious though – haha”

Me: “Insert lecture on best use of your money here”

Mike: “Insert my personal beliefs/artistry here”

When I read the blog “Instead of Making Resolutions, Dream“, I immediately thought of Mike.  He wanted that reminder, telling him several times a day what he wants to be.

As I head to the gym in the morning and fight the crowds that will be non-existent a month from now, as I go back to counting points via the iPhone Weightwatchers app, I realize that Mike was right.  It’s not about resolving to make improvements yet again … It’s about striving toward that goal, that objective.

The tattoo reads “DREAM ON”


The Customer Is What?

15 Aug

Just don’t have ANY TIME for blogging lately.  Too busy, too busy, TOO BUSY!!

So, by way of apology, this blog is commenting on a two-week old blog from Harvard Business Review, with the grabber title “If the Customer is Always Right, You’re in Trouble”.  Being in the Client Support Biz, I had to check it out, because, well, my customers ARE always right, aren’t they?

Turns out, the blog is not about customer service at all, it is about “the death of Solution Selling”.  Well, having spent the better part of 20 years selling (if you can call that better) I not only have had Solution Selling training, but also smatterings of Gitomer, Sandler, and, of course, both learning and teaching Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage.  NOW you’ve got my attention, HBR!

So what is this “death of Solution Selling” all about?  This blog describes, in gory detail, how the tenets of Solution Selling just don’t apply anymore:

“Across the last five years, however, we’ve observed both in our data and our conversations with sales leaders around the world a dramatic drop in the efficacy of this [solution selling] approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B customers conducted by our company, CEB, we found that B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out…

… For most companies, the biggest competitor today isn’t the competition, it’s customers’ ability to learn on their own.”

So, what is the answer?

According to HBR, there are two questions that most suppliers overlook:

“First, where do your customers learn? Is it on the Internet? In online communities? From third parties (and if so, where do those third parties themselves learn)?

Second, do you teach customers something new and important about their business that they cannot learn on their own? Because if your biggest competitor is the customer’s ability to learn, then that’s what you’ll need to do to win.”

So there you have it.  It’s not good enough to ask the right questions and get to the ‘C’ suite.  If you are not a Subject Matter Expert that can, in fact, become a Trusted Advisor and “teach your customer something new and important”, you may as well  just sharpen your pencil, because in the sea of look-alikes, it always comes down to price.


Commenting on “The Art of Letting Go”, Kenny Rogers and Don Draper

7 Jun

My new favorite blogger, Tony Schwartz, has done it again.  His blog “The Art of Letting Go” is a great piece for that sale, that venture, that relationship that you just can’t give up on.  It reminds me of that classic greeting card a friend once sent me:

They said it couldn’t be done….  How did they know?

Tony talks about how tough it is to go against the grain, how we are predisposed to fight the good fight, persevere against all odds.  The fact that this perseverance does exact an emotional toll.

I recall many instances in my sales career where the handwriting was Sharpied indelibly on the wall.  Without question the deal was dead, but we spent additional time, energy and effort to change the mind of someone who’s mind was already made up.  This is a chronic entrperneurial disease.  It is hard to walk away when you are small, trying to rapidly make the Big Time.

Tony ends the piece with a simple set of four questions:

1. Do I have a feeling in my gut that this dog just won’t hunt?
2. How important will this seem to me in six months?
3. How important will this seem to me in two years?
4. Is there a more enjoyable and productive way I could be investing my time and energy right now?

If the answer to 1 and 4 are “yes,” or the answers to 2 and 3 are “not much,” it’s time to let go.

Which brings to mind the timeless wisdom of Kenny Rogers….

“You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run”

OK, that was way too obvious.

I have a better quote…  Here’s where the connection was made and the fuse blew, and I started writing…

The phrase that came like a bolt out of the blue  into my consciousness came from Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men”, when Don Draper (Jon Hamm)  asked Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) to resign after he was caught embezzling.  I so wanted to get this right, I actually paid and downloaded the episode from iTunes to transcribe it accurately.  Lane sobbed “What do I tell my wife?  What do I tell my son?”…

Don Draper’s words are all the more riveting, considering how the episode played out:

“Tell them that it didn’t work out, because it didn’t

Tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is …

I’ve started over a lot, Lane.  This is the worst part.”


The Magnificent Seven

1 Jun

Another great blog from HBR. The blog, “Seven “Non-Negotiables” to Prevent a Bad Hire”, is required reading!  What are the seven?

Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude

I have been in industry since the stone age, and have worked for dozens of managers and with hundreds of co-workers.  Many of these people were technologically brilliant, hard working, intense individuals.  However, the ones I remember, the ones I would go to battle with, can be singled out based on the magnificent seven above.

This is especially true in the last few decades, where I have spent my time in small (<50) person organizations.  To elaborate:

Respect – The fastest way to lose a ‘subordinate’ is to treat them like a subordinate.  I don’t know why this happens, I suspect insecurity in the management ranks….

Belief – Nothing will deflate a team faster than a non-believer.  Naysayers drag everyone down.  I have had extremely talented people in an organization that were POISON.  There has never been a situation where one of them has left and things got worse.  They have always improved!

Loyalty – Loyalty to the organization AND loyalty to the individual.  I have worked in companies where organization trumps individual.  This is the ultimate demotivator.  Management sometimes forgets that the organization IS a collection of individuals.

Commitment – Commitment isn’t “I’ll try”, or “I’ll give it my best shot”.  Commitment is “I’ll get it done”.  One of my coworkers here is fond of saying.  “It’s a problem, let’s fix it”

Trust – I had a job once where, when my wife met one of the executives, she said “He wouldn’t look me in the eye, I don’t trust him”.  She was right.  Unfortunately, I didn’t catch on for quite some time.  If a team member is not trusted, respect belief, loyalty, commitment won’t be possible.

Courage – I remember a poster that said something like “If you can keep your head at times like these, perhaps you don’t understand the situation”.  From the outside, this is not always recognized as courage, but that’s what it is.  I’ve had coworkers in the past say, “The boss just doesn’t get it”.  The truth of the matter typically is, the boss DOES get it,  but the boss has to have the courage to push it aside.

Gratitude – I’m not stupid.  I know the difference between gratitude and pandering.  We ALL do.

Great blog HBR!