Just heard he died today. I don’t know if he ever saw the story he inspired and I put in my book. I’m guessing that he did not. So I’ll put it here now. In tribute. With respect to his family. His friends. All of us who learned from him.
“Eating Our Desert First”
From Finding Work When There Are No Jobs.
He can’t speak Greek. So the second I got the Greek email from him, I picked up the phone and called.
“Why did you send me an email in Greek?”
“What are you talking about, Roger?”
“I just got an email from you. It was to me and a bunch of other people. It was in Greek.”
“Wait a minute. I didn’t send you an email. I’m not even on my computer.”
“Well, you better go look. Maybe it’s identity theft. Somebody is sending emails from your account. That could be serious!”
He started to laugh. I knew the laugh well. Countless days through almost a decade of building a business. In books they’d call him a mentor. In real life, you’d call him, oh I don’t know, I’ll use the name Paul. If I were to use the word mentor, he’d probably say something like, “What the fuck is a mentor?”
He kept laughing. But I was thinking. Can’t be too careful about privacy. Lots of people have been hurt by internet piracy. Millions of dollars stolen. This was serious. Why was he laughing?
“Let’s see here,” he said as he sat down at his computer. I might have heard a grandkid in the background. It was the cocktail hour. I do know the sound of a Manhattan swirling over the ice. “Look at this,” he said. There’s a message that went out that I didn’t send. Hmm. How about that.”
As he looked through his email I remembered that day in the big hotel ballroom. Somewhere in Florida, or maybe Dallas. Big trade show convention rooms all look the same. We were standing at the double doors in the back. Three or four hundred watching the Power Point presentation up in front. The guy in charge of getting all our customers was there in the back with us. My job was to keep those customers. Paul was the boss. In our march across the country to make sure our software replaced our competitors’ we were up against a company literally 10 times our size.
By the time we were done, at the end of the nineties, we had taken 75% of the market. That’s from starting with zero. Thousands and thousands of customers. We hung on to about 96% of them too.
But back in that big hotel meeting room, back when we were just starting, I remember what happened when those double doors opened up and wheeled in on two hand trucks came all the trade secret training and product specifications of our competitors. All of it. Totally confidential information that belonged to our competitor.
I looked at the boxes. Looked at him. I said, “What do you want me to do?”
Never will I forget what happened next. He looked at me. Looked at the boxes. Looked at me again and said, “Get ‘em out of here. Don’t even open a box. I don’t want to win that way.”
Turns out we did win, without opening those boxes. When we were done with the job, at the end of the nineties, he left the company and made it possible for me to leave as well. Possible enough for me to go start my own company. To know the pressure and the relief of making payroll myself.
Then he went on to some other businesses. Operated the same way he did the day he told me to get rid of those boxes. Worked hard. Did everything he was supposed to do to have a calm, financially secure retirement. Always working to win the right way.
Then the recession. In these times of hardship for everyone, he lost all of it. No complaints. Didn’t ask anybody for anything. Did nothing wrong. He lost it all.
So when I called him up worried that somebody could steal his identity on his computer, he just started laughing and said, “Roger, after what we’ve gone through? If somebody wants to mess with my computer? I’d tell ‘em to have a great day. I got nothing left to steal.”
Then I started laughing too and said “Good point.”
“It’s really,” he answered, “something that makes you kind of stronger, believe it or not. I ain’t saying it’s good. It ain’t good. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. In fact it’s pretty bad. But when it comes to things like somebody messing with my computer? I don’t worry about stuff like that. I tell ‘em, have a great day.”
He talked about his kids and grandkids. Taking care of his mother-in-law. The new place they were moving into. His wife was over at the new place with painters. Asked in detail about what I was doing.
I asked how his wife was doing.
He said, “Well, you know we were talking about it the other day. We have a lot of memories. A lot of memories. The kids, the grandkids, the family. She said to me, “You know Paul, I guess we just got to eat our dessert first.”
I was quiet. Then I repeated it. “‘You got to eat your dessert first.’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said better than that.”
“”Hmm” he answered. I asked, “I really like that line. “’You got to have your dessert first.’ That might be true of a whole lot of people. Do you mind if I write about this?”
“Go ahead Roger,” he laughed. “Have a great day.”