The Lessons Herb Taught Me!
When we got our Seattle Mariners season tickets five years ago we didn’t realize that the greatest thing about the games wasn’t going to be watching baseball but was rather developing a great friendship with Herb and Janice Blackinton who sit directly behind us. We’ve come to know their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids and have relished in hearing Herb’s laughter and stories. We’ve talked and shared Seattle baseball wins and losses (mostly losses). Herb is 72-years-old and I’ve often said to Shawntel that someday when I’m his age I hope to enjoy life, family and friends like we’ve seen him do. Recently, he took me aside and confided in me that he has been diagnosed with cancer. He then asked me if I wanted to visit his printing business he had built from the ground up and in which he had found great success. While he sold his business 16 years ago to a large public company which afforded him to live a life that most would dream of, he was still very much a part of his business and its success is a very important piece of who he is.
I visited his business last week. He gave me a tour of the facility and I was able to see his excitement as he talked to me about the large printing presses, their world-class customers, and showed me every aspect of the facility. As we walked throughout the building, he introduced me to employees as if they were family. He knew everyone by name and I marveled at how many employees had worked with him for their entire careers, some for 18, 20, 25 and 30 years or more. Each of their stories was amazing.
During our lunch I asked him what three things he felt defined him as a person. He thought for a moment while I waited, knowing this man possessed sage wisdom. He is the type of man I’d be proud to share some of his attributes, a man full of energy and joy, someone who is loved by his family and many friends and is satisfied in his accomplishments, both personal and professional. He smiled then and started with a story.
He told me how he wasn’t a heavy practicing Christian, but he saw himself as someone who embraced Christian values, which was his first point of definition. He was never brought up going to church but it was a constant presence in his life. Each week he would attend Cub Scouts, then Boy Scouts, at a local church. The values learned were embedded in his heart.
The second defining value was to have a conscience. He told me of how early on in his childhood his father had asked him a simple question, “If you find a wallet on the street with two twenties in it, what do you do with it?” Of course you return it. That is the only answer that will provide a clean conscience. This too was evident in his business. He could not have reached his level of success without truly being honest, open and moral with his work, employees and customers.
The final value was family. This was evident even before we went to lunch as his season tickets were always filled with family members who clearly loved and deeply cared for him. He treats his business the same way. Those employees I met while walking through the printing plant, were not just former employees to him, they were family. Important business relationships are not just business, they are valuable and personal relationships that when cultivated will carry you through the toughest of times and make victory so much better when shared with them.
I thought back to the visit we had just made to his business and could clearly see how these values had been built into every aspect of the success he had created. He had introduced me to employees like friends, showing his heart of love. Herb again smiled when I told him how I saw these values in his business.
I asked him how he thinks of customers. He told me it isn’t all that complicated. It was simple, his customers have a need and it is his job to help them solve it. Focus on treating them like family while solving their need and the money will follow.
I’m proud to have been blessed by having Herb in my life. Being diagnosed with cancer is a new challenge in front of him but his smile and optimism once again shows how great a man he is. Even in the face of a great challenge and without having all the answers, he continues to teach me. What a great man!
Thank you Herb!