Sometime around 1988 or so my boss at the time, and then president of the company, Ray Martino, decided that he needed to bring in a seasoned sales and marketing leader to help take Symbol to the next level.
We were just about to pass the $100 million revenue threshold, one of those milestones whose crossing often leads to failure for companies who don't recognize and address the challenges brought on by scale. In addition, we were about to expand into an entirely new line of business and acquire another company of equal size to our own.
I was responsible for marketing at the time, and would report to the newcomer, Paul Kemp, joining us as SVP, Marketing and Sales. Twenty five years my senior, Paul brought a wealth of experience and past successes in high tech.
While I liked Paul immediately (impossible not to — meet him sometime and you'll know why), I wasn't crazy about a move that felt like I was being pushed down in the organization, and one step further removed from senior leadership. And I was…
…young (about 33), cocky in some ways, insecure in others (funny how often that combination shows up). I felt under-appreciated and a bit hurt.
Reacting, I'm sure that my behavior reflected both those feelings and my less-than-ripe maturity. I recall being neither openly rebelious nor passively resistant, however I'm sure that I was eager to show, beyond any shadow of a doubt, how smart I was — how little I needed coaching from Paul, or anyone else. Not yet the beneficiary of sufficient years or the hard knocks to prevent it, I became more than a little haughty and remote. (I think those are the appropriate words. Maybe "jerk" captures it better.) Regardless, I was clearly in need of a boot in the ass. Paul supplied it, and I've never forgotten.
I don't remember the specifics of the occasion (perhaps my performance review?), but I do remember what he said: "You know Rich, you're pretty good. But you'd be a whole lot better if you'd climb down off of that damned high horse of yours and join the human race."
Boy, did I need to hear that.
Even though Paul's candor (and its sting) made an immediate impact, it's only all these years later that I've come to appreciate how wise and helpful those words were. That realization happened recently, as a result of one of those arcs of experience that every once in a while comes round full to a circle…
Jack Kemp, Paul's brother and an NFL star quarterback, prominent and accomplished congressman from NY, US Vice Presidential candidate and Dole running mate and influential Republican over many years, passed away earlier this summer. I had met him once, at a small gathering Paul hosted in the 90's. While it had been years since we were last in touch with Paul, Ellie penned a note of condolence to him and his wife Nancy.
Just about the time we received Paul's gracious thank you note in return, I had been thinking about how poor a job I was doing keeping up with old friends. Busy life, you know… or maybe I was still a bit, what was that word… remote?
Well, Paul's long-ago advice popped back to mind, and what ensued was a little bit of life-affirming wonder…
I wrote back, reminding Paul of his advice and, for the first time — I'm quite sure — thanked him for it. Further, I suggested that perhaps Ellie and I could visit Nancy and him at their place in Fort Bragg, California, finally accepting an invitation extended years earler.
A couple of weeks ago, we made that journey, a few hundred miles north in distance, a few decades back in memories and perhaps a step closer to fully joining the human race.
It was wonderful.
The drive, over the beautiful coastal ranges separating Sonoma Valley from the Pacific, past vineyards and through whole forests of redwoods, was amply long to allow time for reflection. Even the trees conspired toward setting a mood — their shear density blocked out satellite signals and created extended stretches of complete silence.
We spent the night before our visit with Paul at the Stanford Inn, a new age, vegan sort of place, very much at one with its setting in Mendocino.
Before dinner, over drinks at its small bar, we met another couple, Ron and Ann, also staying at the Inn. Somewhat out of form for us (do you sense a theme here?), we struck up what proved to be a delightful conversation on subjects ranging from music (his passionate avocation as performer, "… think Barry White channeling Marvin Gaye," Ron described his vibe) to methods of extracting wild birds from your house (the bartender, with support by Ann, believed in using powers of mind to will them gently to an open window; Ellie and Ron were in agreement that a broom and loud screams are more effective), to entrepreneurship (Ron's day gig). I think we've made a couple of new friends.
You know it's possible, even easy, to build up expectations for a reunion such as with Nancy and Paul to the point where, when it arrives, reality can't compete.
Didn't happen here.
We had a simply terrific time. Traded war stories from our shared past. Caught up on our separate lives since. Had a delicious meal, drank more than a little wine. Remembered Jack a bit. And just felt great — comfortable, easy and great, being in each other's company in a most beautiful place (that's the view from their deck, below). I'll remember that long lazy afternoon and evening for many years to come. With a smile.
When's the last time you reached out to an old friend? I'll bet that in at least a few cases, it's been too long. Well, perhaps you could consider this your little boot in the butt. Do it, and you'll be surprised at how much pleasure there is in reconnecting. You'll thank me.
For a look at more images from our trip to Mendocino and Fort Bragg, see the gallery here.