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Veterans Day 1987

November 24, 2009

I guess it was my first “real” job. I had worked in a laundry, on a golf course, as a mover and more than half a dozen others jobs while going to school. But after graduating from college and spending five years in the Marine Corps, this was my first post college, civilian, working for a living job.

It was in the early 1970’s then. A time not all that long ago in some respects, but light years away in some others. It was a time of wage and price controls, declining productivity, soaring inflation and record labor strikes. All in all it wasn’t a pleasant time in industrial America.

That first “real” job that I had during this time was as assistant general manager in a factory that employed about one hundred people. It was a business that represented both the good and the bad of the times. One of my primary responsibilities was the hiring of new employees.

The older employees that had worked steadily since the end of World War II were beginning to retire. The turnover rate of the newer workers was high. The business was expanding so the demand for new employees was great. Productivity was declining and morale was low.

During those early months in that job I frequently reflected back on my Marine Corps days. I recalled the selfless dedication of the 18 to 22 year olds that were the mechanics, plane captains and crew chiefs that took care of the airplanes that I flew. It was not uncommon for one of these guys to work through the night just to make sure that his plane was ready for action. No overtime pay, no bonuses, just the satisfaction of having done the job right. Personal pride.

As I reflected back on the work ethic and dedication of those Marines on the flight line, I often thought about what a business I would have if my supervisors were those crew chiefs and my workforce were those mechanics. These guys would stay with a job until is was done right. It was just fantasy, but it was those early years that shaped my thinking , not the confusing times that plagued us in the 70’s.

The only way I knew to solve problems was to get involved with them. I talked to every job applicant and worked closely with each supervisor. One day while interviewing job applicants, a long haired young man said, “do you remember me, I was a mechanic in your squadron in ‘Nam.” I didn’t at first. Our appearances had changed a lot in the few years that had passed. That was a time and a place that seemed worlds away.

I quickly remembered. I remembered lots of things. How could I forget? He said he needed a job and I hired him.

It would make for a great story to go on about how the two of us boosted morale, increased productivity and turned that place around. Oh that happened alright as times changed and things settled down a bit. My friend worked for while, did a good job, got his feet back on the ground then moved on and went back to school. It didn’t turn that factory around, but I’m darn glad I was able to give him that job.

As I was going to school during the sixties, I had always planned on going to law school, but for a variety of reasons I joined the Corps. I had a lot of good friends in the Army, Navy and Air Force in those days. When it came time for us to rejoin the civilian economy and get our first “real jobs”, none of us talked about it much but I think we all felt a little bit behind. Our contemporaries had their law degrees, their MBA’s, had gotten their first promotions or had finished their internships.

In some respects it seemed as though we were just starting although few of us would have done it any different if we had the choice. We had the strength of experience. We had seen both the good and the bad. We had taken on responsibilities and made decisions that others never contemplated at that age.

I was probably lucky to have known some special people in those days. They worked hard to make up that lost time. They completed architectural school in record time, they worked longer hours and built their own businesses, they studied at night to become dentists and attorneys.

As I look back, they didn’t really start out behind. They started out different. And in a lot of cases, that different meant better. They developed leadership and that experience is making a positive mark on today’s world.

I know some others haven’t been so fortunate. Its a prejudice that I willingly admit to having practiced over the years. But when I look over the record of an individual, I keep an eye out for those who had the opportunity of having served their country. Because its your business, keep an eye out, some others might still need the chance to get their feet on the ground.

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