Business Wisdom Lost on a Teenager

by Jeff Schmitt, Forbes

“All baggers up front.”

I can still hear his voice. It was hulking and no-nonsense, like Steve McQueen had hijacked the store intercom. His name was Richard. But we called him by his abridged name (Just never to his face). He knew, though. *** had seen and heard it all before.

*** was a fifty-something manager, squat and pudgy, who’d been in the grocery business since the Eisenhower years. Like us, he’d started stocking and bagging groceries in high school. He’d handled every dirty job, from mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms to calculating inventory and unloading trucks (mostly during graveyard shifts). Over time, *** traded his union card for a company coat and tie, enforcing the corporate line and relocating without complaint. For that, they made him the #2 guy at our store.

This was his last stop – and he knew it. *** was a grinder who got things done. But the business was changing. The chain was elevating college grads who were skipping all those rungs that *** had slowly climbed. It must have eaten at him, knowing he was training his future bosses. But the chain owned ***, so he took his frustrations out on us.

On the floor, he was a sweetie, flattering the grandmothers and laughing with our parents. Behind closed doors, *** was a different guy. He wasn’t the empathetic listener who created a fun environment where rules were fair and evenly applied. No, *** was a bulldozer who never said please and rarely said thanks. And he could always find something to criticize. Looking back, I can understand ***’s frustration. He spent his days around teenage Lotharios wooing the daughters of customers and knuckleheads doing handstands on grocery carts. After the store closed, we’d crank up the Guns N’ Roses and toss Charmin rolls during football games in the aisles. Seeing all that, I would’ve grown as tart and terse as ***.

Still, *** always picked his spots. He was the master of the adage. He’d zing us with short, unexpected bursts of truth. Often, they carried the force of a spin kick to the gut. We’d laugh them off, pretending we were tough and knew everything. Then, we’d tone it down, knowing deep inside that *** was right. We just didn’t want to admit it. *** didn’t make any revolutionary observations. His wisdom stemmed from hard-earned lessons, basic courtesies, and common sense…those very things that often make-or-break careers.

Here is some of ***’s wisdom (in his distinctive voice) – and what I believe he was really saying to prepare us for the real world:

1) You’re Here to Work: I hired you to do these tasks. If they were fun, we wouldn’t have to pay you. If you don’t want to do them, go somewhere else. It’s that simple.

2) The Customer Is Always Right: Hey, I don’t like it either. But your job is to help others. And they’re the ones paying you, not me. Grin and bear it.

3) Get Over It: What’s done is done. There’s a time and place – and it’s past. This is how it’s going to be – and I expect you to go along. You lost. Let it go and move on. You’ll be happier if you do...

13) You Don’t Know Everything: You college boys think you’re so smart. Well, you know what? I’ve seen guys like you come-and-go. You’re not as good as you think. And you have a whole lot to learn. I hope you figure that out before you graduate…because I guarantee your next boss won’t be as warm-and-cuddly as I am.

14) Get It Right the First Time: You think this job is easy? Well, you get out what you put in. If you think this is good work, you probably think I’m tall and handsome. Now, do it over. Slow down and pay attention. And make darn sure you finish what you start. You’re not always going to get second chances...

Read all 20 items on Richard's wisdom list.

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