My Dad passed away a couple of years ago from a long battle with Parkinsons. The end was painful. The middle was painful. Obviously I want to remember my Dad in his prime, not of his struggles with a body that failed him in his latter years. He was stoic and proud to the end, which was admirable given the hell he was going through.
Dad was a proud businessman who built a nice life for himself. He was born with next to nothing and no support: a Mom who passed when he was 2, and a Dad who was a drunk and gone before 50. Dad could have drifted down the wrong road, but he did not. He claimed aunts, uncles, cousins, and a Jesuit education saved him.
Edwin Henry Hess, Jr., sold group health insurance plans to businesses for Connecticut General for 25 years before they merged with a company called Independent Northern Annuity. The C and G and I, N, A became...you go it, CIGNA. (That's how that stuff comes to be, btw.)
He claimed my Mom stunted some of his career growth and bigger "corner offices" by derailing his drive to get to HQ in Hartford, CT. She didn't want to leave San Francisco, he wanted to climb. Either way, a 25 year career in San Francisco wasn't bad..most of it was running the office there and calling the shots. The company moved him to Los Angeles for 5 years at the end so he could hit all his pension plan targets - yes, pension plans! It's a thing of the past but was pretty cool when it worked. The down side, of course, was illustrated by Dad's final years of "pain"...he hated being stuck and was bored for FIVE LONG YEARS waiting for his time to max out. Yuck. (Five years is a long time to waste being unhappy in your job, isn't it?) At least a few decades earlier he averted a move to Houston to "fix" that region...otherwise, I would have been an Oilers and Astros fan.....ewwwwww!!!!
Dad had some wins, and as we all do, some losses. He claims he sold the first ever group medical plan to these guys named William Hewlett and David Packard down in the Valley who were working on some tech thingie. Dad showed me a picture of the three of them together at a business function so I guess it was true. Dad even laughed many times over when re-telling the story of his buddy Donald Fisher who asked him for some money to invest in his new store on Ocean Avenue in the late '60s. Don told Dad he wanted to sell Levi's and LP records....LP stands for Long Play...look it up. (THOSE were cool.) Eh, what good would founders shares of The Gap have done anyway? (Fisher is only worth $3.3.....BILLION.)
During his 'out-to-pasture' LA years, Dad had me over quite a bit at his house in Calabasas, CA a short trip from my UCLA campus. He was obviously trying to repair a lot of damage caused by his MadMen years...apparently there are a lot of similarities between the lives/times of Don Draper and the guys who ran around selling group medical plans to the likes of H-P and Intel.
Just months after graduation, while sitting on his patio after a nice dinner, Dad shot the zinger across the bow.
"That was always the difference between me and you." Out of nowhere it came.
"Huh? Come again, Dad?"
"The difference....between us. (Long pause.) I was always the guy who WENT FOR IT HARD....REALLY GOT AFTER IT. (pause) You just aren't that guy."
Whoa. I sat motionless, wondering if my ears had betrayed me. His wife was off in the kitchen, but she couldn't help anyway. I was alone with an asshole who, while just starting to re-gain my trust after a nasty divorce and prolonged absenteeism during my high school years, shot me in the face. It might not seem like a heavy moment to you, but at the time, fresh out of college trying to find my way, I was traumatized.
At 21, I wasn't familiar with pyscho-babble sales manager motivation gimmicks. Decades later, I still wonder if this was a move by a resentful, bitter man of early career promise who had consumed 6 or 7 glasses of Cab and just let it rip, or from someone who was just trying to find the right message.
Either way, I can tell you this: today, I am ten times the achiever that man ever was. Ten times as professionally fulfilled as that man ever was. Ten times as successful (as measured by MY criteria) than that man ever was. And, ten times as capable of motivating and inspiring with grace, humility and respect. I am ten times the leader that man ever was.
But towards the end, he knew it. And he was really, really proud.
Happy Father's Day, Eddie. Thanks for the lesson. RIP.
Michael Hess is the Founder/Principal of Core 6 Management Advisors. Drawing on almost 3 decades of experience in Sales and Management, Michael shares his thoughts and opinions here for you.