Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Being in Business

It has longed been believed that being focused in one discipline is the best preparation for a career. As a kid in elementary school I understood intuitively that this would not be my path. Why were these kids wanting to do only one thing or two of the same things? I actually remember thinking this. By the time I got to Middle School and High School I was all over the place. I had already began singing classical music and reading philosophy and poetry. By the time it came to choose a college, I was thinking about Julliard. I had already been a professional musician for many years by then and I had some pretty notable people with whom I was training. Or, I could attend the University of Michigan. My father, a New Yorker, and great lover of classical music and opera, said, "if you go to Julliard I will not speak to you again!" Wow! He was serious.

I decided on the University of Michigan, not because I feared that my father would not speak to me, but I realized that I had long wanted a more expansive education and training since elementary school and decided that the Univesity of Michigan would better give me this opportunity. Since I did not go to Julliard, I cannot speak firsthand. But my experience at Michigan was expansive and daring. I got to dabble in all kinds of subjects and meet people who were not only artists. I think I made the best choice for me.

Although, business was not my focus in college, I can honestly say that my training in various disciplines, having friends of various disciplines, and starting so many entreprenurial ventures (some failures) have indeed assisted in my understanding of both business and people. In fact, without the understanding of people, senior management, colleagues or the general public, there is no business. My brother, Tim, on a few occasions made this point clear to me when I had just opened up my first business 12 years ago. Once, I was really upset about what I considered to be unfair practices of a very successful and shrewd businesswoman. My brother knew her, as I had introduced them a few years back and she had often called him seeking counsel.

Well, one day I was livid and requested a meeting with her. She agreed to the meeting only if my brother, Tim, was present. I agreed. Before going into the meeting my beloved brother, now deceased, said to me, "Now, I want you to follow my lead precisely and do exactly what I tell you." "OK," I replied. She began speaking in her usual hauty and condescending tone and I watched my brother. He smiled and nodded his head. I wasn't smiling. I wasn't liking this already. I hated her tone and her words. He didn't seem to hate either.

After she got finished I began to speak. He interrupeted me and said, "Linda," you are so right. (What?) Judith could have handled herself differently. She's learning. You have contracted her and she should adhere to your wishes and until you are satisfied with her services she should not be paid." "But," I tried to speak. He cut me off. "And, if she does not adhere to your specific wishes do not pay her." (You gotta be kidding? I was fumming!) He smiled at me. I did not smile back. Linda sat there most pleased. Her red hair had seemingly taken on an even brighter hue, her freckles ever expanding with pleasure. I'm sure this was all in my very own imagination. But I hated every word my brother was speaking.

Tim continued to speak. But the more I listened to him the calmer, I felt. He continued speaking and smiling. I smiled back. Tim had a face that always had a gentle smile, even when his tone reflected he was not happy. He never, though, raised his voice. Linda nodded as Tim spoke. I wasn't able to express myself. We ended the meeting 45 mintues later and I had not said anything. But before I left Linda handed me a check. I did not look at it for fear that I would hit the roof in her office and disappoint my brother. When I got in the parking lot I looked at at the check. It was the full amount, plus a bonus.

When we got in the car I was in tears. "How do you do that, Tim" I asked? "Judith, he said, "business is all about people. You may be the brightest person and have the brightest ideas, but until you better understand people you will not succeed. Linda did not need you to tell her about the calibre of your work. She knew this and I did too. Linda did not need you to tell her that she was wrong; we all knew this. What did she need? The respect of being the boss, the honor of her position. Give it to her again and again...endlessly."

Tim went to seminary and was also a brilliant businessman. If he had gone to business school he may not have understood the fundamental lessons of dealing with others that being in ministry afforded him. I too would not have learned so much from him and from my many disciplines and entreprenuerial business ventures had I gone to Julliard. Being in business is all about people from the creators and innovators of products to those who assemble them or mind the assembling machines to those who sell products to those who purchase them. People are business.


John O'Leary said...

Judith, I still can't up with your blogging productivity!

I wholeheartedly salute your point. Those on the business path who specialize too early, who do not take advantage of a liberal education, including a solid background in the humanities, are the poorer for it. And I would love to see the social sciences part of the standard secondary school curriculum - which was not the case when I was in school (tho that was in the 19th century).

judith ellis said...

John, I also agree with your points here, including the addition to the social sciences, completely. (Not to mention in many schools kids are in effect choosing their own curricula. And, we are certainly "the poorer for it." The humanities are all about us. If we don't get these fundamental lessons in both structural and non-structural setting what is there?

judith ellis said...

And, John, regarding my productivity and your pace, you're doing just fine. Your name evokes a smile when I see it. Thanks for all your wonderful comments.