Cowboys? Well, I grew up in cowboy territory (Indian Territory actually), i.e. Oklahoma. And, like most boys around those parts, I grew up with a six-gun in my hand (plastic though it may have been). And, my college team was, of course, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. My favorite pro football team was the Dallas Cowboys. And my favorite TV star was, yep, you guessed it, John Wayne. So, I guess it's fair to say that I've always admired cowboys.
But I realized recently that my true heroes, while arguably cowboy-like in some ways, were really something different.
I'll start with my lifelong hero, my father. Now there are many things about my father that I admired, but he was best known for his generosity and concern for the well-being of others. In business, my father was smart, accomplished and motivated. But he was mostly motivated to help others. In the last couple of decades of his life, he had a small retail art and graphic supply store. His clients absolutely adored him. He sold his products at a fair price (although often higher than Walmart), but his customers did business with him primarily because he was such a servant to them. His others-centered nature was that which really distinguished him the most. Every time he made a delivery (believe it or not, he was making deliveries into his eighties), he always remembered to greet them with a broad smile and a bag of candy. They loved it.
One of my other early heroes was a man named Charlie Ryan. The first time I ever saw Charlie, he was the butcher in our corner grocery store. Even when I was barely tall enough to see into the glass meat counter, he always greeted me with a warm smile and a hearty welcome. As I grew older, Charlie started his own taco shop near our high school. It was the hangout of first choice for us kids, and we all loved Charlie! (Honestly, for decades I thought I had a "special" relationship with Charlie, because he always treated me that way. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that he had that same relationship with just about EVERYONE!) The food at the Taco Hut was great, but Charlie is what made it special. I ran into Charlie most recently at a high school class reunion, where he was youthfully serving all of us old graduates a barbeque meal... to the delight of us all. Charlie, like my dad, is one of my heroes. He always knew how to make people happy by being a servant, and providing exceptional customer service.
After college, I eventually landed at Federal Express (now just FedEx). It was a great experience! What made that job so great was the core beliefs of the company, led by our founder, Fred Smith. Now folks have long heard tales of Fred Smith (and I have a few of my own I like to tell,) but the thing that most made Fred a hero of mine, was that he built a company on the concept of "people first," People/Service/Profit was the "cube" that drove the company, but it was truly, people first. FedEx was built upon the absolute conviction that if you put people first (employees and clients), the profit would follow. And follow it did. FedEx became one of the greatest companies on the planet because Fred Smith (and others in his employ) held an absolute commitment to extraordinary customer service. Nearly everyone who worked there believed in it. From COO to courier, every employee understood that we were to do anything in our power to exceed the expectations of our customers. We proudly bled purple and orange for our clients (internal and external).
Even today, I am convicted of my failures in this regard, and commit anew to try to emulate the amazing heroes that I have had in my life. You see, my heroes have always been people/client centered fanatics.
For more insights into others-focused business practices check out The Three R's of Amazing Customer Experiences