Friday, November 8, 2013

Staff Highlight: Jimmy

As bored readers of this blog know, I gripe about the burn-outs who apply for jobs at MTB quite a bit. I almost never write anything positive. (I probably wasn't hugged enough when I was a kid). It's a shame because there are a lot of awesome guys doing excellent things right in front of me every day. Observe: Jimmy.

Jimmy is a long-time veteran of MTB and the "MTB universe." It's no exaggeration to say that we wouldn't have come as far as we have without his help and example as a moral and ethical North Star for the organization.

Surprisingly enough, I don't have a good picture of him. (And I'm working from MTB Southern Command today). However, I was on a date with the wife a couple of years ago down at the National Harbor, and I saw this mural. It stopped me in my tracks because not only is the guy standing on the left a spitting image of Jimmy, the guy on the right is the spitting image of another guy who used to work here (Robert). (When I showed them the pic they said the guy at the piano looked exactly like me.)

Jimmy came to MTB early in 2010. Since then he's worn a number of hats. He started as a labor guy (crew member), but I quickly realized he had his act together and would make a great crew leader. He worked in that role for a number of months before tragedy literally struck. An apartment manager told him and the crew that they couldn't park in the convenient spot outside the apartment building, but instead had to park in the busy road about 100 yards away. While he was loading and securing furniture, a driver came up the road, lost her bearings in the sunlight (I think she was texting), and nailed the back of our truck.

The way Jimmy told it, he was standing on the back of the truck (not on the lift gate, thankfully), when the car slammed into it at about 35 mph. He went flying, but as he went through the air everything went into slow motion. He watched as the metal bed frame rails started to fall into other items in the back of the truck. "That's no good," he thought. It's a credit to his commitment to the job, his carefulness, and his concern for our customers' goods that he was worried about damages as he descended and bounced off the lift gate, landing in the street, bloodied.

That began years of pain and more painful physical therapy for him, although you'd have to know him well to tell he was in pain. He's too damn tough and proud to whine about a little slipped disk or anything like that.

He was out of commission for awhile, but as soon as he was reasonably better, he got back to work. It didn't last too long, and if I'd fully realized how much pain he was in, I would never have let him work as a crew leader as long as I did. I'm actually ashamed of that.

We tried keeping him as just a driver/crew leader for awhile, but it turned out to be impossible for Jimmy NOT to help load and secure the truck. No matter what, he'd start with simple things like moving a box to a more secure location in the truck, but by the end of the job he'd be helping schlep armoires down three-floor walk-ups.

Fortunately, the company had grown to the point that I NEEDED someone to handle giving estimates, schedule crews, and manage the calendar. It was an office job. I had my doubts that I could actually pay for the first salaried position at MTB, but I wanted to keep Jimmy on board, and he needed a change. So, he became our operations manager for awhile.

It was somewhere in this time that he came up with what has become our First Principles. We were texting each other about one of the crew leaders who always hit the alarm button when the most minute little things came up -- for example, when he couldn't find a screwdriver on the job. Exasperated, Jimmy texted me: "It's not that hard! We are movers. We show up on time. We work hard and fast. We're friendly and careful. It's that simple!"

Jimmy's First Principles are so foundational to MTB that I stenciled them on the wall of our old HQ. When we had to move, I cut out that section of the wall and put it up in our new place.

If it's never happened to you, I hope that someday you get to consciously experience such a definitional moment, such a paradigm shift, if you will, as I did at that moment. He wrote that about three years ago. I'm still unpacking the profundity in that text. It's become what I call our First Principles.

Eventually we had what seemed like an excellent opportunity: to purchase the DC franchise of Rent Our Boxes.  Jimmy was the natural choice to run it, so he became the General Manager of our sister company.

The franchise has never been a money-maker. Right now we're trying to figure out how to keep it afloat. It's a perplexing challenge because Jimmy has not only kept it alive and well, he's rocked it with all our Rent Our Boxes/Box Buddies customers. Under his management, the franchise has broken revenue records and come close to doubling 5-star reviews on Yelp. There is NO ONE better at customer service. People love him. Even when he's stressed out, overwhelmed by 15 deliveries in a day, frustrated by the enormous chunks of cash taxes and credit card fees take out of the business, and yes, still feeling the pain from his injury, customers never know. They. Love. Him. And rightly so -- his integrity is never under suspicion, his attitude is always great, and he GENUINELY cares about doing right by our customers.

Part of the reason I'm writing this now is to make up for a failing on my part. When I purchased the box franchise, I intended for him to learn the business, manage it, maybe expand it, and then I'd work on it with the same intensity I do with MTB. That never happened -- MTB is more than a full-time job. I've never been able to (or had the strength to) work on ROB the same way I have with MTB. It's led to an unfortunate situation -- he feels like the "bastard stepchild of MTB." While his HQ has always been in our building, (his desk was right behind mine for the last year), he has felt like the forgotten or ignored cog in the machine.

That couldn't be farther from the truth. We'll never be able to measure exactly how his presence has enhanced the overall morale and esprit de corps of the operation, but it most certainly has. In darker times, when back-biting and gossip were rampant, nobody ever questioned Jimmy. (Well, for a short while some of the new guys complained that he was just "sitting in the back of the truck," but they didn't realize he wasn't supposed to be lifting at all, and when he did, it was while suffering excruciating pain.) When guys bitched about hours or each other, Jimmy was never a target. They all looked up to and respected him. If I can risk getting a bit mystical for a second, he radiates integrity, peace and humility.

(Unless he reads this -- then his head will get too big for his office).

He came into my office the other day to discuss concerns about the financial viability of the box franchise. It wasn't our first conversation about it. He said, almost defeated, he didn't think it was going to work out. It was time to throw in the towel. Time to move on. I agreed and made plans to go over the numbers and see if we could manage a controlled descent.

The next day he came up again and said "Let's hold on a minute. I'm not ready to give up yet."

That's Jimmy.

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