Saturday, May 24, 2014

Graduation Day

My daughter's graduation yesterday was a suspicious occasion.

Yes, this was the malapropism dropped by one of the presenters at Montclair State University's commencement ceremony at the Izod Center. I spent the morning watching 4,382 students -- MSU's largest graduating class in its more than 100-year history -- get their degrees.

It was a terrific ceremony. Very well organized, with comfortable setting and great staging. Lots of happiness, enthusiasm and energy in the arena.

I turned to my wife and said, "Finally, we're at a graduation that matters!" She laughed, thinking back to all the other graduation ceremonies we've been at over the years where she muttered under her breath that "graduating from kindergarten..." or "graduating from 8th grade.." wasn't really that noteworthy.

Afterwards, we told our daughter, "Now you can go to beautician's school if you want to..." And she just laughed too... in appreciation. Beauty school had been something she floated as a desire after high school, but my wife and I had insisted she get a college degree first. Being a beautician is a fine job, but my daughter (who used to play "teacher" when she was a little girl) re-discovered her love for teaching while at MSU. Over the past few years, she not only earned her degree in family and child studies, she also earned a teaching certificate.

The commencement speaker, popular author James Patterson, donates scholarships to MSU every year, earmarked to train teachers. During his address, he noted that "teachers save lives" -- and my eyes welled with tears of pride.

My daughter liked Patteron's speech... and the fact that he often posts photos of his orange cat online.

The photo here of the MSU red hawk mascot entertaining the crowd before the ceremony landed on my own Instagram account. I also, as you can see, wore a penguin tie to this auspicious occasion. I had bought this many years ago at the now-defunct all-penguin-item store at the South Street Seaport. Who would have known then that I'd wear it to my daughter's college graduation?

As for the commencement speech, Patterson told many anecdotes... his theme was the power of storytelling... which, I've since found online, he's used on other occasions.

For example, there's this about Catholic guilt:

"This priest came in, and there was a mountain across the street from the school. And he was trying to impress on us how long eternity was. And he said if there was a little bird and once every 1,000 years it flew over to that mountain and carried as much as it could carry in its beak over to this side and put it in our parking lot . . . when he had transported the entire mountain over here, that would be only the beginning of an eternity in Hell."
I'll end here with this one, which impressed me as particularly good life advice:
"Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you're keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls...are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Civility in Corporate America

“You and the rest of your corporate greedy cronies are destroying the country,” the recent email to me began. “Does crawling into bed with a multitude of other corporate whores feel good?”
The sender felt compelled to use that “shock jock” intro in response to my company’s POV on regulatory proceedings at the FCC. I had respectfully provided background on the issue.
The truth is, my PR job does make me feel good… because, ultimately, my job is to help my company do the right thing.
The best PR is built on the best business practices. At a recent professional event, Bob DeFillippo, Prudential’s chief communications officer, commented on what he would have done differently during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to reduce the damage to BP’s reputation. He replied, “I would have capped the well faster.”
He also said, “I never had to compromise my integrity because of concerns over profit or to avoid admitting that we did something wrong.”
I can say the same about my own career. At my company, there’s an oft-cited one-page Credo that reminds us we only have work because our customers value our services. There’s also a more-detailed Code of Conduct that outlines policies to ensure integrity and respect in our workplace.
The result? I believe there’s more mutual respect, civility and decency evident in corporate America than in general society… or even in my church parking lot.
That’s not such a bad bed to crawl into after all.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Frosty, the Throwback

In my first job at pre-Verizon NYNEX, I was asked to take one for the team and dress up as Frosty the Snowman during family day in December 1985.

Yes, I enjoyed this... a group of laughing little kids followed me around all day. I came back the next year to do the same because everyone wanted to see Frosty again.

That's a Data General 6344 terminal in the photo. We sold these from NYNEX Business Information Systems Company (affectionately called BISC). We later purchased a chain of IBM computer retail stores to add to our own stores, called Datago, and I did the PR for this.

I used my employee discount to buy my first computer -- an Apple //c, complete with Appleworks -- at the Datago store in White Plains, NY. It was crazy expensive, considering my salary at the time and what electronics cost today, but it was also the beginning of a beautiful decades-long love affair. Don't even begin to ask my wife about my rapture at getting a ROM upgrade to purchase a 800K-capacity UniDisk.

With so many memories, my storage capacity needs have greatly expanded since then.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

3 Lessons Learned From Interns

It’s Intern Season in Corporate America, so it’s time to brush up on few lessons before they arrive:

1. It’s OK to Dress Up for Work.

The interns at Verizon are always impeccably dressed and they, incongruously, add an air of professionalism to our office. Without interns, the summer dress code here might best be described as “anarchy.”

Since I’m not a men's basketball coach or NFL pre-game analyst, it may not be necessary for me to wear a suit and tie to work every day. But the interns dress as if the workplace is somewhere important. They care enough to try to impress someone – and that's commendable.

2. I’m Fortunate to Work Here.

Not “lucky.” Not “undeserving.” But, yes, fortunate.

The interns here are very smart, well-educated, diverse (sometimes multilingual), highly competitive… and even they think they’re fortunate to be here. I don't encounter many interns who think they are entitled.

No matter. Time will teach interns that they’re not entitled to anything. Time also teaches every one of us never to take anything for granted.

3. Technology Kills.

Watching interns seamlessly integrate technology into their daily lives is a thing of beauty.

Does all this technology engender a lack of focus? Perhaps. Does all this access to data consumption and manipulation compensate for a lack of experience? Certainly not.

Still, fearlessness combined with expertise can be a powerful thing. Technology can spark creativity and passion, and narrow the experience gap.

So I love and respect technology too. I also keep in mind that interns are not like sheep who fill up the parking lot, add to the lunch line and mass-inhabit otherwise empty office space.

They’re more like next-generation wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Dad and Uncle Pat

At the memorial golf tournament for my wife Nancy’s brother today, the catering manager served mint juleps to Nancy and Joann — apropos of Kentucky Derby Day.

At dinner, I tried a sip of Nancy’s drink.

“It’s bourbon!” I exclaimed — although normally I have no discerning taste buds.

I knew there was bourbon in the drink because the taste reminded me so much of my Dad.