Last weekend I was doing some writing about my experiences in healthcare. As I was writing, I thought about something that I have discussed several times among my friends. I have had a wonderful career. I have been very fortunate and when people have told me how well I have done, one of my standard retorts has always been, “Well, I should have- after all, I have four of the five traits that give you a leg up. I’m tall, white, bright and male.”
“What’s the fifth,” people would always ask.
“Being connected,” I would reply. I came from a family of factory workers in Upstate New York. No way any of them or anyone they knew was capable of giving me a kick start up the career ladder.
As I wrote, I suddenly realized I was wrong on two counts. First, there is a sixth trait- being straight- and second, being connected played a tremendous part in the start of my career.
In the spring of 1969, I was stationed on the USS Bennington in Long Beach, California. I was due to complete my four-year enlistment in June of that year. I was engaged and took a week’s leave to visit my fiancée in Miami. We were going to decide what I was going to do after my discharge. I had two goals: (1) to get a job and (2) to gain admission to the University of Miami. I had never been to Miami, had never learned how to drive and didn’t have a proper suit of clothes, yet after that week, I returned to California with both a job and acceptance to The U.
How did I do it?
The first connection came via my fiancée, who was employed as an EKG technician at Baptist Hospital of Miami. She talked to Benjamin Wade, an ex-military man who was the Employment Manager for the hospital. He told her to have me stop by when I came to town. I did, we talked, and I left with the promise that a Nursing Assistant position would be waiting for me when I came back in June.
Goal number one checked off the list.
The second connection came compliments of my future mother-in-law, Virginia London, who worked in the Publications Department at the university. She had arranged a meeting with me and her boss, “Mr. Hicks”. We met in “Mr. Hicks’” office. He was a spare, distinguished-looking man who appeared to be around seventy. As we talked, he told me about his career- as a photojournalist and editor at the Kansas City Star, where Ernest Hemmingway was one of the reporters, and later as an executive editor at Life magazine, perhaps the premier photojournalistic magazine of all time. He told me how, when he was living at Hyde Park, he had to call “Franklin” and tell him to get his cows off his property. “Franklin Roosevelt”, I asked. “Yes, Franklin Roosevelt.” He asked me what I hoped to accomplish with my life. I told him that I wanted to be a history teacher. I also told him that I had flunked out of college before I went into the service. He said, “Don’t worry about that”, and shortly after returning to California, I received notification that I had been accepted by the university.
In the time between my “meeting” (interview) and receipt of the acceptance letter, I learned that “Mr. Hicks” was, in fact, Wilson Hicks, a renowned pioneer in photojournalism, a member of the field’s Hall of Fame and one of the most influential people in the field. He took a liking to me and the walls fell down.
Goal number two checked off the list.
The other connections that gave me a leg up on the career ladder took place after I started working at Baptist. I was one of only two male nursing assistants at the hospital. The nursing leadership, led by Director of Nursing Charlotte Dison, Assistant Directors JoAnn Crebbin, Sally Parise and Mary Davis and my head nurses, Mrs. McCullough and Charlotte Gibson, took a liking to me and absolutely coddled me as I worked my way through school, Before every semester, they would ask me what schedule I wanted to work. They would even let me know what rooms were unoccupied in case I wanted to study or take a nap.
Add to that the friendship I forged with Roland “Rusty” Slay, the hospital’s Comptroller (Chief Financial Officer). Rusty was a WWII veteran- a B-17 tail-gunner who had gotten shot down over Germany and spent time in a German POW camp. He was also the coach of the Baptist softball team.
And I was a ball player.
Rusty Slay was like the grandmother about whom each of her grandchildren would swear that she loved them most of all. He treated everyone as if they were the most important person in the world. To me he became almost a surrogate father. We would have coffee every day at 8:00, lunch at 11:30 or noon and coffee again at 2:30.
When it came time for me to graduate, the hospital created a job for me- Unit Manager. It became my entry into what is now known as Supply Chain. A year later, at age 27, I became Director of Central Processing and Distribution- one of the youngest Directors ever at the hospital.
As I continued to write, I tried to remember the first job I got without the advantage of a connection. I believed I had identified it- Director of Materials Management at Timken Mercy Medical Center in Canton, Ohio. Prior to applying, I had never been to Canton and knew nobody there. The position was “Associate Director of Materials Management” but it really was the Director position. The current Director, a salty Latvian named Leonard Puduls, had told the Administration that he wanted to retire in a year, but that he wanted to stay long enough to train his successor, hence the title. I interviewed with Leonard and the senior leaders and went home thinking that I probably had not been impressive enough to get the job.
Much to my surprise, I was hired. I started in November 1983.
Leonard retired the following July. A few weeks after he left, I was talking with my Purchasing Manager, Nancy McFarland. Out of the blue, she said, “You know how you got this job, don’t you?” I was caught totally off-guard. In my head, I was thinking ‘because I was the best person’, but I managed to blurt out, “No. Why?”
“You know that Leonard had a son that was killed in Vietnam, right?” I nodded and she continued, “Well his son, Juris, was an Army medic and when he saw your application and saw that you were a medic with the Marines, he told me that you were the one he was going to hire.” I was speechless.
Sometimes connections come from the Great Beyond.
I hope you’re getting the point here. As time goes on, we all make connections. We build a body of work and we meet influential people.
But it’s the connections that help you get started that can make all the difference in the world, and mine included a military veteran hiring manager, an editor of Life magazine, a staff of wonderful nursing leaders, a WWII tail-gunner and an Army medic I never met.
Think about how you got started and I bet you will also discover connections you never knew you had.
And when you do, whisper a few words of thanks.
— Fred Crans, St. Onge Company
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