As you go through life, success and happiness are easier to come by when you surround yourself with great people. We're all in this together. When you add really special people to the team, it makes the whole experience that much better.
The Baby Boom Generation's demographics have been catching up with me in a big way this year. It all started early when my banker retired. HelloDennis had pretty much been part of my financial picture for my entire life. He and his bosses helped get me to where I am today. The nice part is, HelloDennis lives near our shrimp operation, so he hasn't exactly disappeared from the face of the earth as I know it. We see him ride by on his bike fairly often now. I'll still say "Hello, Dennis," just in case he still wants to send six figures my way.
Earlier this summer, another friend and team member decided to hang it up and retire. This time, it was my barber, Pat.
You're probably saying to yourself, "Looking at the photo of Guy No. 2 on this page, I'm thinking his barber must have given up before he starved to death, if he has to depend on hair like that to make a living!"
Pat didn't depend on hair like mine. There was almost always a line of people with real quantities of hair ahead and behind me at Pat's barber shop. My haircut yielded less volume. That doesn't mean Pat did less work.
The best part of going to Pat to get my hair cut was that it was always a walk-in situation in an old-style barber shop. I had gotten my hair cut at other places in the past, and they were always by appointment. That was back in the day when we raised hogs and sold them as part of a joint venture with other independent producers. That meant we'd call in and book the number of hogs we'd have available to sell the following week and our coordinator would call us a day or two before we would load the hogs. Invariably, I'd get a haircut scheduled and the coordinator would call within an hour and want me to load hogs about the time I should be getting clipped in a chair. The constant rescheduling got old in a hurry, so I gave up on structure and started going to Pat for his more-free-wheeling schedule.
Pat wasn't running a bank. His shop opened up at 4:00 AM and he was done at noon, Tuesday through Saturday. If you wanted a haircut, you could hit that eight-hour window and wait until anyone else already seated when you arrived got their hair cut.
I kind of liked the relaxed feel of it. Sometimes I'd show up on rainy days when I had more free time. Pat seemed to enjoy it most when I showed up on nice days and rolled up in the GuyNo2Mobile. It's always fun to make someone smile when you show up at their door.
My free time worked out in such a way this summer that I got to Pat's shop around 10:45 on his final day. I figured I'd hit it just right to be his very last customer before he rode off into the sunset. Maybe, just maybe, he'd want to jump in with me and head home in style rather than walking like he had for years.
I was all set to be the last guy when an older gentleman stopped at the door, stuck his head in to survey the head count and said, "You look busy, Pat. I'll stop back on Tuesday."
Pat informed him there wasn't going to be a Tuesday. He was done for life at noon today, so take a seat and he'd get it handled. Reality sunk in quickly and the elder customer took a seat. A few minutes later, a younger kid stopped by and asked if Pat had time for one more haircut. He knew he was crowding the noon deadline, but I don't think he knew how dead that deadline was about to be.
Pat had gone beyond gold watch retirement status. He had served as an apprentice barber for two years about 40 miles away. Licensing requirements at the time said he had to work with a Master Barber for two years before he could take a test to see if he qualified to be a full-fledged barber. Pat passed that test and proceeded to cut hair in Cresco for the next 54 years.
You read that right. He did essentially the same job for 54 years. I remember talking with a friend at Medtronic years ago whose boss was about to retire after thirty years. "Can you imagine doing the same job for thirty years?" my friend asked incredulously.
Yep! I sure can! (I had pretty much been doing my job for thirty years at that time.)
My friend then realized that a lot of people in my industry do this job for their whole life. It takes dedication and commitment. It also takes the right personality to keep the whole thing enjoyable. That's what Pat had. He was always chipper and glad to see you when you walked in the door, even if you were only driving a truck or a Buick. (I drove the buggy in to a haircut in the snow one time, just to get a rise out of Pat. I picked the one day when there was no parking anywhere close by, so my effort didn't reach its full potential.)
To commemorate Pat's retirement, a party was held in his honor at the fairgrounds a couple weeks after he retired. You'd better believe I showed up in the buggy. It was great to see Pat without a clipper in his hands. He still had that trademark jolly smile on his face as I saw him in the receiving line.
Finding a new barber
A few weeks later, I was faced with a decision. It was time for a haircut, but I wasn't really looking to return to booking appointments for it. Walk-ins seemed to be kind of rare when I checked around, so I turned to the source for all answers: Google.
Lo and behold, I found an outlet to handle the highly-specialized care that hair like mine truly needed.
Yep, they have a barber shop at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester! Who knew?
In a way, this wasn't totally new for me. I've had my hair done at Mayo a couple times in the past, but it was done in an operating theater, by a neurosurgeon, with an appointment, and it was covered by insurance.
This would be completely different. I walked into the hospital one day and went right past the Admissions Desk and headed over to the Information Desk. The friendly lady at the desk told me where the barber shop was located. It was a bit of a maze, but I eventually found my way to the lower level and saw the standard (albeit tiny) barber pole on a wall in a fairly nondescript hallway.
I walked into the room and found a pretty typical barber shop / beauty salon in a relatively small space. There were two employees and two chairs. The guy was near the door, so I asked if he had time for a walk-in.
"Sure! Have a seat and I'll be with you in a few," he said as he kept working on another gentleman's hair. The woman at the other station was talking with the lady whose hair she was tending to at the moment.
When it was my turn, it didn't take long to figure out that Google had served me well. My new barber, Dino, was a lot like Pat. He also happened to have grown up about twenty miles away from me, so when he found out I was from Cresco and wasn't killing time between appointments, or didn't work at Mayo like a lot of his customers, we got along quite well.
"You been to the new place in Kendallville yet?" Dino asked.
Oh, man, how cool is this to talk to what amounts to a total stranger and they know where Kendallville is?!?!
Dino and I covered a lot of ground in the short time that it takes to cut my hair. I'm guessing the concept of shrimp production in a former elementary school may have been the highlight for him.
When I stopped back a few days ago for another haircut, I walked in and saw a fairly polished guy in the chair who instantly reminded me of former longtime WCCO-TV anchorman, Don Shelby. I'm pretty sure it wasn't TV's Don Shelby, though. Even so, when he was done and I sat down in the chair, Dino said, "So, how's it going, Jeff?"
One time. The guy had met me one time and he knew my name right away five or six weeks later. Perhaps it was my post-brain-surgery, relief-map-of-a-head that made an impression on him. I don't know. Whatever it was, I think I've found a suitable replacement for Pat.
Losing another team member
Not long after I got home from that adventure, I saw an email that announced yet another retirement of a longtime friend and colleague. Nancy Degner has served as the Executive Director of the Iowa Beef Industry Council for, I think, forever. She has been a frequent guest on radio and TV shows over the years to educate people about all things in the beef industry. This wasn't just a farm audience she targeted, either. It was usually the general population who may not know that much about beef production and beef products. Nancy has probably taught more people in Iowa how to cook beef properly and creatively than anyone else. She has done it all with a great attitude and the kind of reassuring presence we as producers want as our industry's spokesperson. Nancy has dedicated her life to the beef industry. I've known her personally for probably close to twenty years and can't say enough good things about her.
When one of my best friends ever at Medtronic left her job a little more than ten years ago, she invited me to her going-away party at a fancy French restaurant in St. Paul. It was a bunch of people from Medtronic and this one goofy farmer from somewhere in Iowa. I didn't really know what to expect, but I had a great time while I was there.
What really caught my attention was a menu item. Keep in mind, my exposure to French food as a rural Iowa native was limited, to put it mildly. The menu at this place had a hanger steak on it. I had never heard of a hanger steak, but I decided to go ahead and try it.
Here's a suggestion: If you ever see a hanger steak on a menu, ORDER IT! Wow, was that steak ever tender and flavorful!
Rather than Google it, I went one better on my quest to learn about the hanger steak. I stopped by Nancy Degner's office the next time I was in central Iowa and quizzed her. She didn't hesitate and gave me a great background on the steak. It is essentially suspended on the carcass (hence the name) and doesn't get much exercise like all the other muscle cuts do. That's what gives it such tenderness. It's also really small, so you only get about a pound or so from an entire steer. That's why you rarely see it on menus anywhere.
A couple years later, I was at a meeting in Minneapolis where the good people at Medtronic were giving me their inaugural Patient Advocacy Award for the help I had provided to people who were interested in Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery to control tremors like I have in my hands. I had spoken at other Medtronic events in the past, but this time, it was a bigger stage. This time, I would be addressing the company's worldwide workforce as part of the Quarterly Chairman's Briefing.
The event would take place the following morning. The night before, I went to dinner with several Medtronic executives at an upscale establishment not far from the Walker Art Center, whose name escapes me at the moment. What I do remember is that my longtime best friend and supporter at Medtronic, Dr. Stephen Oesterle, the Senior Vice President for Medicine and Technology, had worked with then-CEO Art Collins, to make this award happen. Dr. Oesterle had sent me a great letter after I had addressed the workforce at their 2002 Medtronic Holiday Program. He especially liked my business card and slogan and wanted to know if he could get more cards to pass out to his colleagues. (Thanks, Jill!)
I started sharing stories with Steve of the patients I encountered and their outcomes. As a former cardiac surgeon, he knows what it's like to be bedside with a patient and his or her family when tough decisions are made and tremendous outcomes are shared. Steve felt it was important to bring that perspective to the people at Medtronic who don't always have face-to-face contact with their customers.
At our dinner at the high-end restaurant prior to the big corporate meeting the next day, I was seated with a group of executives who had more degrees than a Kelvin thermometer. Our menus were presented to us and, lo and behold, a featured item was the hanger steak!
A real brain surgeon?
All of their degrees, training and culture had not completely clued the whole table in to what a hanger steak was. One of them finally looked at me and asked, "Jeff, you're a cattle farmer. What's a hanger steak? I've never heard of it before."
That's when I pretty much recited everything Nancy Degner had told me three years before. I did it just like Nancy had done on so many occasions -- keep your audience informed, keep them entertained and focused, and give them just a little bit of up-sell to convince them to move to your side of the buffet line of food choices.
When I was done with my explanation, I noticed Dr. Oesterle at the head of the table. He was beyond beaming.
"Did I tell you? This guy should have been a brain surgeon!" he said to the group, like a dad whose son just scored the winning goal at the state hockey tournament.
Nancy Degner prepared me for that moment with a friendly conversation years before. I can't thank her enough for it. The majority of the group went with the hanger steak that evening and they all loved it.
The next morning, prior to the big meeting, I found myself in a league where I didn't belong yet again. Medtronic wanted some pictures to go with the award they were about to give me. Not just snapshots for their Facebook page (which didn't exist way back then), but professional photos. It would be their newly-installed CEO (Bill Hawkins), Dr. Steve Oesterle, Dr. Rick Kuntz (Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific, Clinical and Regulatory Officer) and little old me.
The photographer decided that the best location for the photo would be on a landing partway up the stairs to the corporate offices a few floors above the atrium. We stood to one side while the tech geeks checked lighting conditions and readings. The New York Times had just published a piece the day before about the executive changes at Medtronic taking place today. The article wasn't all that flattering. I had seen it the night before, but didn't pay much attention to the picture.
The four of us were assembled on the landing for our photo. A second before the photographer snapped the photo, Bill Hawkins smiled, looked forward and said just loud enough for Steve, Rick and me (but not the photographer) to hear, "I sure hope this doesn't end up in the New York Times, Jeff!"
It was all I could do not to laugh. In spite of that, the photo turned out quite well. Take a good look at it and also the one from the New York Times, now that you know the rest of the background. They were taken about three feet and 48 hours apart.
Dr. Stephen Oesterle has retired from Medtronic in the last month, too. It happened within a few days of Nancy Degner's retirement, which wasn't long after Pat The Barber's retirement party.
My team hasn't shrunk. Some members have taken on different roles and some new members have been added.
Don't forget the members of your own team. They may be doing more great big little things for you than you realize.
Guy No. 2
Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.
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