Think You Can

My reason for writing concerns your story [“Sarah’s Not Smilin’ — Yet,” June 4] on the young lady who is having trouble getting a job — fresh out of school.

That was me — 25 years ago. I went to Milwaukee Area Tech College in the fall of ‘76. I was enrolled in a multi-subject hvacr program in a brand new school. As the first class in the building, we even had to hook up all the demonstrator units in our classroom for subsequent classes.

Our refrigeration instructor, the late Jack Raatz, was someone I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Anyone from around the Milwaukee area with a few whiskers will remember him. He was also a big backer of RSES and convinced me to join as a student member.

There are instructors, for whom it’s just a job, and then there are teachers — people who have what I call “the gift.” The gift is one of teaching because they have a passion for it. It’s what they were meant to do, and I’m convinced it’s a God-given talent. Jack was a teacher.

For those like me who were truly interested in the subject matter, Jack could hold you spellbound with his knowledge and his stories. He had seen and done it all and had remembered everything. I learned an incredible amount from him. And on top of it he was hilarious, with a biting sense of sarcastic humor — another God-given talent. I’m very thankful I was one of his students.

I guess I must have been more interested in the program than I realized, because when I received my grade report, I had a perfect 4.0 GPA. I surprised even myself, as I had struggled quite a bit with grades in high school.

I was even more surprised, however, to find that after graduation, and without any experience, I was totally unable to land a job in the refrigeration field. It was one rejection after another. It didn’t matter what your grades were, it was “How much experience do you have and what can you do?” Some of this may have had to do with the state of the economy back then.

I knew from the first day in school that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. (Here comes the advice for the young lady.) So what did I do? What I did was not give up. I decided that I was going into the refrigeration field no matter what, and nobody was going to stop me.

I buddied up with an older gentleman who ran a refrigeration service in a neighboring town. Milo, or mellow Milo as I knew him, was a great guy, worked by himself, was mild mannered, painfully honest, and very knowledgeable. I actually rode around with him for the better part of a year for nothing, just to get my foot in the door, so to speak.

I would call him two or three times a week and he’d let me know what jobs he had going. Then I’d drive over to his house in my $200 car and help him out on various jobs. He did buy me lunch most days, and I got to meet all of his customers. He did have lots of good accounts and was, of course, very well liked. I’ll also add that I was working part time in a grocery store during this time, and I still lived with my parents, so my expenses were minimal.

After a year or so, Milo’s health began to deteriorate. He began calling me and asking if I would drive over to so-and-so’s and replace a pressure control or fix a leak because he wasn’t feeling well that day. Over the next few years, this really evolved into something for me. I gradually took over all of his business.

When he finally passed away, I wrote his wife a letter expressing my gratitude for what Milo had done for me. She wrote back, telling me how Milo was also proud of me. You see, Milo had two sons and neither one was interested in the refrigeration business, so I must have been the third son.

I liked that.

So here I am, 25 years later, still working alone. I have all the business I can handle and am now turning work away. Hopefully, one or more of my sons will want to help me, but if they don’t, that’s OK too. I never was college material, but I knew I was going to be good at something if I could just find what it was.

I know my folks are proud of me, and I’m sure Milo is watching me from somewhere too.

So, dear lady, don’t give up. It was Henry Ford who said, “If you THINK you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Bruce Findlay, CM Finotey Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Fort Atkinson, WI

What Now?

After the initial sense of horror and shock of the terrorist attacks has dissipated a bit, we’re all left with the question of “What now?” All of us are wondering, “What now for the world?” “What now for the country?” “What now for my business?” “What now for me and my family?”

While I’m in no position to predict world events, and I’ll save my business strategies for later, I do have some thoughts about the remaining question, “What now for me and my family?”

There is no question that the last few years have been filled with a feverishly expanding workday. We ran to keep up with the exploding rate of change, worked longer and longer and harder and harder, and focused most of our energies on the insatiable demands of our jobs.

And, in so doing, many of us squeezed some of the more important things out of our lives: time for reflection; commitment to lasting values; and emphasis on our families, friends, and associates.

On Friday, September 15, I found myself unexpectedly in the office due to a cancellation of a seminar I was to do. As you know, President Bush had declared it a day of prayer and remembrance. I felt a need to do something, so I organized a time of prayer at the end of lunch hour for the people who work in my office building. About 50 people showed up. For 30 minutes, we prayed and cried together. I didn’t know the overwhelming majority of them, and those that I did recognize were just faces that I said “Good morning” to in the elevator.

But we shared a couple of things: a renewed focus on prayer and our relationship with God, and a greater sense of community, and of connectedness with each other. In that 30 minutes, we all focused on some longer-lasting priorities.

My wife pointed out that those frantic cell phone calls from those who knew they were dying all had the same message: I love you. All the striving for new cars, computers, phones, and high-tech toys didn’t matter in comparison to our relationships with our loved ones.

Over the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of traveling and speaking overseas. I’ve seen firsthand the respect and admiration in which American businesspeople are held by most of the world. From Africa, through Latin America and the Caribbean, there is an unspoken and universal understanding that if it comes from an American business-person, it’s worth listening to. Truly, most of the world does look to America for leadership.

Perhaps that is why the terrorists chose to attack a symbol of American business. It’s not just America that’s under attack, it’s American businesspeople.

Back to the question of “What now?” My suggestion is this: Let’s make personal commitments to live our lives differently and better, to return to an emphasis on a relationship with God and our families and friends. But, let’s also accept our responsibility to be, in fact, a beacon of hope and a model of freedom for the rest of the world. Let’s be good businesspeople, but let’s also go beyond that. Let’s recommit to being proactive, to finding ways to be of service, and to being men and women of character — to being better than we were, and doing better than we did. Let’s recommit to becoming good people, in addition to becoming good at what we do. Let’s continue to be an inspiration and a light for the rest of the world.

Dave Kahle Professional Speaker The DaCo Corporation Grand Rapids, MI (e-mail)

Publication date: 10/15/2001