Friday, March 16, 2012

The short fare can become the long fare

Across my career I have gleaned a lot from a wide range of inspirations, possible no source more than cab drivers! I have written about this fount of knowledge before, check out “The story of Clarissa” about an amazing early morning cab ride in Bakersfield California. I have had some amazing moments of clarity in cabs from Philadelphia to Bentonville Arkansas; fodder for future essays. Well last Friday, I found another moment of wisdom in the back seat of a cab in Orlando.

I had attended meetings at the convention center and was heading over to the airport mid day last Friday for a flight back home to Atlanta. With plenty of time, I jumped into a cab at the Peabody Hotel and headed off to the airport. As I always do, I asked the cab driver how business was for him that day. He was quick to say that business was “picking up” and that he would have me at the airport in less than 25 minutes. Pretty precise for timing, but I leaned back to enjoy the ride and the conversation.

Quickly the driver asked what kind of business I was in and I simply said “sales.” He smiled and said “me too,” commenting that while he had driven cabs in New York, St. Louis, and now Orlando, he was selling every day. What a great attitude! He started to share his “inside tips” on how he works the Orlando convention center hotels every Friday, alternating between the Peabody and the Hilton, but consistently getting plenty of airport runs or as he said “long fares.” I asked if he had a certain system, or looked for a certain type of passenger as he worked the hotels. He nodded his head knowingly and said “no sir, you need to work every fare as if it’s your best … you never know, the short fare can become the long fare.” I know a learning moment was afoot!
Of course I asked him what he meant and he shared a story from just the week before. He said that the past Friday he was in the cab line at the Peabody Hotel (just where he found me) and he was the second cab in line. He was there just a few minutes when two groups came out of the front of the hotel and asked the bellman for a cab; the first was a guy in jeans with a small duffel bag, the second was a big family with lots of luggage. The first cabby, seeing the same situation, jumps out of the cab to “tie his shoe”, trying to get the second fare (the family obviously going to the airport) rather than the guy in jeans going god knows where. The first cabbie bending down to his shoe wave my cabbie around and without hesitation, he said he moved around to take the first guy, “the short fare.” Asking the guy in Jeans where he was heading , “the short fare” said he was needed to make a flight at the Tampa Airport in 3 hours and could the cabby get him there in time. Unbelievable!!! The Tampa airport was not quite 100 miles away, yes he could get there in time but the fare would be over $150. The guy in back said no problem, they headed out, and what looked at first to be the “short fare” became the “longest fare” in my cabbies life!

I was blown away by the story and really connected to this simple point of wisdom. You never know what opportunities lay ahead. If you try to game the system, metaphorically “tying your shoes” at the wrong times, you might miss big things! I was reminded by this great story to try to approach every interaction with more openness of what “might” be possible. Whether a moment with a team member, a call on a customer, or a chat with an old friend, it doesn’t really matter. Even the interactions that seem to be nothing more than a “short fare” can become a “long fare” right before our eyes, maybe even a fare to the Tampa Airport!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hidden Vigorish

Growing up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania in the 60’s and 70’s, my world was pretty small. The success and failure of the steel industry played a major role in setting a tone across the region, and in many ways the center of our little universe was the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers … the center of Pittsburgh Pa. While the declining health of the U.S. steel industry was a major element through that period of history (and BTW Pittsburgh has staged an amazing comeback over the past two decades and is now quite an impressive and thriving city), my eyes were more centered on the growing success of our local sports teams. Through this period of time, the Steelers and the Pirates won multiple championships, culminating in 1979 when the Steelers won the Super bowl and the Pirates won the World Series; the moniker “city of champions” was born! I have written in a previous essay (“Mistakes Matter”) about the Steelers and to this day I remain a loyal fan. This story is about an earlier time and the more successful days of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I was 10 in 1971 when the Pirates won the world series, a team including such greats as Roberto Clemente, Willy Stargell, Steve Blass, and Manny Sanguillen just to name a few. A very small world story is that Bob Moose, a pitcher for the Pirates in those days died tragically on his 29th birthday and his grave is just a few yards away from my Mom’s in Delmont Pa. Among the stars of the Pirates in those days was also an announcer whose gravelly voice I can still hear in my ears today; that of Bob Prince better known as “the Gunner.” He was the long time voice of the Pirates through the 60’s and 70’s and was famous for unique slogans or phrases that became his signatures. “A bloop and a blast”, “A bug on a rug”,” A dying quail’, “ A #8 can of Golden Bantam” all were in his signature repertoire. Over the past few months I have been thinking about another of his “Gunnerisms” that I feel has application broadly; the need for a little “Hidden Vigorish”.

Whenever the Pirates were in a jam, or a specific player was down in the count late in a game, “the Gunner” would make his famous call for some “Hidden Vigorish”. The idea would be the need to dig deep and find that last little spark, or hint of energy, that might start a rally, strikeout an opponent, and win the day for the beloved Pirates. I can remember in the summer of 1971, playing homerun derby in my neighborhood with the other kids, listening to the ball game on the radio, and all trying to mimic Bob Prince’s raspy voice calling for that “Hidden Vigorish.”

It’s in that spirit that this memory has come back to me over the past few months. We have been having a successful year, and while we have faced many challenges, more continue to come. In the face of that continuing dynamic, I have been so inspired by my team’s ability to dig deep, find that extra ounce of energy, find a little “Hidden Vigorish”, to prevail and succeed. Now with only one month to go to close out a very successful fiscal year, it’s time for us to remember “the Gunner” and find a little “hidden vigorish” to finish off the year in winning style. Whether you are at the beginning or end of your fiscal year, whether you are in business or not, we all face challenges. Sometimes the challenges are easy to face and simple to overcome; many times they are daunting and seem impossible to endure. Regardless of their scale and intensity, think back to “the Gunner” and his call for a little “hidden vigorish” to turn the day; a call we all need more often than we often admit.