Category Archives: Management

Tighter Than Bark On A Birch Tree

“Tighter than bark on a birch tree;’ ‘He can squeeze a nickel so hard the buffalo screams;’ ‘He has short arms and long pockets” All of the preceding could be applied to the owner of the pizza restaurant where I worked. Hovering over a pizza, he would scowl if there was one extra piece of pepperoni; he limited salad dressing to a tablespoon and we poured 11 not 12 ounce draft beers.

Knowing how tight he was, I couldn’t keep quiet when he told me to put extra ingredients on a customer’s pie. “Mr. Styles, are you sure you want me to ‘load’ this pizza?”

He surprised me with his answer: “Yes. He’s a regular customer, spends a lot of money and I want to make sure he keeps coming back.”

Years ago, Terri and I regularly frequented a Winter Park seafood restaurant. They served good food and Freddy our waiter always took good care of us: on a crowded night, even without a reservation, we would be seated; occasionally a free appetizer or glass of wine would appear and he always knew when there was a special occasion. In Winter Park, there were numerous restaurant choices but we always returned to where we were welcomed.

I’m a creature of habit, on Mondays I eat at a local Wendys and Thursday is “taco day” at Taco Bell. Only once has the Wendy’s manager spoken to me and then to explain that they were charging me more than the listed price because the listed price was wrong. The Taco Bell manager treats me like I’m the franchise owner: he greets me with inquiries about my health; from time to time there is an extra taco on my plate and he checks to make sure everything is alright. The quality of the food and the service at the Wendy’s restaurant is better, however, I prefer the taco place.

People are confronted with a variety of options when it comes to almost everything: restaurants, stores, entertainment and relationships. With numerous choices, deciding what to spend money on is a challenge. Product, service and price are the primary drivers of the decision, also playing a part are intangible elements, such as demonstrating appreciation.

Gratitude is also important in personal relationships.

Tired, reading a novel and beginning to fall asleep, I only grunted in response to Terri’s account of dealing with a problem. Sensing her silence, I looked and found her staring at me with a hurt expression. She had spent her lunch hour tending to our predicament and my appreciation was an annoyed grunt. My response had hurt her feelings and dampened her excitement over a task well done.

Business people readily recognize that relationships are built upon a foundation of honesty, trust and service. However, they often fail to acknowledge appreciation as an additional important element. Gratefulness demonstrates a selfless willingness to recognize other people’s efforts and achievements.

In our business as well as personal lives, a generosity of spirit often determines the depth of our connection with others.


The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” – William James


Change Will Happen

My childhood was easy: I walked to school without fear; our house remained unlocked during the day and my mother relied upon our maid, Johnny, to take care of the house, cook and watch over me. Although far from being wealthy, we would be considered so today.

For 18 years Johnny was my second mother. She fixed meals; placed band aids on my wounds and when needed, twisted my ear and spanked my behind.  she lived in West and we lived in East Ocala; between the two existed the unseen fence of segregation.  On the west side stark poverty prevailed: unpaved streets, run-down “shotgun” homes and outdoor privies.  On the east side was a contrasting world of relative wealth.  We didn’t question the right or wrong of segregation, it was part of the world we lived in.

When I went to work for my father we were always busy.  There were plenty of jobs, a demand for our services and numerous projects being bid.  At times I wished business would slow just enough for me to catch my breath.  I learned to be careful what I wished for.

In October of 1973 OPEC declared an embargo on oil shipments to the United States and almost immediately the country was thrown into a recession.  Suddenly, we had no work.  My assumption that we would always be busy were turned upside down.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a young man who related how his income increased every year for the 12 years after he graduated from college.  He planned his lifestyle accordingly but the downward corkscrewing economy left him with debt he could not repay.

Wrongs occasioned by segregation; the time when there was too much work; the economic boom, were situations that didn’t last.  In hindsight, I realize if I had examined these circumstances, I would have recognized the evil of segregation and that business booms are unsustainable.

I have learned that incorrect assumptions about the future result from the failure to examine existing circumstances.


Questions focus our thinking. Ask empowering questions like: What’s good about this? What’s not perfect about it yet? What am I going to do next time? How can I do this and have fun doing it?” – Charles Connolly

Waste Not and Want Not

My maternal grandmother came from a family that belonged to the Protestant Reformed Church of France and my grandfather was raised in the Presbyterian tradition; together they taught my mother to practice Calvinistic thrift.  Notwithstanding her fun loving ways—she loved a good joke and a sip of Scottish nectar—my mother was very careful with money.

My mother’s thrifty nature was deepened by the Great Depression.  Raising two young children , she learned to pinch every penny.  When something broke, it was repaired—with a toolkit consisting of a kitchen knife, a hammer and a pair of pliers, she could fix anything.

Sue Tucker’s mantra was “Waste not; want not.”  Christmas gift-wrappings and greeting cards were saved for the following year.  A meal would last for days.  After Thanksgiving, for weeks we would eat turkey: sandwiches, hash, tetrazini, salad and finally, soup.  Believe me, if she had found a way to do so, paper napkins would have been washed and reused.

I came along when times were easier.  My parents wanted to spare me from the worry of  depression and war; so like many in my generation, I was spoiled.

“Waste not; want not” is a principle almost forgotten by the “Boomer” generation.  My cohorts and I  spawned a disposable world: a new computer comes out, get rid of the old one; something breaks, buy another; cook too much, throw the leftovers away.

I recall my parents’ reminiscing how they made do.  My mother never forgot the lessons she learned during her upbringing and the Great Depression—similarly, the lessons learned during the Great Recession will shape behaviors for years to come.


Waste not; want not.”  Thomas Hardy as quoted by Sue Tucker

Perfect, Just Perfect

When hosting friends at a restaurant, my mother and father asked their guests to suggest what wine to order. Lillian Todd responded, “I know a wine that will go with every dish.”  They agreed to her making the decision and after getting the waiter’s attention, she pointed to a selection on the wine list.  As the food was being served, the sommelier poured a sweet, after dinner wine, Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry.

Her fellow diners grumbled and teased Lillian about her selection.  They complained about the wine’s sweetness and incompatibility with the food.  In tears Lillian asked my father’s opinion of her selection. His response: “It’s perfect, just perfect.”

Along with another couple, we had been invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  The other couple responded “white zinfandel” to the host’s inquiry as to what they would like as a before dinner drink.  Our host, condescendingly responded that he wouldn’t serve such a wine; that he would pour them a French white instead.

He made a show of opening the bottle, pouring and sniffing the wine, expounding on the aroma and explaining that it was produced near the Mediterranean Sea.  Obeying instructions, the couple swirled,  sniffed and tasted the wine.  They oohed and ahhed over the flavor and commented on how much they had learned.

When our host excused himself  to go to the kitchen, the couple placed their glasses on the table, glanced at each other and the woman said, “But I really like white zinfandel.”

I learned from my mother and father the secret to building relationships is by looking out for the needs, wants and likes of others: a lesson that has proven to be true in my personal as well as my business life.

Tact, diplomacy and kindness are qualities that draw people to you.   It takes little effort to build people up.  Graciousness creates many benefits, such as loyal friends and business partners.  Even more important, graciousness creates a positive attitude that leads to a fulfilling life.

In southern towns friends show up with food when someone passes away.  So, when my father died, I was not surprised to find Lillian at our door.  In her hands she carried a roasting pan containing a fragrant, beautifully cooked leg of lamb.  After inviting her in, I inquired how she had prepared the roast.  Smiling she said, “I marinated it in Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry—you know your father thought it was perfect, just perfect.”


A guest never forgets the host who had treated him kindly.” – Homer

The Best Wine

The best wine is that your guest prefers.” – Terri Tucker

Vigilant to Danger

Sitting in a night club, I observed an elderly man delivering a martini to his well-dressed  wife.  She finished the drink and with her legs tightly tucked together, rolled out of her seat and fell to the floor.  Almost at once, waiters and managers appeared and helped return her to her chair, where she laid her head on the table.

Placing a kiss on the back of her head as he stood, her husband unsteadily exited the room.  I was concerned about her being left alone until I spotted him reentering: wobbling and precariously balancing two martinis in his hands.

The over consumption of alcoholic drinks can lead to unintended, embarrassing and sometimes dangerous occurrences.  Consisting of almost straight alcohol, a martini is a particularly potent cocktail.  An insidious concoction, the strong concentration of spirit erases inhibitions and good judgment.

In his later years, my father decided to become a martini drinker.  Not realizing the potency of the drink, he unintentionally embarrassed my mother and she asked me to speak to him.

On a Friday afternoon, I cautioned him that a martini was too strong of a cocktail for a man of his age.  I suggested a glass of wine before and during dinner would be more appropriate and safer.  He sat quietly for a while and then said, “Thank you for the concern, but what I drink is none of your business.”

The next evening at a local restaurant, my father stared at me as he ordered a vodka martini.  Determined to keep him from over consuming, when he turned away, I grabbed his glass and gulped down half of the vodka mix.

After a puzzled glance at an almost empty glass, he ordered another martini. Again, when he wasn’t looking, I drank most of the potent drink; and as before, when he saw the glass was almost empty, he ordered another one.  Once more, I emptied most of the glass.  Only dinner being served stopped my insane consumption of my father’s drinks.

Monday morning, dad entered my office, closed the door and said, “So you believe I have a drinking problem—that’s the pot calling the kettle black!  I had four martinis and was just fine; you had one drink and we had to help you out of the restaurant.  I suggest you limit yourself to a glass of wine before and one during dinner.”

Friday evenings Terri and I enjoy a martini.  After arriving home we will exercise, change clothes and prepare dinner.  Shortly before the meal is ready we will fix our drinks and then—with our favorite music playing in the background—we’ll retire to the living room and spend time together.  By the time we finish the cocktail, dinner is ready to be served and there is little temptation to have another.  It is a ritual we look forward to: a quiet time spent putting the week behind and preparing for the weekend to come.

Upon reading a sign warning to “Drive With Caution,” you proceed with care.  Like driving on a road under construction, the consumption of alcohol requires you to be vigilant to the dangers that are present.

 A Treacherous Friend

Wine is a treacherous friend who you must always be on guard for.”-Christian Nevell Bovee

You Profit In Every Opportunity To Learn

In the spring of my junior year of high school, looking for an easy class that was full of girls, I signed up for typing.  Correct on one account I was wrong on another: the class was full of girls but not easy.

After teaching me where to place my fingers on the QWERTY keyboard, Ms. Dixon, our teacher, expected me to transcribe the text she provided.  Not only was there a requirement for speed and accuracy, you were not allowed to look at the paper you were typing.

I was surrounded by high school girls who took to typing like ducks to water.  Every class session would produce new records: 30 words per minute with only two mistakes; 50 words per minute with one mistake and the record, 60 words per minute with no mistakes.  In contrast, I trudged along setting my own record—20 words per minute with 5 mistakes.

At the end of the semester, I received a “mercy” C in Ms Dixon’s class.  I also acquired a lifelong respect for people who spend their days tapping away on keyboards.  I should have learned there are no easy classes.  Had I learned that lesson, I would not have registered for mechanical drawing.

A good draftsman possesses the skill to draw in ink without making a mistake.  Not me—wrinkled and smudged from erasures, my drawings were terrible.  The teacher, Joe “Fig” Wooten, understood I took his class believing I could get an easy grade.  Before long, he also understood I had no aptitude for drawing.

Prior to the class ending, my classmates would turn in their completed drawings.  I would still be working when the bell rung and return after school to work while Mr. Wooten graded papers.

I wonder if he and Ms Dixon commiserated with each about my lack of skill: I’ll never know. I finished the semester, learned basic drafting skills and received another “mercy” C.

In college, majoring in history and American Studies, I would tease my business major friends about attending a trade school.  In return they would belittle my wimpy courses.  Challenged by my friends and bored with “subjective” study matter I decided I wanted to take an accounting course.   I convinced the head of the American Studies department to allow me to apply the course to the requirements for my major and signed up for accounting 101.

I loved accounting: studying history and American studies you delve into “gray” areas; accounting, however, is black and white: debit and credit.  Not only did I enjoy the course work, I joined my buddies as they sat on the steps of the business building and watched the girls go by.

Typing, mechanical drawing and accounting—those three courses provided value I never imagined.  My knowledge of all three made my transition from academia into the business world much easier; many years later, I still use the skills learned in “throw away” courses.

Not knowing what life will bring, you cannot be aware of what knowledge and which skills will be of value.  Not knowing what knowledge or which skill will prove to be valuable, profit from every opportunity to learn.


Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” – Chinese Proverb

Let’s Have Another Cup Of Coffee

Prior to my teen years, my mother would fix “coffee milk” for me. Sweet with milk, sugar and a small amount of coffee, I would sip the cup dry and then scoop the leftover sugar from the bottom of the cup. I never had “real” coffee until my senior year in high school.

Early one Saturday morning, I invited myself to breakfast at the house of a friend. As his mother assembled the meal, she asked if I would like a cup of coffee. When I answered yes, she placed a can of Maxwell House on the counter and told me to make the coffee. She watched as I stared helplessly at the can and then taught me the recipe for coffee that I still use today: one rounded tablespoon of coffee for each cup and one for the pot.

Coffee became a big deal during my freshman year of college when “coffee dates” were de rigueur. In the mid 1960’s, the administration at Florida State University confined freshman girls to their dorm rooms between seven and nine in the evenings on weekdays. At the end of the “quiet hours” was when the dates would occur and we would share time over coffee. Afterwards, fueled by coffee, I would stay up for hours and then struggle to make morning classes.

“C Rations,” a soldier’s “meal in the field,” included instant coffee that was best used in making canned sweet rolls edible. Tightly packed in a two-inch round, green can, the army sweet roll resembled and was as hard as a hockey puck. We would pour hot coffee over the dried confection and after a few minutes of soaking time it would be good to eat. In the “field” we didn’t worry about spilling coffee; it was a different story when working for my father.

Because of some disastrous spills, my dad had a rule that employees were not allowed to drink coffee at their desks. If someone wanted to drink a cup of coffee, they had to find a place away from their work to do so. A benefit of the rule was that it provided him with a reason to drink coffee at locations away from the office: with the president of a local bank; at a local diner with customers; or with me, in a restaurant.

Away from distractions, business questions were easier to deal with. In the mid-morning, in a quiet restaurant, there was time for stories; to talk about sports and fishing and to share concerns—conversations in a relaxed atmosphere lending to inventive problem solving.

Caught up in the hubbub of life, often we neglect spending casual time with our colleagues.  A cup of coffee is a good excuse to do so


It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” -Dave Barry