Tag Archives: Teamwork

I Was Part of the Problem

With a prayer for a check in the mail on Saturday, on Friday I would hand out paychecks.

In commercial construction, to ensure subcontractors finish their work, general contractors typically retain 10% of monies due until the job is complete. That’s where our cash was, retained until the cows came in or until our customers no longer needed the money to finance their operations.

Daily, my blood pressure would rise as I passed a manufacturing plant for which we had not been paid for our work.  Fed up, I asked my attorney to notify the contractor, owner, architect and anyone else he thought of, that we were going to file suit to collect; the threat got everyone’s attention and the owner called for a meeting.

We met in the plant’s conference room. The owner’s representative opened the meeting by asking the contractor why we hadn’t been paid. He answered, “They haven’t repaired the damaged fascia metal.”  My roofing department manager replied, “What damage?” The contractor stood, puffed out his chest and exclaimed, “If you had listened you would know!”  I grabbed the department manager as he lunged across the table, trying to grab the man by the throat.

When calm returned, the owner suggested we view the damaged fascia. With the contractor and my manager safely separated by the owner, architect and myself—we trooped to the far side of the building.

The contractor stopped and pointed to the fascia some 20 feet above the ground and said “There.” We stared until the owner’s representative said, “Where?”

“There, where I’m pointing!”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Wait until the sun is a little further up; then you can see it.”

“My goodness, you mean you’ve been holding $50,000 of this man’s money on a defect you can only see when the sun is a particular place in the heavens!”

He turned to me and said, “Mr. Tucker you’ll have a check by tomorrow afternoon.”

Soon after I made the determination to sell the company.

I recognized that I was part of our collection problem. I was a square peg in a round hole: I had tried to do the best I could; spent a lot sleepless night and kept long hours but I wasn’t detail oriented or tough enough to survive in the construction industry.

To assure happiness and success, it is important to recognize, admit and accept your aptitudes and talents; to know and focus on what you do well.


Knowing what you can not do is more important than knowing what you can do.” – Lucille Ball

The Best Of Human Nature

Early in the morning, I listened to Today Show host Bryant Gumble’s report that Miami had suffered little damage from Hurricane Andrew. When I was unable to complete a telephone call to South Miami, I discovered that areas south of downtown Miami had been destroyed.

That evening an acquaintance called and asked if I would serve on an administrative team to assist in reopening damaged Dade County schools. He explained that many of the school administrators, having to deal with destroyed homes, were unable to work and the magnitude of the project required a team with experience in administration and construction. I agreed and early the following morning we left for Miami.

FEMA arranged for us to be comfortably housed in a luxury hotel located in downtown Miami. Arriving at the hotel and observing little evidence of a disaster, I thought I would be headed home in a couple of days. Later, as we traveled to the school administration’s temporary operations center southwest of downtown, I discovered how wrong I was.

Viewing  the devastation wrought by a storm such as Andrew on television, your perspective is limited and it is difficult to comprehend the true scope of the disaster. I realized this as we drove by miles of destroyed homes; past deserted businesses; through intersection after intersection without traffic signals and past acres of broken and fallen trees.

At the command center, a school board engineer and I were assigned to assess the damages suffered by schools. It appeared to be an easy task—the engineer was familiar with and we had ID’s that granted access to all areas. In reality, with blocked streets and street signs destroyed,it was difficult to find the schools, and when we did, they were occupied by people left homeless by the storm.

One of the first schools we inspected was  located in a lower income neighborhood. As we walked through the school, we passed peopled huddled in the rain-soaked, hot, humid hallways. From one side of the roof we saw vehicles overturned and tossed on top of each other. From the other we saw volunteers feeding hungry people from trailers, marked “Baptist Relief.” It was a contrast I witnessed over and over—devastation and the best of human nature.

We spent six weeks in South Florida. During that time, we executed contracts allowing schools to reopen—providing havens for children, and allowing their parents to begin to put their lives back together.

As I view on television the destruction wrought storms, I think of lessons I learned from Hurricane Andrew: the awe and terror inspired by the power of nature; the resiliency of humans and the willingness of people to help one another.

The World Is Not A Mere Bog

I am convinced that the world is not a mere bog in which men and women trample themselves and die. Something magnificent is taking place here amidst the cruelties and tragedies, and the supreme challenge to intelligence is that of making the noblest and best in our curious heritage prevail.” – Charles Austin Beard

Never Underestimate How Much A Hungry Kid From Arkansas Can Eat

I had only been married a couple of months when I had to report for army basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

At the end of our sixth week of training we received a 24-hour pass.  With three friends from my platoon, I headed into a Fayetteville.  The streets were crowded with hawkers standing outside jewelry stores and pawnshops entreating young soldiers to purchase something for the “girl back home;” inebriated soldiers from the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces—many looking for “slick sleeve” army trainees to torment and less-than-reputable women looking for a “date.”  Not wanting trouble, we purchased beer and snacks and checked into a local motel.

Late that afternoon, we decided to go to a steakhouse for dinner.  As we studied the menu the guy seated beside me whispered, “I need to speak with you in private.  Come with me and bring the menu.”  I followed and when we stopped he said, “I’ve never had a steak; I mean I’ve heard of them and I’ve had a hamburger but not a steak and I don’t know what to order.”  He was a big kid from Arkansas, so I suggested he order the 24-ounce porterhouse.  When the steak was served he took a bite, chewed contemplatively and then devoured it.  I had finished only half of my dinner when he got the waiter’s attention and ordered a second steak.

After finishing his second steak, he leaned over and said, “I want dessert but I don’t know what to order: what’s a baked Alaska?”  When I explained that it was a meringue covered ice cream that was baked in the oven, he exclaimed, “No way! Baked ice cream—I’ve got to try that.”  After two large porterhouses, I was surprised when he ate his first dessert; I was amazed when he ordered and finished the second baked Alaska.  Full but happy, walking back to the hotel room he kept repeating, “Momma isn’t going to believe I had ice cream baked in an oven!”

We grew up in a world in which people were identified as part of a group: you knew the “greasers” by their hair, jeans and boots; the “nerds” by glasses and pocket protectors and the “preppies” by their clothes.  However, with everyone dressed and looking the same, in the army, you didn’t know if the guy in the bunk next to you was a greaser, nerd or preppie.

Stereotypical perceptions were erased by enforced conformity thus creating the opportunity to know people for who they were.  Rather than clothes, family circumstances or education, you discovered that hard work, loneliness and shared experiences bring people together.

I learned valuable lessons during my time in basic training: no matter how they appear to conform, people are individuals; even if different, a friend is to be cherished; character, not looks, matters and never underestimate how much a hungry kid from Arkansas can eat.

Judging A Man

When you meet a man, you judge him by his clothes; when you leave, you judge him by his heart.” – Proverb

Wearing Only Her Birthday Suit

In the early 1980’s my brother and I remodeled an old three-story home into eight condominium units.  Desperate, when the units didn’t sell, we converted it into a bed and breakfast and I ended up as an innkeeper.

We modeled our service off of an inn we visited in Wilmington, North Carolina: leaving a mint and glass of brandy when we turned down the beds and serving continental breakfasts.

Our first guests, a chef and his new bride, were anxious to spend the first night of their honeymoon at our inn in a romantic room warmed by a fireplace.  The next morning, with a tray loaded with melons, muffins and coffee, I knocked on their room door.  Believing I heard “come in,” I stepped through the door and found the beautiful bride standing in the middle of the room in her birthday suit.  I’m not sure who screamed louder; I did a 180-degree turn, and with the tray balanced on one hand above my head, ran back to the kitchen.  Needless to say, Terri delivered the breakfast.

To familiarize people with inn we decided to go into the catering business. The third story of the property consisted of a large open room that was large enough to hold small catered parties.  Perfect except for one small detail: the tables, chairs, plates, glasses, wine and food needed to be transported to the third floor.

Without an elevator, the only way to deliver supplies to the third floor was the fire escape, a 3 and 1/2 story climb.   I would start with the tables, followed by the plates, glasses, silverware food and wine.  After the guests departed and the kitchen cleaned, I would drink the leftover wine and carry everything back down the staircase.  Working on a roofing crew in August, was never as tough as catering a reception at the inn.

We booked an elegant cocktail reception for the evening of April 15th: an important date to my CPA wife, who hosted an end of the tax season party the same evening.  I was irritated Terri wasn’t going to be available to help with the “paid guests” party and she was irritated I didn’t appreciate her need to celebrate the passing of the IRS deadline.

I would need something from the downstairs kitchen and Terri would require an item from upstairs.  Both of, charming during our respective events, would growl and glare as we passed on the stairway.  Eventually growls and glares turned to outright hostility and then laughter as we realized the absurdity of the situation.

The more successful the inn became, the harder it became to manage.  We literally lived above the store; our days started before daylight and ended after the last television broadcast.  We would take one evening a week off to go out and too tired to sit through dinner, we would have dessert and a bottle of wine.

There are lessons to be learned from keeping an inn: when you deal with people, you need to learn patience; you sell yourself as much as you sell rooms; hard work pays off and knock twice before entering someone’s bedroom.

A quote from the T.V. Series Frasier

Frasier: Thank you, Roz. Niles, tonight let’s go to Orsini’s for one glorious farewell dinner.

Niles: Why not? I’ll make the reservations. We’ll take Dad and Daphne.

Frasier: Great. Will Maris be joining us?

Niles: Ohhh…sadly, no. She had a bad experience there one Christmas Eve. An Italian soccer team was sitting at the next table, Maris announced she was in the mood for a goose, and–perhaps inevitably–tragedy ensued.

A Most Valuable Gift

I had a reputation for always being late. When my mother would ask me to do something my answer would be “In a minute.” I can recall her saying, “I’ll be on my deathbed, drawing my last breath, they’ll call you and you’ll answer ‘In a minute.” If a friend’s party was to begin at six, they would tell me five-thirty and expect me at six-fifteen.

My brother was worse than me when it came to being late. When scolded for his tardiness with the comment “The early bird gets the worm,” he responded, “The late worm misses the early bird.” We were quite a pair. To go somewhere together we had to plan on leaving hours before necessary because we knew we would both be late.

I have a friend whose business requires a great deal of travel. He was always rushing to the airport and boarding a flight just at the last minute. A few years ago, upon exiting a flight he responded to a page by picking up a phone in the terminal. After identifying himself, he was asked, “Do you own a 1998 blue Mercedes Benz?” When he responded that he did, the man on the other end of the phone inquired, “Do you have your car keys?” My friend checked his pockets and brief case and not finding the keys replied “No, why?” The man on the other end responded, “I didn’t think you had them, since your car is still running in front of the terminal.” Running late, he pulled up to the terminal and left the car running as he ran to his gate. Needless to say, he now allows plenty of time to catch a plane.

I had a boss who decided our weekly staff meetings should begin at six-thirty in the morning. I would awaken an hour before the meeting, rush to be there, only to sit and stew, as he would arrive an hour late. Week after week, I would listen to my colleagues grumble about the unfairness of having to wait. Agreeing with them that my time was as valuables as the boss’s, over time I reached the realization that I had been guilty of the same disregard of others. It was then that I resolved to no longer be perennially late.

We have many ways keeping up with time: wrist and pocket watches; alarm clocks; clocks on our computers; automated calendars and clocks on our cell phones. We measure time: the length of a ball game; the time it takes to bake a cake and how long to go from A to B. We record time: the hour and minute the plane struck the World Trade Center; the time of birth and the time of death. We talk about time: when it snowed in 1977; the year our team won the national championship and the last time we were all together. Perhaps we are obsessed with time because we don’t know how much of it  we have left.

Since no one knows how much he or she has and more cannot be obtained, time is a person’s most valuable possession. When someone shares his or her time with you, it is a gift that should not be taken for granted. With friends and loved ones, that gratefulness is best demonstrated by giving time back: focusing, listening and sharing. While in business you demonstrate your appreciation of a customer’s time by returning value to him or her.

When you comprehend the value of time, you realize that it a gift to be treated with respect and received with gratitude. By being thankful for and respectful of others time, you will discover they will want to share more of it with you.


“Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence — neither speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish — it is an imponderably valuable gift.” – Maya Angelou

A Free Lunch

Opening a new tire store, two of my friends decided free food was the ticket to a grand opening splash and that led them to giving me a call.

One of a group of men who volunteered to cook at charitable and civic events I had access to a mobile grill.  Knowing I loved to cook and was up to a challenge, my two buddies convinced me to borrow the cooker and prepare free Bar-B-Que for their opening.

Mounted on a four-wheel trailer, the cooker was  ten foot long by four foot wide, with sloping sides, rising up from a rectangular firebox.  Inside was an expanded metal grill welded to steel channels; above the grill running the length of the cooker were two steel rods, on which hooks containing meat could be hung.  Overall it was a massive contraption that was difficult to move and set up.

I had solicited one of my employees—a hard-boiled roofer with a penchant for bourbon—to help with setting up the cooker and cooking.  By 8:00 a.m. we had 80 pounds of sirloin on the grill and I suspect my helper had his first nip of Kentucky “Nectar;” three hours later we were ready to begin serving.

Our plan was to cut the cooked sirloin roasts into thin slices, which we would store in large foil covered metal trays.  At the 11:00 a.m. announced serving time, there were at least 50 people in line waiting for their free sandwich; by 11:15 the line had grown to over 100 people and as people looked for parking spaces, traffic on the highway in front of the store was at a dead stop.  We realized that slicing the beef with a knife was too slow of a process so I loaded 60 pounds of cooked meat in my truck to take to the butcher to slice.

When I arrived back at the grand opening with ground—even for the butcher slicing was too slow—smoked sirloin, there were policemen directing traffic, the line for free food was around the block and my bourbon-soaked assistant was passed out on the front seat of his truck.  At one time, as I spooned cook sirloin on a bun, I recognized the person in front of me and was embarrassed that I didn’t remember his, his wife or their three kids names: embarrassed until I realized the only reason I recognized them was it was the third time I had served them.

At the end of the afternoon we were worn out.  We had served over 400 people; my friends had not sold one tire; my erstwhile assistant was still sleeping off a load of bourbon and I was stuck with cleaning up and returning the cooker.  Not the results we expected but a valuable lesson: a free lunch can attract attention and freeloaders but doesn’t guarantee a relationship.

Whether personal or business, relationships are built upon trust.  A give away, such as a free lunch, can open the door but it’s what takes place afterwards that seals the deal.  A kiss good night or a sales order is not the result of a well-cooked meal.  What establishes the link between people is the trust that what is promised will happen.


A free lunch is only found in mousetraps.” – John Capozzi

Saying Goodbye

Terri and I had been attending the First Presbyterian Church in Winter Park for several months. As churchgoers do, we found a pew where we were comfortable and every Sunday that is where we sat. Sitting in front of us was an attractive couple and their pre-teen son. When the time to greet each other would arrive, they would turn, smile, shake our hand and proceed to greet others around them. One Sunday, the lady in front of us smiled as she shook my hand and said, “I’m Barbara Felkel, and my husband Bill and I would like to get to know you.”

After the service we talked over coffee and they introduced us to several other couples; among them, Ray and Jeanne Cook. Over the years, the circle of friends widened and our friendships deepened. Saturday nights we would get together, either at a restaurant or someone’s home and once a month we would all help out at the church night suppers. We noticed that our time together centered around food and that led to the idea that became the Dinner Club.

Once a month the Dinner Club would meet at one of the member’s home. The host would determine the theme, provide the entrée and the members would bring the other courses. Over the years we sampled the cuisines of Brazil, France, Italy and numerous other countries; it was always an epicurean adventure—sometimes good, sometimes bad but always fun: evenings we will remember; some more unforgettable than others.

During a meeting of the club at our house, I was in our home office showing Barbara Felkel something on the computer when we heard a roar from the dining room. I rushed into the room to find Bill Felkel holding his stomach as he rolled on the floor with laughter, other club members laughing, unable to speak, with tears running down their face and my 88 year-old mother, quietly and angelically, smiling. It was some minutes later, when my friends could again speak, that I learned the ruckus was occasioned by my sweet, Presbyterian mom telling a joke that I wouldn’t repeat in a men’s locker room.

There were many memorable evenings: the night, after outpatient surgery I inadvertently blew my nose in the tablecloth; the “Costco” evening when everyone brought an already prepared appetizer from Costco; at Jeanne’s insistence eating chili “five ways”—prepared the way they do in Ohio; the dinner at my brother’s hotel in Ocala. All of the times together, dining, worshipping, sharing happiness and heartache, united us into a closely-knit group of friends. However, the Dinner Club could not survive the changes in the lives of its members and eventually faded away.

Even without the club, we tried to remain close: when someone would visit from out of town or for a special occasion, we would again gather together. At the heart of striving to maintain the closeness of the group were Ray and Jeanne Cook.

Since I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, when Ray called, intuitively I knew something was wrong. He asked how I was doing and after inquiring about Terri and our children he said, “I have bad news, Jeanne has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”

A month before she passed away, I visited Jeanne at her home. She was weak, so my visit was short: we spoke of days past, children and friends and when I kissed her goodbye, I knew I would not see her again.

As I left Ray and Jeanne’s home I thought about how casually I say goodbye to the people in my life: how I take it for granted that each goodbye will be followed by a future reunion.  I couldn’t help contrasting the confidence in being together again with the grief of a final farewell.

You never can be sure when you part from those you care for, that fate won’t intervene and that your goodbye might be your last; so take care to say farewell to friends, relatives and colleagues in a way that shows them that you are looking forward to the time when you again say hello.


Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.” – Joseph Addison