About 20 years ago I met a unique businessman. He was very tall and built like a linebacker. To compensate for his size, he spoke in a soft voice and always carried a smile. I had never seen such a sight, so I crossed the waiting area at our gate to introduce myself before our flight boarded. I’ll refer to him in this post as Mike.
I was working for a Fortune 50 company at the time and always on the lookout to learn from the best. It didn’t take a lot of observation skills to ascertain that Mike was a successful executive, wearing the latest Armani suit with highly polished wingtip shoes. His uniqueness was evident in how he responded to my approach.
He immediately sat up and leaned forward to give me his undivided attention. His word choice suggested that he could hold his own in the country or on a farm, while his dialect and presentation was clearly Park Ave. He was approachable, knowledgeable, and filled with wisdom—knowing exactly how to alter his conversation on the fly to match the other person’s.
His face reflected a fascination with my questions, which allowed me to continue asking questions that most businessmen would find exhausting. At one point he stopped our conversation and cut to the chase, asking me outright if I wanted to know the core reason for his business success. I said, “Yes.”
After pulling a small, black notebook from his pocket, he said that all of his business secrets were in the book. He then asked if I’d like to read through it while we waited. I took the book and sat down to read his handwritten notes. I was amazed at the business techniques that were captured on each page. I had found “black gold,” Texas tea, business oil, that is. The stuff that could catapult a man toward success.
He saw my hunger for the information as I absorbed page after page. He quietly borrowed my ticket and went up to the gate, while I continued to memorize the information. He returned after exchanging my economy ticket for the first class seat next to his so I could continue reading.
At 35,000 feet, I turned to Mike and asked him for clarification. One of the business statements didn’t read in a way that was easily understood from a business context. Proverbs 8:20 read: “A king who sits on the throne of justice, sifts all evil with his eyes.” He told me that understanding the translation sometimes required a deeper dive into the word choices selected by the translator who converted the info to English.
Mike said that a “king” represented him as a business owner reigning over his small business empire. He was to do it “justly,” always making sure he was fair to himself, his employees, and his clients. His greatest task during the transaction was to “sift” through all “evil,” or one-sided choices, by carefully observing his team and the clients, making sure to purge or get rid of anyone who was not conducting business on the up and up.
Mike then told me about a man who was trying to leverage an additional 3% margin out of the customer to make himself look good. He immediately remembered the proverb and fired the man. Five years later he heard how the man finagled business at his next job to the point where his boss got fired and he took over the position—not the kind of man anyone would want on their team. Two years later the business was scrutinized by the FBI, ending with the man being jailed 11 months later for embezzling.
I admired how Mike’s experience proved the black book’s notes to be effective and accurate. I wanted more, and Mike saw it in my eyes. As we disembarked, Mike handed the book back to me as a parting gift with the hope that I’d always mold my business according to its biblical principles. I thanked him for the first class seat and the chance to learn from one of the best. He suggested the best way to return the favor was to share my story about the black book with others. And so I have, again.
Great blog. Among some very important life lessons, it shows us that being willing to become a participant in someone’s life, even for a handful of valuable minutes, can expand our vision and add to our perspective on life. My son read your blog and was impressed to engage with a local leader we just ran into who also values integrity and hard work.
His notebook wasn’t offered to us, but his time and input at the coffee house was memorable and meaningful.
Let’s take the time to seek others and to give back to others, spontaneously!