Old SOB Comes Out In San Francisco

OK, OK, I admit to a bit of sensationalism in the description of this post. While it is entirely accurate, it probably means something completely different than what you imagined. Let me explain by dissecting the title.

Old: I’ve worked in the technology industry for 20+ years, and I’m clearly not a digital native. Digital natives like my own children (the youngest of which turns 21 years old this year) think that I’m old. And besides, whether or not I really am old, I definitely wanted to use the words ‘Old SOB’ in the title.

SOB: I’m the Son of a Butcher. I’ll return to this later in this post, and throughout the blog. Enough said for now.

Comes Out: Before now you couldn’t find me on the internet. Unbelievable but true, and it was certainly not by accident. I’ll expand on this in a later post as well.

In San Francisco: I live in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I grew up outside a small town on the high plains of Western Kansas, population 1000. My Dad owned and operated the local butcher shop / slaughterhouse, which was a full service, vertically integrated organization. Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats walked in the back door, and then some days or weeks later they got carried out the front door destined for the dinner table. Everything that happened in between took place right there in the shop.

Let me take the opportunity right now to apologize to any vegetarians who might still be reading. I’ll try to keep the descriptions and images here tolerable for you. For those of you who had a steak for dinner last night and bacon and eggs for breakfast this morning, don’t you dare turn away now.

Here is an old photo, circa late 1960’s, of the main work area up front:

This is me on the left (errrr, no, make that on the right):

Just Another Day in the Office

This was primarily a family business, with contributions in various roles by 5 SOB’s, 2 DOB’s, my Mom and my Grandmother.

My Dad was the boss.

My Dad was the toughest boss I’ve ever had.

He also worked harder and longer than anyone else. What I learned in the butcher shop, I learned from my dad. And here I’m not talking about merely learning how to perform any one of the myriad dirty jobs that exist in the slaughterhouse, I’m talking about learning how to work hard, how to think, plan, prioritize, manage, innovate, persevere. You might be surprised to hear these lessons can be learned in that environment and in a way that is relevant to the technology industry. In a sense so was I. I can tell you that even I only realized it much, much later in my life. Thanks Dad.

Below is a list of every dirty job I can remember having, although I imagine I have since forgotten at least 1 or 2.

Jobs at the butcher shop:

  1. Cleaning the alley
  2. Cleaning the kill floor
  3. Salting hides
  4. Rendering lard
  5. Making sausage
  6. Nightly cleanup
  7. Unclogging the grease trap
  8. Loading trays for the freezer
  9. Moving things from the flash freezer to the deep freezer

Jobs outside the butcher shop:

  1. Mowing lawns
  2. Shoveling snow
  3. Milking cows
  4. Farmhand
  5. Industrial cattle ranch
  6. Convenience store cashier
  7. UPS truck loader
  8. Life insurance sales
  9. Biscuit factory
  10. Fruitcake baker
  11. Hotel night clerk/audit
  12. Amusement park ride operator
  13. Burger King

In future posts I will describe each in more detail, but more importantly I’ll describe what I learned (usually without knowing it), and how what I learned helped me in my career in high tech.

Here is a sampling of some of the topics I will expound upon in future posts:

  • The single most important thing you can do to be successful is to work hard. You should be willing to work as hard or harder than anybody on your team. You can’t ask for extra effort if you aren’t willing to give it yourself. My Dad wouldn’t give me any job to do that he wouldn’t or couldn’t do himself.
  • Yeah, you have to work smart too, but understand that there are a lot of smart people out there who are also working really hard. It requires both, and I can tell you from my own life that hard work can make up a lot of ground on all the people out there who are smarter than you are.
  • You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to deliver. When you are responsible for cleaning the entire shop at the end of the day, and you know there will be an inspector from the FDA there the next morning to check your work and nothing will get done that day if it doesn’t pass his quality inspection, you feel the pressure of a commitment. You have a responsibility to deliver, even if it means starting the job at 11pm because your baseball team played a game 3 towns away that night (and trust me, 3 towns is a long way away in Western Kansas).
  • Every role you will ever have comes with it’s own set of dirty jobs. If you aren’t willing to do these jobs yourself, you won’t have the respect of your team and your credibility as a manager suffers. You have to lead by example.
  • What seems like the worst job in the world to you might not seem so bad to somebody else (although I have yet to meet anyone who truly enjoys salting hides). You have to put the right people in the right positions in order to maximize the passion, motivation and productivity of the entire team.
  • My Dad never once told me how to do a job. This drove me crazy, but it also developed my creative thinking and problem solving skills. He would describe what he wanted done, and it was up to me to figure out the best way to get it done. Thinking outside the box was the only option, because I was never in the box to start with. This has carried over in my own leadership style, and I imagine it occasionally drives the people who work for me crazy as well.

I’ll also explain how maximizing the output of a milk cow not only relies on data analytics and metrics, but also the soft skills of empathy and observation. And wait, that’s not all…

Actually that is all for today, but much more to come in the future so stay tuned.

-Steve

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One Response to Old SOB Comes Out In San Francisco

  1. Pingback: To Spur Out of the Box Thinking, Don’t Create a Box | A Few Things I Learned in the Butcher Shop

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