Clem was a far cry from the stereotypical truck driver.
An out of work engineer, tall and lanky, with dark wavy hair and a preppy demeanor, Clem insisted on working in well-pressed chinos, a button-down shirt, and penny loafers and one more thing—this was his first job as a truck driver. Women are open to hiring quirky employees because our gut often decides for us. In this case my gut took a leap of faith.
“You look nice, Clem. Too nice for a dirty job like this,” I said. “This is who I am, Susan. I’ll be fine,” he said. And he was fine until . . . less than one week later a case of beef fell over, covering Clem in blood.
“Well, you were right about this being a dirty job,” he admitted when he called me later that day, “but I’m still me, and I’m not buying a new wardrobe. I think the company should buy me white smocks to protect my clothes. I’ll wash and press them myself.”
The goal in the food distribution business is to get in and out of the loading docks as quickly as possible. The less time you expend visiting more docks, the more money you make. Clem was a genius at this.
After driving the truck for only a month or two, he figured out that the most efficient way to get in and out of six casinos in an eight-hour shift was to work with the foremen in charge of the individual loading docks. By doing this, Clem was generally able to finish work in seven hours.
The loading dock operators took special care of Clem because he helped improve their productivity. And my company’s credibility increased because of it.
Clem was brilliant. Clem could also be incredibly difficult. He was definitely not a yes-man and was never shy about offering his opinion on every decision I made, whether it was welcome or not. Usually it wasn’t.
But Clem had a unique point of view that often gave me a valuable perspective of a situation, although at the time he offered it, it felt like his agenda was to rub my nose in the truth as he saw it.
Most businessmen wouldn’t stand for this kind of insubordination from employees. On the other hand, successful businesswomen often hire diverse individuals to create a unique mix of personalities among employees, which invigorates a business.
In most traditionally managed businesses, having an employee question the employer’s decisions is not tolerated.
Women and even some enlightened men are beginning to encourage employees to point out problems and offer suggestions—in effect, get them to take ownership in the business—which increases productivity and adds to the company’s bottom line.
Clem was a nonconformist who liked to play his guitar and compose music in the truck while he waited during pickups and deliveries. An honest, hardworking guy with a song in his heart, he not only got the job done, but through his innovations he helped establish my company’s credibility and contributed significantly to its success.
Clem eventually became my COO and remained with me for 15 years. He left New Jersey and my company when he heard California calling him. His parting gift to me was a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” that I read often and laughed out loud at his blunt commands and personal reprimands; at the same time, I felt the deep sadness that grabs you when something valuable is lost.
Women business owners have a different take on what makes a great employee. They focus on the individual’s strengths and welcome individualism so long as it benefits their organization.
The more “diamonds in the rough” you include in your company, the more likely you will build a solid business composed of people that make a difference.
“A Gem or a Dud Named Clem” is an excerpt from Susan T. Spencer’s book Briefcase Essentials. © Susan T. Spencer 2011, cover image used with permission.
More from Women Grow Business:
- Build forward, by Patricia Frame
- The partner predicament: deciding what’s best for your business, a guest post by Mary Abbajay and Karen Bedell
The author of the book Briefcase Essentials, Susan Spencer has previously served as the VP and General Manager of the Philadelphia Eagles as well as the owner of Allied Steaks for more than 20 years. Currently, Susan is a guest lecturer at UNLV, hosts a radio show, owns a meat trading company, and has started a lecture series for health-care professionals. To learn more about Susan and her book, visit http://www.briefcaseessentials.com/ or follow @SusanTSpencer.