Never Burn Bridges

Never Burn Bridges, and God Bless The NY Rangers

It’s Tuesday June 14th, 1994.

The New York Rangers are on the verge of winning their first Stanley Cup in 54 years while I’m closing out my Junior year of high school. My only real responsibilities that day were finishing my pizza deliveries before Game 7 starts and convincing my Italian boss that watching “Eyetz Hookey” is worth cutting out a couple hours early.

He agreed (I think).

The Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in front of a record-setting television audience (at least in Canada). But, I wasn’t one of those viewers, and not because I’m American. Instead, I was on an old school wall-mount, corded house phone unwittingly changing my life.

Rewind a month. I was nominated for a Summer Accounting internship interview at a local tech company. The man who interviewed me, and would become a great early mentor of mine, sat across the table wearing a cutoff-sleeve denim button-down with a Mickey Mouse tie and a tattoo of a flaming basketball on his arm. I’m pretty sure if ANY OTHER HUMAN BEING ON THE PLANET was conducting those interviews, one of the other, far more qualified kids would have landed that role. But the President of the company insisted on conducting the meetings himself that day. We talked sports for about 90 minutes and I left. No mention of Accounting.

So here I was, midway through the 2nd period of Game 7, still on the phone accepting my first corporate position and thinking “why does this guy have to be a basketball fan?”. Surely, he wouldn’t have called during Game 7 of the NBA finals. The call seemed to last longer than the interview and when it was finally over, I had completely forgotten about hockey… and pizza.

Fast-forward five years to 1999. The Rangers were back to being dreadful and I was a struggling ex-college student who just dropped out of his second school. This time I took the call on a kickass StarTAC flip phone and from the new President, previously Vice President (during my two-year stint), of that same company. He heard I was building websites in my spare time from mutual colleagues I stayed in touch with, insisted this “internet thing” could be big and asked me to be his Webmaster. How could I say no to a $22,000 a year salary?

When the company finally succumbed to the dot-com bust twenty-four months later and the entire office was laid off, I shook his hand, thanked him for the opportunity and left him with an IOU post-it-note good for hiring me back at $22,001 if there should ever be an opening for a college-dropout with an involuntary termination on his two year old professional record.

Meanwhile, that company’s (now former) Marketing director, who was a victim of that same implosion, quickly took a role at a small lighting manufacturer and hired me as her Web Designer. Three years later, she moved on and I was the Marketing Director. That was, until, the IOU guy called me (honestly don’t remember what phone I had) and offered me a Director of Internet Sales & Marketing role at his upstart spinoff. For the record, the salary was more than $22,001.

For eight years I worked my ass off, learning everything I could, becoming a well-rounded Digital Marketer. I made sure to listen to people smarter than me, particularly when it came to business and leadership. Perhaps most importantly, every personal contact I made was cherished and each professional relationship nurtured, regardless of how busy I thought I was or what may have been on TV. That effort armed me with a full page (single-spaced) of critical references that helped me overcome an obvious qualification deficiency and land a senior Marketing role at a much larger franchise company.

And during those four+ years, my contacts and relationships only compounded, still cherished and nurtured. I was also given the opportunity to mentor others, which I took just as seriously as my own personal and professional growth. And with this role, as with all others prior, I would leave on excellent terms and with handshakes instead of middle fingers, no matter how tempting the latter seemed to be at the time.

When it was time to move on from the franchise company, wouldn’t you know, I ended up the Chief Marketing Officer for that same small lighting manufacturer who now brought eight-figure revenue into a 30,000 square foot facility. Thirteen years later. And when I ultimately decided to start my own agency, they were my first client.

Every client since has been an established personal or professional contact. In fact, to-date we have not had to prospect for new business.

Unfortunately, as I get older and more cynical I find myself becoming more-detached from relationship building. The head-down, buried in technology movement hasn’t helped, either. But I do catch myself wondering if that LinkedIn message I just ignored could have been a needed opportunity down the road. Or if that eager recent college grad, who sent me his resume cold, could have reshaped my business someday, if I only made time to pick up the phone and call.

Maybe not during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The lesson I learned here, and maybe others can relate, is that;

it really isn’t what you know but who you know

and perhaps most importantly… how you treated them. Don’t take any relationship for granted, appreciate each interaction as an opportunity (even if it seems inconvenient at the time) and never, ever burn bridges.

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