Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

When a mentor passes

This is my first entry into this blog. I think it fitting that I dedicate it a mentor and friend who passed recently. I expect to cover a wide range of topics on which I have some pretty pointed views, but today's entry is all about paying respect to one of the forces that helped me shape my opinions and life views . . .

Maybe it can be said of many other things as well, but my first client in the ad business remains one of my favorite. Rich Guon, a McDonald's Owner/Operator in Rochester, NY was only a few years older than me, but seemed generations wiser. He took me under his wing when I first entered the ad business as an assistant account executive. He was my client, but also my mentor and advocate. Along with Dick Weaver, another McDonald's O/O, he got me promoted at the agency well before my bosses or I thought I was ready, and eventually recommended me to McDonald's corporate in Chicago where I handled national PR at their agency.

The odd part is I had no education, training or background in either the ad business or fast food when I met Rich. Without his and Dick Weaver's guidance I wouldn't have lasted a year in the job. They were great teachers.

Rich passed on Saturday while attending a Ronald McDonald's House ceremony at which he was being honored. At 62, he still had much to offer the world. He was extremely community minded, and demonstrated it through numerous activities he was responsible for intiating. He taught me that regardless of how much power or control you had in a situation, it was important not to appear to be wielding it. His approach was to be clear and decisive, but rarely imposing. Over the years, I've shared an expression with my colleagues, employees, clients, and fellow volunteers that he first said to me: "As important as we might think our work is, it ain't a cure for cancer." It was Rich's way of saying not to take oneself too seriously. His other frequent comment was "It ain't brain surgery." Like Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's, Rich believed in keeping things simple.

Throughout my career I've made choices in jobs, clients, and nonprofit roles not so much based on the work, compensation, company reputation, opportunity for advancement or mission as much as the person for whom I would be working. Rich was my favorite McDonald's person and working with him was a part of the job I relished most.

It was Rich who taught me an important insight about myself. I like to start things -- big things, and see them gain traction. But I don't enjoy maintaining things. That's why Rich urged me to set my sights high, take on audacious tasks, and always have a clear exit strategy. Leaving a role and organization in far better condition than you found it was something he taught me was of primary importance. Kind of how he left the world.