Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Out of the Shadows, or The End Is the Beginning...And a Few Thank You's

Greetings, Beatdowners!

So I start my new job tomorrow - my second new job in an 87-day period. And to top this one off, I'm starting a new CAREER in a new INDUSTRY...and I gotta tell ya, I'm pretty friggin' excited about it.

I've been in and around the foodservice distribution industry for what seems to be my whole life. My dad worked for PYA/Monarch, which became JP Foodservice, which eventually grew into US Foodservice. He started there when my family moved back from Boston...I'm guessing back in 1976. I was 5. He was with the company until 1994. He left on Pearl Harbor Day. Funny how I'll never forget that.

Anyhow, his last position with the company was Branch President of the then-JP Foodservice branch on Telegraph Road in Severn, Maryland. He actually helped the construction company design that building that still stands there today. I had the privilege of working there while my dad was in charge...I started off working in Merchandising, and I eventually moved into a Sales Territory Manager position. But in all actuality, I was around that branch almost every summer prior to that doing something - working with A/R, working in Equipment & Supply dad always had something for me to do to earn some money.

I left my sales job in 1995 and went back to college to get my ever-elusive degree...which I finally did in May, 1998 (12 years ago tomorrow, 5/27). I worked for Towson University for a little bit - just over a year, when my oldest brother - who worked at now-US Foodservice corporate (he had been with the company since the early 90's when it was still JP Foodservice) - gave me a call to let me know they were hiring buyers. Seemed like something I'd be able to do - and the pay was better. I interviewed (with someone who knew me and my family) for a total of 15 minutes, and was offered the job on the spot. Two weeks later (August, 1999), I was a Product Line Manager in the National Purchasing Department for US Foodservice, Inc.

It was a challenging job. Demanding. Long hours. Pretty thankless work. But the company was growing. Pay was increasing, and bonus money was readily available. And I worked with a ton of people my age (including 2 of my fraternity brothers from Towson), which made the environment fun for awhile. Eventually, though, things started to go down hill FAST. The company became involved in a nearly $1 billion accounting scandal. Management was being let go at break-neck speed. Information wasn't flowing. Stress levels rising. Personal issues mounting. A perfect storm. I couldn't take it anymore, and resigned in April, 2004.

I did everything I could at that time to leave the foodservice distribution world. I had my fill. I looked for 2 months for a job. By that time, we were 2 months away from having our first baby...I needed to get a job. QUICKLY. And an offer came...from another foodservice distribution company, Performance Food Group/Carroll County. I started there in June, 2004.

I quickly fell back into the buying routine. I had learned from some of the best, and take a lot of pride in being recognized as one of the best at what I do. I busted my ass for over 5 years at PFG, and again, I worked with some AWESOME people. But I also worked with a ton of assholes. And I noticed THAT was a reoccurring theme in foodservice's full of jitbags, posers, and douchers. And most of them are on the sales side of things, be it at the division level or at the vendor/manufacturer level. I have to admit, I started to see what else may be available in the job market about a year-and-a-half prior to me leaving...I hated going to work anymore. The people I disliked FAR outweighed the people I liked - or could even tolerate. I had knives being jammed in my back from every direction, from some unlikely sources, too. I was beaten down...professionally and personally. I had to go. The proverbial shit hit the fan, and I left in September of 2009.

I've blogged about a lot of the times since then - being the stay-at-home dad, the stresses of being unemployed, the slanderous and defamatory stories some of the previously mentioned douchers spread as to why I left PFG...the unbelievably difficult job certainly didn't help my efforts to regrow any hair on my head, that's for certain!

Then things started to turn around on the professional side. I was offered a Sales Territory Manager role back at US Foodservice...where it all started. It had been a little over 5 months of me being out of work. Money was gone, savings depleted. I took the offer. Back where it all began. And wouldn't you know, within a week after I took the job, 2 companies I had interviewed with BOTH called to see if I was still interested.

And that leads me here. Not a bad place to be in. I had a job ("had" because my last day at USF was Wednesday, 5/19) and had 2 companies interested in hiring me. One of the companies is in foodservice distribution, but on the export side of things. The other, an electric supply company.

The export company came in with an offer first. The money was better than what I was making at USF, I would be the Director of Purchasing, and come in with high expectations because of my background, connections, and experience in foodservice procurement.

The electric supply company offered me a role as the Purchasing Supervisor. Money was WAY more than I made at USF, more than I made at PFG, and again, a management role. BUT, the industry was new. The learning curve significant. I'd be doing some on-the-job-training for the better part of 6 to 12 months. Intimidating, to say the least.

I accepted the role at the electric supply company.

And the reason is the purpose of this blog...

Besides the mundane and obvious...the money was too good to pass up, the commute is 20 minutes as opposed to the hour for the exporter, and the opportunity provided me with a chance to leave foodservice distribution and start over, there was something MUCH bigger.

Anyone that knows me or knew me while in foodservice would (hopefully) agree that I was DAMN good at that job, especially on the commodity side of things. I made deals work. I grew business. I was an expert in my category, and respected by vendors and customers.

But I always had a chip on my shoulder...always.

And I finally figured out why. Again, those that know me and my family know what my dad and brother have done in the foodservice distribution realm. Both are C. Gordon Stone. I was always "Gordon's son" or "Gordon's little brother". I would always hear, "I knew your dad", "Your dad was a great guy", "Your brother is such a great person to work with", "Your brother is the best".

I agree with each any every one of those statements. Unequivocally. But those statements, as true as they are, left me in the shadow of my dad and my brother. The left me with huge - nearly impossible - shoes to fill. And the way I'm put together, I never thought I could fill them or step out of the shadows. I was chasing a ghost with my dad. I was trying to make him proud in an industry that he was a leader in. I was trying to compare myself to my brother, who has 10+ years more experience than I do. I was setting the bar at an unreachable level.

And now I don't have to do that. I can crawl out from the shadows, stand on my OWN two feet, and make a name for MATTHEW STONE. This one is for ME. It's MY time. And I intend to make the most of it.

So as I leave an industry that is essentially all I've known, I have a few "Thank You's"...

First and foremost, THANK YOU to my dad for giving me the opportunity to become familiar with an industry he was such an integral part of for so long, for the opportunity to work with him, and for showing me (albeit me not taking your example totally to heart) how to keep a "dirty" industry from changing me. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss you.

THANK YOU to my brother Gordon, who always tolerated the BS associated with working with me, and for ALWAYS rising above the fray and doing the right thing. You are a Helluva good guy, Gordo, and I wish we lived closer.

THANK YOU to Diana Devlin, for being such a great person, professionally and personally. It sucks we haven't spoken for so long due to some of the BS going on STILL, but you are ALWAYS family to the Stone's. Your work ethic, dedication, and ambition will always be something I strive to emulate.

THANK YOU to Mike Mattingly...simply put, one of THE best people in foodservice distribution, and a leader in every sense of the word...someone I'd work for again if the opportunity was right.

THANK YOU to Brian Spears, for toughening me up, for teaching me how to buy commodities, and for pushing me harder than anyone ever has. You made me the buyer I am today.

To some of the PFG crew...Z, Shelbers, McDizzle, Shane, Kinger, Waldo, Patti, Tamster, Marie, Margaret, Mac, Patty, Dennis, The General, a handful of Area Managers (you know who you are, both past and present), Vasas, Robbie "My Brother" Darling, Chris Smith in saw me at my very best, you saw me at my very worst...THANK YOU for making the last 5 years WAY more tolerable and WAY more successful.

To some of the brokers and manufacturers...Ruggz, KB, Mr. Stone, Ron D, Vince M, Gruver, Steve Levine, Bill Glas, the guys at Sanderson and Durbin, Goldie and Mr. Curtin from Tyson, Clay from Smithfield, Lucas at National, Mike Pratt, the Schweid's, Anthony D'Urso (who NEVER stopped believing in Matt Stone), Chis Maz from DOT...THANK YOU for your friendship, your professionalism, your confidence, and your partnership. It is you that I will miss the most.

For everyone at USF who gave me another chance...Jimmy Sturgell, Bill Nashwinter, Kevin Rollins, Jeff Feldman, Peggy Curtin, Dave Mumert, etc...THANK YOU for betting on this old horse one more time.

For Michael I., and the whole crew at US-1...THANK YOU for the offer to come and work with you guys, and for stretching things to make the offer work for both sides...another time, another place, and we'd have been a Helluva team. I'm always available to offer any help to take US-1 to the next level.

And that's it. Will I ever go back to foodservice distribution? Never say never.

But right now, all I am focused on is this new chapter. This new beginning. This opportunity to stand as MATT STONE. This chance to carve MY OWN path...and I can assure EVERYONE, this is a task I am more than up for, and one that I will succeed at.

Hope everyone has a great Holiday Weekend coming up...

Weekly blogs to start next week...tune in then!

Until next time..."Don't fix it if it hasn't broken yet, Don't regret it if it hasn't happened yet, So let's go - a tiny spark to set it off and explode, Ignite the dark, Eliminate the unknown, But since your head's in the clouds, The best advice I found is don't look down".

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pay It Forward: A Contrast

Hello, Beatdowners! Sorry for the lag of activity on my page here, but a ton has been going on - of which, a blog will be posted in the coming weeks.

I digress...

"Pay It Forward" is a term that I hear a lot nowadays. On the news, on Facebook (I recall seeing a group page "Pay It Forward Day", or something like that), in Church...and it got me thinking, especially after this morning's Church service. The Gospel was the passage in which Jesus laid down the "Love one another, as I have loved you" commandment - The Golden Rule, so to speak. Don't worry, this isn't a religious blog...but the passage got me thinking about 2 stories in the news recently that are (A) a horrible reminder of what we have become as people, and (B) a sign of hope that there are still good people out there.

Story #1
The New York Post received footage from a Closed Circuit TV camera that showed how heartless we have become as a people.

On April 18th, 2010, a woman was walking on a street in the Jamaica area of Queens in New was earlier, 5:40am according to the CCTV time stamp. The woman was being followed by a man who had bad intentions...he came up behind her quickly, attempting to mug her. IT was then a "good Samaritan", Hugo Tale-Yax, entered the fray to help the woman and fend off the attacker. Hugo was 31, Guatemalan, and homeless. In New York City. Not the greatest of situations to be in, to say the least. But rather than being bitter, angry with the world for his current lot in life, he swooped in to save the day. While he did prevent the attacker from harming the woman, Hugo paid the ultimate price. He was stabbed several times in the chest. The CCTV feed showed the attacker flee in one direction, while the woman ran away in the other. Hugo tried to chase after the assailant, but the video shows him stagger and collapse to the ground.

Here is where the worst of us comes out. He laid on the sidewalk for almost 2 hours, face down, in a pool of his own blood, and no one did anything to help. The CCTV video shows at least 25 people pass this mortally wounded man on a sidewalk and do nothing. People walk by, look down, and keep walking as if nothing is wrong. Two men are seen coming out of a close by building, standing near the dying man, and do not call for help...instead, one of the men is seen taking a picture of him with his cell phone. Another person does finally stop...they lift Tale-Yax's head and shake him...they lift his arm up, apparently in an effort to see if he is alive. Then the person simply walks away.

Finally, at 7:23am, someone calls 9-1-1. By the time emergency crews arrive, Hugo Tale-Yax is dead.

Story #2
On April 28th, the Washington Capitals - the #1 seed in their conference playoffs - got bounced in Game 7 of their series with the #8 seeded Montreal Canadians. Ouch. This was supposed to be the Caps year to win the Stanley Cup! !@#$%!!! From what I heard from several friends who were at the game (at the Verizon Center in DC), the fans were CRUSHED. Dejected. Sick. And IMO, deservedly so.

Anyhow, two of those fans were Mary Ann Wangemann and her 14-year old daughter, Lorraine. After the 2-1 defeat, they sadly got into their car to head back to their home in Virginia. File under "Just When You Think It Can't Get Worse" - as they are crossing the Roosevelt Bridge, they hit a MASSIVE pothole and get a flat. Good times, for sure.

Mary Ann calls AAA, who says they don't know how long it's going to be before the can get there to help since they were experiencing a large volume of calls...figures. They two got out of their car and waited on the side of the road...I'm sure it had to be rather intimidating for them.

They see an SUV slow down and pull off the road ahead of them. Out steps Brooks Laich, the Capitals Left Wing, who had scored the only goal for Washington in their loss that night. He was decked out in his post-game suit, and obviously feeling incredibly low due to his team being ousted from the NHL Playoffs WAY sooner than anyone thought possible. Mary Ann and Lorraine - being huge Caps fans - recognized him immediately.

Laich asked if he could help them. Mary Ann explained that AAA had been called and was on their way, but asked if he wouldn't mind waiting with them until they got there. Laich had another idea - he asked if they had a spare...they he took off his suit coat, got down on his hands and knees, and changed the tire.

During the 40-minute ordeal of changing the tire, Laich and Mary Ann talked. Laich apologized for his team's loss. Mary Ann commented on how nice all of the Caps players seemed to be off the ice, to which Laich replied, "We're just people, too".

Mary Ann said she had no idea how she could possibly thank him...his response?

"I'm sure you will do something nice for someone in the future".

With that, he hugged the two fans, got back into his SUV, and went on his way. But what a message he left - PAY IT FORWARD.

Two contrasts - polar opposites. The very worst of people seen as a man lay dying in a pool of his own blood after saving a woman from a would-be mugger, and the very best of people being seen in a NHL hockey player who had just been dealt probably the biggest defeat in his career.

If someone who passed by Hugo had simply picked up their cell phone (NOT to take his picture, but to call 9-1-1), perhaps he'd still be alive, and able to receive his recognition as being a HERO. Perhaps he'd have a chance to be on the receiving end of someone paying it forward.

My Story

Now a personal tale of paying it dad passed away 5 years ago. Unbelievable it has been that long. I miss him every day. He was my hero. When my brothers and I were cleaning up our folks home before it being sold (our mom passed away 70 days before dad did), we were dividing up who was going to take what. My dad kept a single One Dollar bill in his wallet - he called it his "Get-Away" money. I wanted that dollar. Not sure why it meant so much to me, but I had to have it. It was crisp, and folded perfectly to fit into a small slot that most wallets have hidden in them somewhere. I had no intentions of ever parting with the dollar. It went into my wallet. One night I was down in Baltimore's Power Plant Live! area of bars (I think seeing my brother's 80's cover band - Voodoo Economics)...I was walking back to the garage above the now-defunct Baja Beach Club and I saw a homeless man - he didn't have a sign asking for anything...he had a ragged cup, a tattered blanket, one shoe, ratty clothes, and he smelled of urine, vomit, and God knows what else. Our eyes met and he shook his cup, which had a few coins in it. I knew I didn't have any cash on me - I never do - I always use my debit card. Then I remembered I had $1. It was cold out. I asked him what his name was. I don't recall - I think he said Joseph. I asked him to stand up for a second. He did...I could tell he was uneasy...probably a victim of some sort of beating for asking for change in the past. I told him I had $1. I told him the dollar belonged to my father, who had died a few months prior. I told him he could have it as long as he used it to get something hot to eat or a cup of coffee at the McDonald's around the corner. He stood in front of me slackjawed. He thanked me over and over...he reached his hand out for me to shake it. I declined, and gave him a hug instead. He laughed pretty hard, which made me feel good. He said, "God Bless You, sir!" and started heading around the corner to McD's. I pulled my car out of the garage and drove through the little court where the clubs and McD's are - and their was my homeless dude, sitting on the water fountain, drinking a cup of McD's coffee.

It upsets me from time-to-time that I don't have that dollar anymore. But I know it went to something good. Something better than a memory. The dollar paid it forward.

That's all I got today. Do something good for someone today, tomorrow, sometime this week.

Pay It Forward.

Until next time..."Be excellent to one another...and PARTY ON, DUDE!".