“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” —Peter Drucker
Who is the 'indispensable man" within your organization? Are you that key person? Can you become the leader who makes the difference in your business day in and day out for years?
This afternoon, I will attend the visitation for Bill ‘Chillie’ Childress, who was Bacon & Van Buskirk’s general manager, production manager and glazier for more than 50 years and three generations of family ownership. Chillie was a wild, ornery, outgoing, Arkansas-born kid who was raised in small-town Midwestern corn country, found discipline in the Marine Reserves and construction industry, and rose up through our ranks as shopman, glazier and into the office to become that Indispensable Man.
Known to enjoy his time off as much as he did his work, Chillie was a tall, gregarious, salty, larger-than-life S.O.B. who barely made it out of high school, and knew everyone in Central Illinois he ever met. Chillie loved the routine of rising early and jobbing out the glaziers, pushing the shopmen to get the trucks loaded towards the end of the day, and annoying and harassing the office staff. He loved being organized, telling hilarious stories, enjoying the attention to detail we must have in this business, and doing what he could to keep the general contractors happy.
Was Chillie perfect? No, and he’d be the first to say so. As a kid, he loved basketball but had to go to two different high schools to finish up. In his teen years, Chillie and his buddies would go out at night and get drunk. The next morning, my grandfather would have to go to his house to drag him into work. Chillie would sneak out his back window and beat my grandpa back to the shop, as if he had been there for awhile. In time, his humor, big personality, and the Marines helped bring out Chillie’s natural leadership qualities. When it was obvious he had a passion for the business, had found personal discipline, and had that unique trait that others looked up to, Chillie was given opportunities to learn the business…and he made the most of them.
Chillie’s consistent competitive drive, attention to detail, outgoing personality, desire to learn and day-to-day leadership made him that key person from the late 1960’s through the early 1990’s who helped take Bacon & Van Buskirk from a small paint and glass shop to a strong regional, commercial storefront, curtain-wall and window business.
If my grandfather and father had the vision and business acumen to buy the bus, and others sold the tickets, Chillie was the bus driver. He’d make the personal phone calls or meet after work in the bar to sell the work; he got the submittals together, ordered the material, got the glaziers together, ran the jobs and billed the jobs out with a single invoice. He did it all, got it done, and put a sense of urgency to it. They were HIS jobs, and you knew it. Get with the program, or get out of the way…NOW.
Effective leadership in business changes. Today, the contract glazing business seems like it’s more about risk, complicated construction techniques, effective teambuilding, division of responsibility, sophisticated decision-making, pay requests and pursuit of accounts receivable.
The urgent, personal "handshake is your bond" sales methods, dictatorial ‘Mad Men’ authority style of management, and singular do-it-all aspects of the business have given way to market analysis, constant price-shopping, CAD, BIM, endless transmittals and resubmittals, emails, and multiple responsibilities by team members.
Could Chillie adapt in today’s contract glazing world? Yes. He helped bring on computer estimating and finally understood the advantages of shop fabrication versus field fabrication. Chillie probably would have always had problems with email, though. The older folks in our business recognize the larger-than-life ‘Chillies’ who led the transition from the plate glass business of the 20th Century into the modern, technical 21st Century. Let’s appreciate those who paved the way for us in the industry today and let’s learn from them.
Leadership is a gift that few have naturally, or can develop. Decide now that you’ll become the leader, and make the difference for your organization. Chillie made the difference for Bacon & Van Buskirk, and did it for decades.
“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” — General George Patton
Rod Van Buskirk is the third-generation owner of Bacon & Van Buskirk Glass Co., with locations in Champaign and Springfield, Ill. A past NGA Chairman, Rod looks quarterly at the industry from the middle of nowhere, steals ideas from anyone he can and pretends to know what he’s talking about. Rod invites your comments as you are certainly smarter than he is.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.