Article > Opinion

Thank You, Bob

By Jon S. Owens

Sometimes you don't realize just how important a person was to you until they're gone.

Back in 1985, as a young sales trainee for a large parts manufacturer, I had an opportunity to spend a week working with a WD in western Ohio as part of my training program. Like most things in life, I never fully appreciated this experience until much later in my career. During my week with Parts Distributors Inc., I spent two days making sales calls with a gentleman named Bob Kirkpatrick. When I heard that Bob passed away just the other day, I was again reminded how blessed I was for having met him.

It was a frigid, wet Tuesday morning in mid-November. I was about five months into my training program, and about eleven months out of college. Of course, I knew it all, and was not thrilled at the thought of driving around the windy western plains of Ohio with an older, out-of-touch sales guy I didn't know and with whom I had little in common. Ah youth, how utterly regrettable!

Bob, of course, was patient with me and more tolerant than he should have been. As he dutifully made his calls on jobbers around the region, I wondered about my future. Was I destined to become just another sales rep, lugging catalogs and price sheets around? I wanted big deals, important responsibilities, high-pressure victories and lots of glory. Bob wanted to catch the light at the upcoming intersection of two country roads going nowhere, in an effort to keep his appointment with the next jobber.

I was night, he was day. I was young and incredibly inexperienced. He was sharp, savvy and incredibly gifted. Our differences were as glaring as the headlights of the oncoming cars on the icy, wet pavement before us. But, as day turned into night and we continued our work, none of that mattered to Bob. In fact, while on the job, the only thing that mattered to Bob was his customers. This was something I noticed from our very first call that day. On each call, these people were genuinely glad to see Bob walk through the door. On each call, Bob was genuinely interested in their businesses. Always on time, always respectful of theirs, Bob trudged onward as if the next call were the single most important thing he would ever do in his life. Amazing.

What I learned during my brief time with Bob was that every single interaction with every single customer is extremely important, regardless of how routine or mundane it might be. In a very short time, Bob made a lifetime impression on me, just by being so damn good at what he did. I watched Bob make every single customer feel special. How did he do it? Easy - he cared. And, thus, I learned that caring means more than knowing, it means more than pricing, it means more than flashy, new products and it means more than the competition's latest attempts to steal business away. Caring, I learned, meant everything.

I'm not sure that's exactly what my employer had sent me out to learn that week. In fact, I knew it wasn't. But, thank God Bob Kirkpatrick didn't know that. All he knew was that a young kid was coming to ride with him while he made sales calls on jobbers. Oh, and he knew that he had to take care of his customers, and if the kid learned something while he rode along, then great.

May you rest in peace, Bob. The kid learned a lot from you. Thanks!

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