Are you data driven? I just read that question on an industry magazine cover this year, and it made me refocus on one of my first-learned family business practices: homegrown data mining. A lesson learned from a loving grandfather keeping busy with business until the last days of his life.
Grandpa Armando was a farmer in Cuba, a Cuban tobacco farmer in the world renowned premium cigar valley of Pinar Del Rio. Grandpa diversified that business into many others including hotels, crop dusting and vehicle dealerships; but, Fidel Castro showed up one day and took each and everyone of those companies for himself.
Grandpa emigrated to the U.S. and then on to Puerto Rico, where he lived the last third of his life with me. Managing a diminutive book distribution business that he quasi-ran from the back of the parts department at one of his son’s new vehicle dealers in exile. I spent a lot of summer hours in that room counting and packing books with my Abuelo.
Somehow, I forgot all about the details from those days working with Grandpa. It was boring work; but, he always kept you intrigued with how his brain ticked. He counted and measured his surroundings regularly. A quiet, analytical farmer’s mind always at work crunching data queried in his brain.
Occasionally, throwing a question your way to get your mind in his game.
He walked into the movies, and before he sat down, he had counted the empty seats, figured out the house take on tickets sold and maybe even estimated the percentage of popcorn sales penetration by the time the lights were dimmed. His counting happened everywhere, at home, out shopping and especially at work. I recall standing by his side seeing him calculating stuff in his head with the help of couple digits in the left hand. There’s something inevitable hanging out with grandparents: they can leave a deep imprint. My Grandpa did on me.
Decades later, I often drift into these calculations myself … calculating sales by the minute at slow bars in town while hanging out with my buddies. Or, trying to figure out the band’s take at concert venue by estimating the crowd, multiply it by the absurd tickets price we pay to see a band today and add an average target of beer guzzling per patron, to come up with a gross take for the millionaires cranking out tunes for us nowadays. Yes, that’s me number-crunching like you, Grandpa.
Grandpa missed every technology. Never saw a cell phone, let alone a smart one. No computers, no Excel, no data mining, no pivot tables. His tool of the trade was a blue Burroughs pull-handle adding machine with two-tone blue-red ink to mark positives and negatives on those endless paper tapes. That machine was the bomb; unexplicably there was something about racking that handle like a maniac that made 8-year-old me so happy to be “working.”
Just last week a very dear cousin of mine came to visit after a 21-year absence, too much. We spent a day at our favorite secret beach in Puerto Rico; some places on this earth inspire the spirit, and this is one of them, especially for my family. That day: the beach, the wine, the time lost overwhelmed poor cousin Max with memories of his youth in Puerto Rico. He too spent a lot of time with Grandpa and boy did his stories jumped start my memory banks. Soon we began trading Grandpa stories, and it was a joyous moment; a gift of love for both of us.
So all this week Grandpa has been back to work with me. Helping me figure out sales by delivery route, average daily sales and EOM forecasting, margin by-line by pricing model. Not so homegrown data-crunching in the new millennium, but the basic premise is the same now as it was for Grandpa: data drives. Thank you for teaching me such a lesson Grandpa, all those years ago when you made me estimate how many books will fit in each shipping box before we packed them. Gracias, Abuelo.