This is part three of four regarding military men and the lessons I learned.
“Excuses are for people that need them”, said my former CEO, Art Lucas, to a former colleague of mine. She had explained that she was running behind because of the nightmares of Atlanta traffic. Art Lucas was former Army and took zero excuses from anyone. You have a target and whether the target was a time, a number, or a place, the objective was to meet it. Excuses were just distractions or obstacles to overcome while meeting your target. Obstacles in any pursuit, are to be anticipated.
Much like Meridian Group, Art Lucas started as a small one-man business in 1970. Art had the important vision of helping military personnel transition to the civilian workforce after completing their military service. Lucky for me, later Art expanded his business to included executive search as well as expanded his footprint to include 17 offices worldwide. I started working there in early 2005.
Art was an early riser and he was one of the first at the office which was one of the few things we had in common, albeit my objective was to beat traffic into the office. He, like many successful CEO’s, knew the importance of starting your day early. Because our days started at a similar time, and my cubical was on the same floor as his office, we often met in the lobby or taking the stairs up to the office. Sometimes I’d take the elevator, but most of the time I take the steps to get the blood going after spending 25 minutes in the car. It’s amazing what you can learn from someone just by taking the stairs or rising early. Those were probably the only two things Art and I had in common at the time.
A good CEO looks to find common ground amongst their ranks. He would occasionally stop by my desk to ask me what I thought as an associate regarding whatever policy du jour change. So as a junior associate, I was able to know the CEO at a different level than most. If our paths didn’t cross in the stairway, in the lobby, or at my desk, I would poke my head into his office once a week to say hello. If I caught him early enough, he was usually gazing over a map of the low country, near Savannah. Outside of his family, it was clear that Art was passionate about four things to me, the military, his employees, breaking the socioeconomic divide in Atlanta, and acquiring land in coastal Georgia. Art wisely started a company that could aid him in all four of these passions.
Art taught me what it meant to be a charitable company. Without a doubt, Art had revenue targets and high expectations of his employees, but he also wanted to provide an avenue to give back. This was my first introduction to corporate charitable causes in a time when this wasn’t popular to infuse into a corporate culture. He would promote paid internships for high performing, low-income teens in summer internships with our company and with our clients. I was able to act as a mentor to a teen over the summer months and it aided in my development as a whole person.
To me at the time, Art was an insanely smart man with an MBA from Thunderbird to match. But reflecting on it, he may have just been of average intelligence but of extraordinary discipline. His discipline carried him from a one-person shop to 17 offices internationally and an eventual buy-out from a PE firm. He relocated to coastal Georgia in 2010 to pursue his passion for acquiring real estate.
I ended up leaving the firm after he sold. At the time I felt like the magic was gone, but now I think to realize it was less about the magic and more about the identity. When you know who you are working for and what they are passionate about, it gives you a sense of ownership in the company.
I visited Art several years ago and I asked him if he missed the recruiting business. Without pause, he said, “I miss knowing that the work I did on a daily basis provided for so many employees and their families; that my work, directly and indirectly, helped so many people make a good life.”
Art left behind a legacy of talented, disciplined recruiting professionals. I was fortunate that his military style and discipline resonated with me and even luckier our paths crossed frequently so that I could see the embodiment of executive corporate leadership at a young stage in my career. It has shaped every aspect of my professional life. Art was also right because excuses are for people that need them.