Why Do I Work Here

By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner

Recently, Carol and I took a trip to Michigan. While there, we took a guided tour described by the tour company as “Mackinac Island and Michigan Lakes”. Over the years, we have taken several different scenic tours and cruises while on vacations. While I did not feel that this particular tour was all that scenic, I did find it to be very interesting. And it provoked my thinking enough to write about it. As most of these tours go, it was very nice, comfortable and informative. But beyond that, why did I decide to tell you about it?

Well, I have five reasons: The Music House Museum, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, The Henry Ford and The Ford Rogue Factory. Each of these five reasons was also a stop along the tour.

The Music House Museum in Williamsburg displays rare antique musical instruments and music-making machines from the years between 1870 and 1930. Many of you have heard of, and perhaps visited, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. This magnificent old structure, with its reputed “largest porch in the world”, was built in 1887. Alden B. Dow, son of the founder of the Dow Chemical Company and a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, was an architect who designed a unique, and (to some) magnificent, 20,000 square-foot home and studio located in Midland. The Henry Ford is a fascinating display of planes, trains and automobiles that illustrates the innovations that took place in these various industries from about the 1800’s to the 1950’s. The Ford Rogue Factory in Dearborn manufactures the Ford F-150 truck using the most sophisticated of today’s manufacturing, robotic and electronic techniques. Each of these in its own way told a story of creativity, inventiveness and a dogged entrepreneurial spirit.

But the real reason behind why I decided to mention these attractions is not what I viewed while visiting them; nor was it what I learned during each tour about their history and the creative spirit that gave birth to them. What fascinated me more were the people I met in these places who wanted to tell me about them. Each individual was passionate about their organization’s history and the romance and intrigue contained therein. Whether they were volunteer docents in one of the museums, or regular employees in one of the other locations, the excitement in their eyes and enthusiasm in their voices was apparent as they relayed the history of each of these sites. It was a pleasure to see and hear. Some may say it was their job to be this way--that their job description required them to be so enthusiastic. But I challenge you to consider this. Could each of us lead a group of potentially uninterested tourists around our respective workplaces and paint an enthusiastic picture of its history? Could we inform them about the challenges the founders faced as they began the struggle of building their organization? Could we describe the value it has added to our community or society? Could we do it with passion, excitement and enthusiasm?

There is no question that each of the people I met guiding us through these places is being compensated for what they do--for painting a vivid picture of the history of their workplace and of those who built it. But each of them also works in that workplace. I am sure that they come in every day and face their daily routines just like we do when we show up at work. When they are not in front of a tour group they have to enter daily transactions, make sure the place looks clean and orderly and complete all of the other mundane tasks that go with a regular job. But when the time comes to stand in front of a group of complete strangers and entertain them, they do so with a level of enthusiasm that is pretty impressive. So, I am simply asking you to consider—could you do the same?

I would not expect each of you to be able to “perform” in a “tour guide” fashion in your respective jobs. But each business or organization in which we work has a history and a culture. I hope you understand it, can explain it and are proud of it. I hope you know something about the founders who believed it was a good idea on which to build success. I hope that each of you has a strong enough belief in the place that you work, and pride in the work that you do, that you could be an enthusiastic “tour guide” through the business.

If we don’t understand the history of our place of employment, if we can’t talk about what our organization or company does in a manner that would “entertain” a tour bus of strangers, then why do we bother showing up to the office or the plant or the distribution center every day? If we work 40-50 hours a week (and I am sure many of you do much more than that) and give that much of our time to our “jobs”, why shouldn’t we feel good enough about our work environment that we would want to share its history with others and explain how it contributes to the economy or society?

We don’t have to invent the assembly line as did Henry Ford. We don’t have to design a home as did Alden Dow. We don’t have to start a museum from our collection of antique musical instruments as did David Stiffler and Dean Junker. But we can understand the purpose that the founders of our company had in starting the business; we can be proud of our role in continuing it and we ought to be able to explain that to others in a manner that piques their interest. Otherwise, why are we involved?

As always, I am interested in any thoughts you have about what I write. Feel free to write me at ed@thinkstraighttalkstraight.com and let me know.

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