Class is a tricky thing to define. Most of us see classy people as confident yet modest, always aware of others' sensibilities and possessing good character. You see class in the winning athlete who goes out of his or her way to be gracious to those who have been defeated in a race or game. We also see it in the executive who has just done something out of the ordinary like making sure he gives his first-class seat on a flight to one of his colleagues or showing up unexpectedly at an important event in an employee's personal life.
There are all sorts of ways people show class by acts of kindness, courage and decency.
So it was that I thought of the word class when I received a copy of a letter recently from one of my favorite people telling recipients that he was naming someone to replace him as chief executive officer of his company, while he stays on as chairman of the board. The writer of this missive is Gil Minor III, whom I have come to treasure as a good friend over the years. (For more on his move, see News Makers, p. 54.) He's a man of character and a man who keeps his word and believes deeply in his company, his industry, his community and his country.
Gil's letter to "teammates and friends of Owens & Minor," the healthcare supply company that he has led for more than two decades, showed his humanity. He's the genuine article. When you meet him there's no fluff and no phoniness. You know you are talking to a man of substance and class.
His letter is direct. That's the way he is. He tells it like it is, and that's something that engenders trust. But I think the thing I found most interesting about Gil's letter was the fact he and his board had put into place a succession plan and then made it happen. Like Gil, some executives plan ahead for a smooth transition and stick around while the new chief executive officer gets a feel for the job. Others simply wait until the last minute to decide who will succeed them and then bolt for the exit with their severance check. They are afraid of designating a successor for fear it will make them appear to be a lame duck. Companies can suffer from such reluctance to trust the next generation.
At Owens & Minor, Gil and colleagues found Craig Smith and recruited him as the new CEO. Craig brings to the table all the ingredients of high energy, solid ethics and a determination to do an outstanding job.
In his letter Gil also talks about what he is going to do in his retirement. I thought I would share some of his thoughts with you since he and I are both dog lovers. He starts out by making it clear he will still be very involved with the company working with the board setting the company's strategic direction. He makes it clear he will do everything he possibly can to help his successor and he also makes sure everyone knows he will be visiting with colleagues all over the country from time to time. Then he gets down to some personal things he would like to do. I quote from his letter:
"I have a number of interests such as my alma mater (Virginia Military Institute), where I am vice president of the board. I want to spend more time with my wife and family and three grandchildren and my dog, Brownie. I would once again like to coach a Little League baseball team, and perhaps do some writing and even teaching at the high school or college level on ethics, integrity and culture in the workplace. After 42 years on the job and 21 of those as CEO, this change may not be easy for me. I know this is the best and right thing to do and by choice I am committed to the timing of this change."
A few years ago I lost my beloved Malamute, Merck, and the first person on the phone to share my grief was Gil Minor. I've never forgotten that kindness and ever since that time he and I have always shared our experiences with our pets. When I see Gil and his lovely wife on social occasions I am always struck by his caring demeanor. Maybe I am reaching a little bit with this observation, but I'm not sure there are many Gil Minors around anymore. You almost get a sense he is from a different era and you just wish more people in this business had the same integrity and genuine honesty that a fellow like Gil practices every day.
If someone asked me today to describe someone who epitomized class, I would name Gil Minor III almost immediately. I wish Gil and his family my very best and I thank Gil for being such a wonderful friend and person.
He's a class act,