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Archive for November 2009

The World According to Fred Germer

2003 Video of a surprise visit to Dad’s pharmacy drive-thru.

I began my shoplifting career at age 3 —  on the very day my father opened his drugstore in Flint, Mich. It was Germer’s Drug Store, and since I was Fawn Germer, I figured everything there was mine. Dad nabbed me for stealing a piece of Bazooka bubble gum, and I got a stern lecture that I was never to take things without paying for them. He gave me a penny and had me go to the front register to pay up. I was so embarrassed, but that was the end of my shoplifting career and the beginning of my appreciation of my father, the businessman.

This is not the story of a man starting out with one store and turning it into an empire. It is the story of a man who loved being a pharmacist so much that he refused to quit — no matter what.

I thought about what I have learned from his example as I waited for him to get off work so I could take him to dinner to celebrate his 82nd birthday yesterday.  Think of it: At age 82, he is still working as  a pharmacist. He wants to work. Without that job, I think he would grow old.

I think back to the much younger Fred Germer who owned the drugstore, and there were so many people who tried to rip him off. There was a student who dad saw stuffing a bunch of ice cream sandwiches into the back of his sweat pants. Dad went over to the guy and started a very long conversation. The guy squirmed as the ice cream began to melt, but Dad kept talking until he finally confronted the guy. There was the seemingly-devoted, 60-something employee who was regularly sneaking merchandise out of the store when  his shift ended. When he walked out with about 20 pairs of sunglasses, Dad fired him. He subsequently got a job as a security guard. One woman customer came in daily — for years — until Dad caught her stealing a whole bag full of groceries. Then there was a person who staged a slip and fall.

As the neighborhood changed, the criminal behavior escalated. Dad was held up at gunpoint multiple times. The armed robberies grew more frequent and I started to fear for his safety. I’d always ask, “Are you okay?” when he called. He’d assure me that he was just fine. One time I asked if he was all right and he just said, “Let me speak to your mother.” He’d been shot in the arm in a holdup. He insisted on going back to work the next day, I guess proving that he wasn’t hurt. But, I was. That was pretty traumatic for a kid.

My mom had enough of that and said it was time to sell the store. Without my dad to be there for his regulars, the store went bankrupt in two years. Germer’s Drug Store was successful for one reason: Fred Germer. Without him, that little independent drug store lost its oomph. Here was a man who would drive in the middle of the night to get emergency prescriptions for his customers. He’d even deliver them to their homes. He’d tell his employees, “The customer is always right,” and he meant it.

After selling the store, Dad worked in a beautiful mall chain store. One day, a friend called to ask Mom if Dad was all right. A day earlier, two guys came into the drugstore with sawed-off shotguns, demanding Dilaudid and money from Dad. He made eye contact with a customer who slipped out of the store and into the mall, where her police officer husband was waiting. He called for backup and there was a chase and shootout that made the front page of the newspaper. Dad grabbed the front page of the newspaper before we could see what happened.

What would make anyone endure that kind of danger? I guess it is the same thing that drives my dad to keep working now, so long after his contemporaries packed it in and retired. He truly loves his work. He loves the science of his industry. He loves serving others. He loves his co-workers. He loves being in the middle of things after so many years.

Last night, he met me in my mother’s room at the nursing home and carried a gift box under his arm. I knew he had something he was dying to show me, and in the box was a shirt that had been embroidered, “FRED” and “Favorite Pharmacist.” His co-workers at Vanguard, a pharmaceutical distribution center, threw a surprise party for him and presented him with the shirt and a card with about 80 signatures on it. I know those are his favorite gifts — ever. At 82, he hasn’t lost it.

I bet there have been at least a thousand people who have told me how lucky I am to be his daughter. I know that. My dad is not a perfect father, but he is the best one I know and I am glad he is mine.

So they are still calling us bitches? Eight Ways Women Leaders Can Win in the Perception Game.

She was 40, successful and had just been canned because her boss told her she had “an edge.”

“Why do I scare the hell out of people?” she asked me. “People either love me or hate me. I am told I need to tone it down, not to push so hard. I’ve been called a ‘bitch.’ What do I need to do?”

 I wondered:  “Why the hell are you asking me that?  That’s my problem.”

 That conversation happened eight years ago in front of seven senior executives who’d coaxed me into hopping into rental cars and heading for a Mexican border town after I’d done the keynote for their women’s leadership conference. They assumed that I had all the answers. Not that time.

 That woman had bared a raw truth that, after a few more drinks, every one of the other executives shared. They, too, felt like misfits. Outsiders. They had achieved so much success, power and authority, but they’d always gotten nailed when they exerted a little force. People sniped behind their backs, “Do you know what she’s done this time?” As managers, they were hired to shake things up, make things better, or improve the bottom line, but when they made changes, they were met with a resounding chorus of, “That bitch!”

That conversation led me to interview everyone from Hillary Clinton to Arianna Huffington to Susan Sarandon for my book, Mustang Sallies which I am not mentioning here as a transparent attempt to boost sales. I bring it up because it was published five years ago and women are still feeling the same pain.

 Things have gotten better because more women are in power and fewer men are surprised to see them there. In fact, there are legions of good men who are championing this generation of women executives so they will be more effective and successful. I don’t hear the word “bitch” as often as I used to. I see women going faster and farther. But, have we resolved the issues that kept that woman feeling watched and judged? No.

There are still things women leaders can and cannot do because we are still operating in a restricted zone of operation. We are not to say things with the same tone as men. If we’re too nice, we are seen as too weak. If we’re too strong, we’re controlling. If we’re too direct, we’ve got an edge. If we defend ourselves, we’re hysterical.

It goes on and on.  Two nights ago, I dined with senior executive women working for three of America’s largest corporations. We basically had the same exact conversation I’d had with those women who’d gone to Mexico with me. These successful women still feel they are maneuvering through that tiny zone of operation. One woman told me about receiving an e-mail that had accidentally been copied to her by a vender who called her “crazy” and complained that she was being overbearing trying to get them to deliver what they were contracted to deliver.

 That made me sad. I’d seen an e-mail like that written about me about a dozen years ago. And then there was the office Christmas party where a drunken employee in the buffet line blurted, “I hear you are a real bitch.”  I was crushed. I thought to myself, “I am not a bitch. I am a big marshmallow with real feelings that hurt. I’m just trying to do a good job. Don’t you get that?”

I didn’t understand that strong, bold women give off an energy that threatens insecure people. We have to watch every word so we aren’t misinterpreted.  So, if you’re wondering what to do to be more effective, try these steps:  

  1. If you are angry about something, try to wait a day to say or write anything. Cool down as much as you can.
  2. Always re-read every bit of your correspondence out loud, and do it in the shrillest, bitchiest tone of voice possible – because that may well be the way it is interpreted.
  3. Do not immediately defend yourself if you are told you have messed up. You have every right to make your point, but do it with a plan and don’t do it when you are emotional.
  4. Avoid crying. We are hormonal beings and it will happen. But, try to avoid it. When you feel it coming, go to the bathroom, go get a drink of water or do something else to stop or hide the tears.
  5. Understand that your job is not to win every battle, but rather, to survive to fight another day.
  6. Ask others what they think you are communicating and make sure it’s a match.
  7. If others are gossiping about you, do not be afraid to confront it and say, “I would much rather we talk directly and keep our communication open.”
  8. Build a strong, powerful support group around you to validate you when others are tearing you down.