One of the very proudest moments of my life (and, surely, of my almost 30-year career with Citi) was at the annual USCC CitiStars Awards banquet that we held at the beautiful La Cantera Resort in San Antonio.
There were approximately 150 employees selected as annual award winners from a local workforce of 4,000+.
Everyone gathered in one of the main ballrooms, awaiting the ceremony, the awarding of the plaques & checks, and the photo opportunity with the USCC CEO Ken Villano & the respective Senior Director of that particular winner’s area.
Each winner was allowed to bring a guest to the prestigious event where they were being recognized.
In addition, each winner’s manager was also invited.
Most members of the USCC Senior Leadership Team were present…except CitiPhone’s.
As Service Director for the entire site, I managed to wrangle an invitation for myself.
Although I had no direct reports at this point in time (and as such, no possibilities of someone winning an award), I always felt it incumbent upon me to show my support for all the employees.
After all, I was really representing them in all my day-to-day responsibilities.
Before the proceedings actually started, I was approached by Ken Villano to see if I was willing to stand in for the absent CitiPhone Senior Director.
I was a little hesitant as I hadn’t been a leader in CitiPhone for a few years now & I wasn’t familiar with what I was expected to do tonight. I thought I’d feel silly talking about a winning employee if I wasn’t personally familiar with that employee.
But as it turned out, all I had to do was shake the winner’s hand & then take a picture with the employee & Ken after the plaque & check were awarded
OK, that seemed simple enough.
“Sure, I’d be honored, Ken. Thanks a lot!”
The night progressed.
CitiPhone represented ~1/2 of the total USCC workforce & therefore, totaled about half of the CitiStars winners.
It was decided that all the other areas would go first, leaving the 75 or so CitiPhone winners for last.
Each winning employee was announced, one at a time.
The employee would approach the “stage” (OK, not a real stage, but the area designated for the award presentation), shake hands with his/her Senior Director, shake hands with Ken, receive their award, then all three would pose for a quick picture.
Pretty routine. No speeches. No description or reading of the employee’s nomination form (as it would probably add a few hours, at a minimum, to the proceedings).
Note: I believed not saying a few words about why the person was nominated & selected as an annual CitiStars winner made everything a little plastic nonetheless.
All I had to worry about was shaking the winner’s hand & smiling for the picture.
I can handle that! No problem.
Ken would introduce the Senior Director of the XYZ area, then begin calling up that area’s winners, one by one.
There would be some applause for the different winners, depending upon the size of the area represented, how many supporters (other winners, guests, managers) were there & how well known the employee was across the entire audience.
Everything ran quite smoothly.
And then when all the other areas were completed, it was time for CitiPhone’s winners to receive their awards.
I left my seat & walked up to the front as I would the subbing for the CitiPhone Senior Director.
No big deal.
Ken made a brief announcement before he started off.
“Tonight, we have a special guest who’s standing in for CitiPhone to help with the awards.
Pls welcome Mike LoRusso!”
What happened next completely blew me out of the water!!!
It seemed as if a strange, magical cloud fell over the audience (yes, we were inside!) as they immediately got out of their chairs & started applauding for me.
I hadn’t done a damned thing! I wasn’t there to win any sort of award. None of these people even reported to me.
Then the people started cheering “Mikey! Mikey! Mikey!” as if all this had been rehearsed.
(You have my word 🤚 it wasn’t.)
Then these crazy nuts started standing on their chairs! Those people who weren’t standing on their chairs started pounding…VERY HARD…on their round, wooden banquet tables.
All the dishes & the glasses & the utensils started bouncing all over, making this enormous racket!
And every single time that Ken tried to say something to get them to calm down, it was like pouring gasoline on a roaring fire.
I glanced behind me & all the other Senior Directors looked on in total amazement.
(Or was it denial? The Nile?)
This easily went on for a few minutes, reaching a fever pitch every single time Ken opened his mouth!
People standing & pounding on the tables. People yelling while standing on their chairs. All the Senior Directors trying to calm the crowd.
Finally, I grabbed the mic from Ken & begged them to please calm down so we can recognize the wonderful people in CitiPhone.
“C’mon, stop…I didn’t do anything!”
After a few impassioned pleas, they relented & returned to their seats.
I thanked them & handed the mic back to Ken.
“Wow, that was something!” he spit out.
The night continued as we called up each CitiPhone winner to receive their award.
I got the biggest & warmest smiles (and a number of hugs) from the CitiPhone award winners.
We took our pictures & I was just worried that my chest was protruding way too far & possibly blocking out the recipient.
My God, I was so very proud! But, honestly, embarrassed as well as I didn’t want to detract from the evening’s true winners & stars.
These were some of the very best employees at the site, along with their guests & managers, and these people knew exactly what the hell was going on every day at work.
I’m sure many/most of them had read the different issues of “Stuff” that I wrote & distributed across the site (on my own).
I followed the ol’ adage of “It’s easier to receive forgiveness than ask for permission” and simply wrote anywhere from 8 to 12 single-spaced, typed pages…and distributed it to as many people as possible.
It was kinda like this blog thingie, only _______er (fill in the blank).
I tried my best to convey what I learned in my 25+ years of Citibanking & Customer Service to those people entrusted with handling, satisfying & exceeding our customers’ needs & expectations.
No matter how long you’ve been around or how much you (think you) know, I guarantee you that you can learn something new every single day.
Although I didn’t get any official award that night, I came away with the best recognition one could ever receive.
I’ve always considered myself so blessed & privileged to work alongside some of the very best PEOPLE ever. To gain their respect was my true reward.
Once again, thank you so very much for listening!