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 125 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 Villanova & the respective Senior Directors 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 one (the Senior Director of CitiPhone).
As Service Director for the 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 myself 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 someone (I believe it might have been Ken himself) to see if I was willing to stand in for the absent CitiPhone 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 person.
As it turned out, all I had to do was shake the winner’s hand, hand them over to Ken to receive their award & then take a picture with the winner & Ken.
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 & therefore, totaled about half of the CitiStars winners.
It was decided that all the other areas would go first, leaving the 65 or so CitiPhone winners for last.
Each winning employee would be announced. 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 minimum, to the proceedings).
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 winner, 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 known across the other areas.
Everything ran quite smoothly.
And then when all the other areas were complete, 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 tonight to help with the awards.
Pls welcome Mike LoRusso!”
What happened next completely blew me of the water!
It seemed as if the entire room 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 was previously rehearsed.
Then these crazy nut bags started standing on their chairs! Those people who weren’t standing on their chairs started pounding…HARD…on their round tables.
All the dishes & the glasses & the utensils started bouncing on the tables, making this enormous racket!
And every single time that Ken tried to say something into the microphone to get them to calm down, it was like pouring gasoline on a roaring fire.
I looked behind me & all the other Senior Directions were 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 table. 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.
Finally, 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 smile from each recipient.
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 proud. These were some of the very best employees at the site, along with their guests & managers, and these people knew what the hell was going in.
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 get permission” and simply wrote anywhere from 8–12 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 20-something years of Citibanking & Customer Service to those people entrusted with handing, satisfying & exceeding our customers’ needs & expectations.
Not 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.
I did & hopefully, I still do.
Thank you for listening!