It was around 1998 or so & I had just become a USCC CitiPhone Director (after stints running Retirement Plan Services Operations, CitiPhone Control Desk, Micrographics & the Special Projects team).
Two weeks into my new job (I mean, I had already run CitiPhone back in NY for 5 years & was originally supposed to come down to San Antonio in early ‘93 to be a CitiPhone Director, so CitiPhone was really nothing new to me & probably, my first love), one of my Team Leaders, James Noble, comes to me & hands me a resignation letter.
“Was it something I said???” was my immediate reaction. “My breath?”
James was an extremely bright, knowledgeable & dedicated manager, but apparently, he was pretty well burned out. It was clear that he’d been thinking about this for awhile.
I closed my office door & we talked.
James expressed a desire to leave Citi & the corporate world behind & join a small company (consisting of 2 brothers) that handled tree maintenance here in San Antonio.
There was no way in Hell that I wanted to lose James from my organization but even more so, from Citi.
Before coming over to CitiPhone, I knew only a little about James. But it didn’t take me long to recognize his talent & his drive.
“Are you sure that you’re comfortable with making this move? I mean, there are a number of advantages of having a steady job in a company like Citi…security, advancement opportunities, benefits. Did I mention security?”
Apparently, he had already worked out everything…intellectually as well as practically. This new job would get him working outside & away from the “corporate environment” (of which he appeared to be suffering). He had studied up on his trees & all the bugs that he would encounter. (Yes, seriously!)
He’d done his homework. He also cited the opportunity to make more money & that would be dependent upon his desire to work hard, take on more jobs.
I had to scramble…and fast!
“What happens if you fall out of a tree & get laid up with a broken leg…or worse? There are definite risks with this job.”
He had some sort of response for me. I probably wasn’t paying too much attention as I was trying to come up with another obstacle to his leaving.
“OK, so it’s just you & these 2 brothers. Life is good now.
“But what happens in a couple of months when the giant Acme Tree Service conglomerate out of Houston decides to expand into San Antonio. They’ll undercut your prices & steal all your customers!”
That one had him baffled for a minute…he staggered against the ropes from that mighty blow & his legs looked a little rubbery to me.
The crowd cheered! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
He seemed to understand all the risks associated with this major change.
I switched the conversation to why he wanted to leave. I felt that he was finding his current position way too frustrating, too confining, much too dependent on others’ performances for his own success.
I even offered him the opportunity to come work for me directly, but without the need for him to manage a team of reps. That one was a bit of a stretch as no such position existed, nor did I have the appropriate funding or headcount relief to (easily) pull it off.
He said how appreciative he was of my concern for him & what I was willing to (try to) do for him, but his mind was already made up.
I asked him for a favor.
Would he please consider taking a leave of absence (up to a year) instead of formally handing in his resignation?
If he resigned & God forbid, something happened to the tree business, coming back would normally be frowned upon. I knew for a fact that our USCC CEO Mark Devine would never approve his return.
About a year or so earlier, one of our CitiGold Directors, John Pisan, had transferred to our Citibank-Nevada marketplace. I knew John & was aware that he requested to come back after a year in Las Vegas.
Mark denied the transfer request. I know he felt that leaving the USCC in the first place was a display of disloyalty so he wouldn’t let John return.
I explained all the benefits of a leave of absence over a formal, hard resignation to James.
(Note: Between just you & me, taking another job is NOT a valid reason for granting an employee a leave of absence. In theory, I shouldn’t have even offered it to James nor would HR or senior management ever approve it if they knew the real reason for it.
So, of course, I’m sure you know what I eventually did.
(Look, with all the stuff I’ve done in my life, this li’l white lie wouldn’t be the determining factor on why I’m going to the Really Hot Place 🔥🔥🔥 when I eventually croak.)
The whole leave of absence thingie seemed to intrigue James & I believe he appreciated my offer of this safety net.
He went along with it. I walked the request to Human Resources myself & then, to the appropriate senior leaders for their approval & authorization. Let’s not worry about what I told them, OK? That’s just between me & you.
I told James that I knew very well that the Team Leader position itself was the major reason for his wanting to leave. I gave him my word that if & when he decided to return (within a year, the maximum time period for a leave of absence), he would come work directly for me as an “individual contributor”.
No people to manage. No customers with whom to deal. He would be solely responsible for his own performance.
Plus, he’d be given opportunities to do stuff he’d never handled before & would be representing me, CitiPhone & the USCC on a number of important initiatives.
He knows that I took no shit & would demand things from him that no one else would dare ask of their people.
But, if he performed like I knew he could, I would take care of him & he would learn an incredible amount of stuff.
Not just Citi stuff, but how to get things done. How never to be satisfied with anything but the very best. How to get results. (I read about all this stuff in a book once.)
So off he went to do his trees thingie.
Didn’t hear a word from James for months & months. To be honest, I didn’t think much about it/him, but I felt comfortable that I had done the right thing. Besides, no skin off my back.
Then, my phone rang one day…about 11+ months from when James left.
“Citibank.” (I never used the formal greeting.)
“You coming back, James? I’ve kept a seat warm for you!”
He returned a few days later…and looked like a new man. Refreshed, reinvigorated, excited. And tanned.
That’s all I needed to see.
We formed a GREAT team! He was an incredible help to me & I kept my word (duh!) to him.
Part of my “taking care of him” involved my helping & supporting him in seeking advancement opportunities.
That is, once he completed his full sentence with me & became eligible for parole.
He eventually applied for the position as Manager of SOK/System of Knowledge (later, “Source”), our on-line knowledgeware database that housed all the processes & procedures for CitiPhone. The function resides in our National Training organization.
I believed that James was the perfect person for this job. In addition to handling all CitiPhone procedural documentation, SOK’s role would eventually be greatly expanded to handle Direct Bank (our remote Sales unit), CitiGold (affluent customer servicing), every back-office function in the USCC & even our entire retail branch network across the country!
I spoke directly with the hiring manager in Training as well as the Senior Director to twist peop, er, put in a good word for James. In reality, he really didn’t need any help & he got the job.
As much as I hated to see him go, I knew it was the right thing for him, for the USCC & for Citi. It was time for him to have a greater impact on how stuff got done around here & I knew he would take on this new responsibility with a hunger previously unseen in most areas of the bank.
I was always so proud of James.
In fact, several years later, as the bank was developing a totally-new account opening & servicing system for all branches (“Concierge”), I was asked to help James author the business requirement for the Servicing aspect of the new system (probably 85%-90% of its functionality).
He had taken on this responsibility all by himself (while the other areas of Concierge development had teams assigned to them). He was killing himself in trying to handle everything (project meetings, administrative stuff, technical writing, research, etc.) without any help.
I relished the opportunity to work with him on this part-time assignment (as I was juggling my normal responsibilities as Service Director) & continued to be amazed by him.
James will always remain one of my proudest “successes” in my entire career.
As always, thank you so much for listening!
BTW, at last word, he was working for Bank of America in downtown SA, as a VP Project Manager in their Military Banking business. BofA had secured a 6-yr agreement a few years ago so we was getting things ready for a new round of negotiations in 2021 (I believe).
i had dinner with him & about a dozen other Citi friends at Johnny Carino’s in August 2019. He looked great, didn’t seem to have aged at all in the past 13 years, but I forgot what he had for dinner.
Addendum: Just learned a few weeks ago that James joined USAA as a Process Owner! I was incredibly happy for him in that USAA is a top-notch organization, very stable, headquartered right here in the Alamo City & they pay very well.
I sent him a congratulatory text.
He admitted that this move was long overdue. I wholeheartedly agreed.
After all these years, I see he’s still as sharp as he’s ever been! God bless him!
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