When I first began my career with Citibank after graduating from Pace University, things started out a bit unusually.
First off, my interview was rather strange & honestly, really pretty quick.
I walked into Bill Pastore’s office (Bill was the VP in charge of Credit Operations in the Brooklyn/Staten Island Region) at 2170 McDonald Ave…under the “el”…with copies of my resume in hand.
(“Under the “el” meant under the elevated train tracks. I believe it was the D train that ran above McDonald Ave, as opposed to the B train on New Utrecht Ave.
Speaking of New Utrecht Ave, my Aunt Margie & my cousins ran the original Pastosa’s (Italian specialties store) on 75 St & New Utrecht for several years.
Anyway, the interview with Bill went something like this…
“What the f*** are you doin’ in my office?!?”
“I’m here for my scheduled interview.”
“Get the hell outta here & don’t be late on Monday morning! Say hello to your Pop!”
Oh, I forgot to tell ya…
My Dad actually trained Bill when he first joined Citibank (actually, First National City Bank) many years earlier at the branch on Flatbush & Church Aves.
I remember Bill having meatless Friday dinners at my home (eggplant parmigiana, linguine with clam sauce, English Muffin pizzas, peppers/potatoes & eggs omelettes, etc.) a few times.
(Note: Years later, Bill eventually became head of National Operations, succeeding Joe Redington III.
But Citi began this practice in the ’90s of shuffling high-level executives around the globe & Bill was “asked” to relocate to Europe (I believe, London).
Most people would jump at such an amazing opportunity, but Bill was different. He turned down the request & resigned from Citi shortly thereafter.
He had two young daughters at the time, one in high school & the other entering it, and he did not want to uproot his family (his wife, Marie, as well).
I’ve always had the utmost respect for Bill from day 1, but this decision simply put him over the top in my mind. It’s called “priorities”.
And honestly, it was the best thing he ever did for his career!!!
He soon became President of Cigna Health Care in Connecticut…and brought a boatload of Citi veterans who had previously worked for/with him to his new company.
A few years later, he became Chairman & CEO of Monster.com, the incredibly-successful global employment website.
Wound up making way more money at these two companies than he did, and could’ve, in 25 Citi careers!
I began working directly for Arnie Waldman, VP who headed up the B/SI back-office operations. He was a great guy & super intelligent.
I started out as a Management Trainee, with the position of financial analyst for ALL of Arnie’s world (Customer Service, Investigations, Branch Operations, Statement Rendition, Check Processing, Credit Operations, etc.).
It was a great place to get indoctrinated as I got a wonderful view of the entire organization, worked closely with each & every manager & was able to quickly learn the ropes.
One important thing for recent graduates to remember is that you MUST learn the way YOUR company does things. You’ll often find that it differs somewhat from what you learned in the classroom.
(I’ve always told every new hire that the REAL training…your real education…begins AFTER you step out of the training classroom. You may “learn” a lot of stuff & gain knowledge in the classroom, but it’s not until you actually venture out into the real world that you really learn how to put that knowledge to use.
Not much different that reading the driving book & passing the written test, but then ya gotta get behind the wheel yourself!)
So, here I am as the new financial analyst for the entire back office, trying my best to come up to speed with learning about all the different areas as well as master Citi’s way of doing their financials.
I soon find out that we’re (Arnie & I) scheduled to meet with the B/SI Regional Manager, Dick Perry (Arnie’s boss), first thing Monday morning at the Regional HQ atop the Flatbush/Church branch. We were going to review our proposed budget for Operations for 1979.
In painstakingly detail, I later learned.
I had been at Citi for maybe a couple of weeks, but I already heard a great deal about Commandant Dick Perry.
And it didn’t sound like a “great” (as in “wonderful”) deal, either!
He was a no-nonsense leader…to the nth degree. He had this stare that could easily burn a hole right through your head.
He had very little patience for any fooling around & not a lot of tolerance for those with differing opinions (on topics for which he was well versed).
Intimidating…yeah, that’s the word!
(Back in those days, hardened veterans like Dick Perry took no prisoners. It was basically a man’s world. Testosterone was rampant throughout corporate America.
You didn’t ask these guys questions in order to get answers.
They gave your their answer right upfront…and then like Jeopardy!, you hadda come up with the matching question & figure out the rest for yourself.)
Mr. Perry was exactly as I expected, but a thousand more times more intimidating & honestly, a lot more rude than I ever imagined.
He raked poor Arnie over the proverbial coals…and honesty, Arnie had done an incredible job preparing for his massac, er, this meeting.
For every item that was brought up, Arnie had really done his homework & was unbelievably ready with solid answers & some really-good analytics.
But much of the conversation went like this…”I don’t give a shit! That number’s too high. Bring it down by X!”
“But, Dick, we really…”
Stopped dead in his tracks by the glare, the stare, possibly the flames ruminating from Mr. Perry’s flaring nostrils.
Onto the next item.
And the next.
Basically, it was the very same story, over & over & over again. The businessman’s version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. I felt so terribly for Arnie, especially with him getting dressed down right in front of me.
Don’t think I said much the entire meeting, other than “Pleased to meet you, Sir!” and “Goodbye. Thank you!”.
I may have mumbled “…for not eating me!” under my breath (duh!) as we exited the Board Room.
Not sure if any of my gulps during the meeting were audible.
Oh, there was one thing that Dick (< < how apropos!) said, glaring at Arnie, that stayed with me forever…
“If you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can!”
But I quickly came to learn what “raising the bar” meant in the real world. And there was never any question that we would continually raise the bar…none at all.
The only question was just how high.
Despite having to absorb annual salary raises (which AVERAGED 6-7%!!!) & the general increase in prices, you were expected…it was DEMANDED…that you were able to do more with less.
(It wasn’t until my 7th year in the bank, when I was running Bklyn/LI/SI CitiPhone, that I received my first annual merit increase that wasn’t double digits!!!
Although it was 9.9%, I was heartbroken…”They don’t love me anymore!!!”
In actuality, the nation was starting to effectively wrestle this runaway inflation monster (CD rates were in the HIGH TEENS…mortgage rates in the LOW TEENS) and the bank took a long hard look at, and lowered, their merit increase guidelines, just like most companies did.)
I am actually soooooo grateful for learning these very hard lessons so early on in my career.
It really laid the foundation for how I managed & led going forward.
No, not with regard to treating people or being totally unreasonable.
But, rather, to the internal pressure I always placed upon myself. And I was a staunch believer that employees actually wanna be challenged!
(But never forget the acknowledgement, the gratitude, the recognition & the reward…both individually & as a group…when they do reach & surpass these lofty goals!)
Do better. Do better than yesterday, last month, last year.
Do better than your peers. Try, try, try until it hurts.
Then try some more.
Set “unrealistic” goals for yourself & your organization.
“S- t – r -e – t – c – h g – o – a – l – s”
In that way, even if you fail to completely reach them all, you’ve still performed extraordinarily well, surpassing all business goals!.
And it’ll always keep you hungry!
Man, it’s all about the passion.
The passion to succeed. The passion to deliver service that astounds your customers. The passion that keeps your people in lock step with you, constantly challenging them, always recognizing & rewarding them & ensuring that they’re happy.
And making that they’re dead tired…physically & mentally…when they leave for home at the end of the day.
Don’t ever, ever be out-efforted by anyone or anything. That stuff is always in your control.
I hated losing, not succeeding WAY, WAY MORE than I ever enjoyed winning or “being successful” at something.
Spend all your time looking for better ways…quicker ways, with less errors & better quality…to do things.
(People much smarter than me created “Six Sigma” & “Lean Six Sigma” & dozens of other formalized business theories/philosophies of how to go about “managing stuff”. For those of you familiar with the “science of business”, I’ve always utilized these very same practices…before they were officially named & packaged for sale.)
See how the very best do things.
Read. Go to outside training seminars. Talk with your peers. Find out how the best people operate. Pick the experts’ brains.
You need not be first with everything as few, if any, points are ever awarded for originality.
See what’s worked in previous lives/careers/assignments & find out what practices & philosophies are transferable to your current work environment.
Be a crazed animal about stuff…but please don’t bite anyone!
And have fun doing it! (“It” = being crazed, NOT biting people!)
(Actually, you can bite…nibble…just don’t leave a mark! 🤪)
And make sure your people are incredibly successful…as individuals, as vital members of your organization, and as accomplished professionals in their own right!
That’s the TRUE indicator of a great leader…just how successful your people will be in meeting & surpassing their personal & business goals!!!
That’s all it takes…
Thank you so very much for listening!
2/27/21 P.S. I just heard from Arnie Waldman via e-mail about some stuff that I DID NOT KNOW about Dick Perry!
I could try to recap it here, but instead, I’ll let you guys read his exact words…coming straight from the heart!
I am OVERJOYED that he took the time to set me straight & to let us all know stuff about Mr. Perry that completely showed a whole different side from the picture I painted here.
And to be totally honest & frank here, back in the “good ol’ days”, senior leaders often lead their organization with an iron fist.
And, yes, it was often “my way or the highway!”
But they were people, too, and in most cases, extraordinary ones at that!
Loyalty was something near & dear to them and way more than just a cool word to throw around.
And even though business could often times be “dog eat dog” (not “doggie dog” 🤦🏻♂️), they truly cared for & about their people…and that included sticking their necks out when that could very well be a pretty-dangerous thing to do professionally.
That’s the type of people you want in your corner!
And Arnie’s recalling stuff from 40+ years ago…