My uncle Bill Fitzgerald died last week after a three year struggle with cancer. He was a mentor, an inspiration, a family man, and a role model. He was my mom’s younger brother, my dad’s best friend and everyone’s favorite uncle. Over his years he showed us how to live a good and fruitful life in service of God and others.
Bill was highly successful personally and financially. He started out in a family run savings and loan only to grow it beyond most dreamers wildest expectations. Over the years, he held leadership roles in more than 28 nonprofit organizations, leading fundraising efforts benefiting religious organizations, health care, elementary and secondary education, the arts, and social services agencies.
The President of Creighton University for which he served on their Board for over 40 years said this about him: “He was equally as successful in the professional sphere as the philanthropic one, was a compassionate leader in the workplace and at home, and gave selflessly of time and talent, be it in service to an employer, family, or the community at large.” The Head of the Chamber of Commerce summed it up perfectly when he said “Omaha is a better place because he was here”.
What I appreciated most about Bill is he always stayed grounded on guiding principles of his faith, doing good for his family and community, and integrity in everything he did. He went out and lived his life to the fullest. Along the way he never grew tired of helping people achieve their dreams.
As I reflected on his life’s work there are three things I would like to share with you about Bill that you may find useful either personally or professionally.
First, Bill was inducted into both the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame and the Omaha Business Hall of Fame in the early 2000’s. He had several other accolades throughout his long career from all kinds of organizations. And yet, two weeks before he passed away when he looked at all the family members around he told me in no uncertain terms that all the fame and financial success didn’t mean anything in comparison to that mo-ment when all his family was together. His subtle message was don’t get so caught up in work or community endeavors or whatever else steals your time at the expense of spending time cultivating relationships to those most important. As he was in hospice with just days left to live he was at peace. If you have just a week to live it is a very clarifying vision of how unimportant money or fame in this world are. But if you make difference in other people’s lives, that lasts an eternity.
Second, Bill followed in his father’s footsteps at the Bank they built from a small savings and loan into a publicly traded Multi-billion dollar asset financial institution that was acquired 10 years ago. It was not easy & there were lots of ups and downs throughout the years like in any growing business. But the guiding principal for both men was reputation. They lived it in their lives and cultivated in their business. This reputation allowed their bank to grow to be the biggest in the region until they were acquired. Over their history, the bank occasionally got into business dealings with suppliers or customers that were not as concerned about reputation. A builder cutting corners, a fly by night borrower, and others who you didn’t know until it was too late. Those relation-ships did not last the test of time. In this era of social media some of these things can be checked out before-hand because it is even more critical that companies do business with credible resources.
The reputation of the company as determined by it’s partners relates to the furniture supply chain as well. A retailer may look online and try and manage their reviews which is smart. But in many cases a consumer will go online and research the product you are advertising. Online reviews, give the consumer information good or bad about the product and by extension your company advertising the product. Put some of your advertised brands or vendors into a search engine with word “reviews” behind it and see what customer’s say online about the product you are advertising. Is it what you want your store to be known for since you are now connecting your reputation online to your supplier’s reputation? My uncle told me I was a product of the people I hung around with. In today’s social media and online review world the same can be said about your store’s suppliers.
Third, there is no doubt that my uncle Bill sacrificed a lot to help make his community better. If he believed in something he would always lend a helping hand. He could have had a lot more free time, but he absolutely loved helping. His funeral had an outpouring of priests and lay people, family and friends, former employees from ten or more years back as well as waitresses from the country club. So as you live your life, as you work your business, don’t get so caught up in the minutia of the daily grind. Look around and see what’s really important, to make a difference in the world and for your fellow man.
Sorry to be on a soapbox this month, but reflecting on Bill’s example made me try to apply it to our biz. Hopefully through our time working together you perceive doing business with us enhances the value you bring to your customers. We work hard for our customers and factories to do right by them. If you ever feel that is not the case I want to hear about it immediately. Helping you personally / professionally meet your goals is how we have survived in business over 50 years. The next 50 years is only as good as our reputation we build serving you and others.