While working on one of the features in this issue, “A Staff That Lasts,” I was suddenly overcome with nostalgia. You see, the feature is about what retailers are doing to retain their best employees — and includes companies with staffs that have remained in loyal service for not just years, but often decades.
It called to mind the company I worked for when I was in my early 20s. I was excited to land a position with the firm and eager to do whatever it took to make my mark. But two weeks in, when the office manager asked me how I wanted my business cards to appear, I thought to myself, “Don’t bother ordering them. I’ll be quitting by the end of the week!”
I’d had a difficult time adjusting to the varied and often odd requests of my manager and couldn’t see any possible way of satisfying her many demands despite my best efforts.
Fast forward 12 years: I was still there. Why, you ask?
It had everything to do with the leadership and kindness of the company’s owner, Lili. A savvy businesswoman, she made a point to get to know each employee, taking time out of her busy schedule to connect with each of her staff members in a one-on-one, informal way. Lili made you feel as if your opinion and time mattered — she gave you her whole attention, ignoring all but the most unavoidable interruptions. Over the years, we discussed everything from religion and parenting philosophies to celebrities and fashion.
And her generosity knew no bounds. When she heard that my brother escaped Katrina with just a few changes of clothing, she pulled me aside and quietly gave me a check to send him to help him get back on his feet. When she found out that I didn’t have any family nearby to throw a baby shower for me, she got out her organizer and began planning what became an unforgettable and touching celebration.
She set the tone for the company’s culture, encouraging everyone to work cooperatively and behave kindly toward each other. The resulting camaraderie that blossomed with many of my co-workers has lasted to this day — I still make a point to see them every so often and consider them true friends.
Though it’s been some time since I left, I still think of Lili often now that I’m in a leadership role myself. I aspire to leave a similar mark on those who report to me. Company heads also wanting to foster such loyalty would be wise to take a page from Lili’s book.