From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

A True Leader

The time is always right to do what is right.

Martin Luther King Jr.

A few years ago, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, where I was employed, purchased Norand Corporation. Pioneer’s sales representatives in the field used Norand hand-held terminals to upload daily sales information and download new price and sales incentive information. Pioneer bought so many of these hand-held terminals, the economics made the purchase of Norand look interesting. Owning Norand also allowed Pioneer to explore high-technology markets outside agriculture.

But after a few years, the emerging laptop PC technology made the hand-held units obsolete. Pioneer sold Norand at a loss. Pioneer always took a given percent of the annual profits to divide equally among all employees, so our profit-sharing checks were lower than if Pioneer had not purchased Norand. Additionally, my Pioneer stock was lower than it had been before the purchase of Norand. I was not pleased.

The CEO of Pioneer, Tom Urban, made annual formal visits to each of the Pioneer divisions to talk about the state of the business and to listen to employees’ concerns. When he walked into the meeting room for his first visit after the sale of Norand, he acknowledged the group, removed his jacket and neatly folded it across the back of the chair. He loosened his tie, undid his collar and rolled up his sleeves. The next thing he said was the last thing I ever expected to hear a CEO say.

He said, “I made a mistake buying Norand and I am sorry. I am sorry your profit-sharing was lower because of the purchase, and I am sorry your stock was hurt by the purchase. I will continue to take risks, but I am a bit smarter now, and I will work harder for you.” The room was quiet for a moment before he asked for questions.

A great man and leader stood before us that day. As I sat listening to him, I knew I could trust him, and that he deserved every bit of loyalty I could give to him and to Pioneer. I also knew I could take risks in my own job.

In the brief moment of silence before the questions started, I recall thinking that I would follow him into any battle.

Martin L. Johnson

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