Monday, March 23, 2009

Sign of the Times – End of an Era – And an Ode to Mr. Leon Porter

One of the worst things about a recession, if not the worst, is the fact that people are laid off (softer way of saying “terminated’) when a company “right-sizes” its business.

The other day, I received an e-mail from a former associate in the Washington, DC area; he sent me that e-mail to inform me (and a few others) that Mr. Leon Porter was terminated from MBCPI, the ARC-owned division that operates in the Washington-Baltimore Greater Common Market Area.

Mr. Leon Porter is 73 years old. Mr. Porter had been with MBCPI (or, I guess I should say, with the entities that are now a part of MBCPI) since around 1958. If I’ve done the math correctly, Leon worked for the company for some 51 years [except for two years off for military service, 1960-1962.]

Around 1958, Leon became a team member of Max Scher Blueprints (Max Scher Blueprints was founded in 1922.) In 1979, Max Scher Blueprints merged with Rowley’s Blueprint Service to form Rowley-Scher Reprographics. (My company, Allied Reproduction Service, merged into Rowley-Scher in 1981.) Around 1992, Rowley-Scher’s name was changed to Reprographic Technologies (RTI). And, not long after ARC acquired MBCPI, RTI was rolled into MBCPI. Leon survived a whole host of mergers, name changes, ownership changes and consolidations – some 51 years worth!

My ex-partner, John Scher Zeller, sent me a copy of a letter that he, a few days ago, sent to an ARC senior operations officer about Leon Porter. I’m not going to post the entire letter on my blog-site, but I did want to share with you some of John’s comments:

Leon, began working as a 17 or 18 year old, with no direction in life other than knowing he needed to earn a living and did not want to be on the streets as they existed in Washington, DC in the 1950s. My grandfather, who was an excellent judge of people, hired Leon and told him that as long as he showed the desire to learn and grow and performed his job well, he would have a job with the company.

Throughout the years Leon progressed in his knowledge and abilities in what was at first a slowly changing industry but one that has had many changes over the past 25 years. Leon Porter was consistently a steady and reliable employee for whoever owned and operated the business. In my humble opinion, he is the ultimate team player, the type of person who is essential to the success of any people-oriented business. Thus, I felt a great deal of sorrow and a certain amount of anger when I heard that Leon had been recently laid off.

One of the greatest regrets former business owners have is the fact that once we sell our companies, we cannot control the destinies of our former team members; the team members who worked with us in the trenches, toiled by our sides, did whatever was asked of them.

Leon Porter is an outstanding individual. Inasmuch as there is no “I” in Team and inasmuch as teamwork is necessary in the reprographics business, I should not fail to say that Leon was the “exemplary” team member. Anyone who worked with Leon, whether in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s or in the 21st century, would, I’m sure, share John’s opinion (and my opinion) of Leon Porter.

Companies in the service industry – and the reprographics industry is a service industry – are built on their “people-assets.” If a company has great people-assets, it will do well. When you lose (or terminate) great people, your business can and will suffer. Leon Porter was respected by everyone who worked with him and by the customers he served. For ‘survivors’, it must be very heart-wrenching, and, yes, demoralizing, when a loyal, long-standing team member such as Leon is let go.

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