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Standing on their Shoulders

For those who have asked me about last week’s column, I am happy to report that as of today we have phone and internet service, and our computers are once again working. How lost we are without technology in today’s world. On the other hand, what a wonderful respite it was from the craziness of the world at the end of a presidential election.

The knock on the door came just as I was about to leave for the day. I opened it to find that one of my favorite people had dropped by for a visit, Virginia Jones. I was so delighted to see her and to catch up on all that has happened to both of us since we last saw each other.

To those that might not know, Virginia was one of our original employees at the Hardee’s in Donalsonville, our very first location. A year or so later, she became the General Manager of that restaurant and held the same position for the next 28 years or so.

Virginia had opportunities to move to other locations but wanted to stay close to home. It was part of what made her such a great leader. She wanted to make her store the best, but not at the expense of being away from her family.

Virginia did not put up with much. She could be as tough as nails and believed in holding her employees accountable. She took pride in receiving awards at our yearly General Managers Rally. She certainly received more than her share of recognition and set a standard that lit the path towards success for others in our company.

Since we saw each other last, Virginia lost her beloved husband, Ralph. We shed a few tears over that untimely death. They were a great couple that made each other better.

Virginia also made her employees better. We talked about many of them, a few of whom still work at Hardee’s of Donalsonville after all these years. Things may not be the same, but the bonds between Virginia and those employees still remain.

I drove to Compass Lake after Virginia left and during that hour’s drive had an opportunity to reflect on our visit, our working relationship, and even the steady march of time. I thought about how lucky I had been to have had such good leaders working for me over my 35-year career with Hardee’s.

The secret to long term success is building a team. When Virginia retired, her restaurant never missed a beat. That is partially because of the talent of her replacement and partially because of the team that Virginia built and left for her successor.

Virginia’s daughter, Tracey, called during our visit. Tracey had worked at Hardee’s as well. She was a good employee and moved into a leadership position. She has now been at Five Star Credit Union for 29 years, the same length of time her mother worked for me. Good apples do not fall far from the tree.
Virginia’s sister, Sue, was part of Virginia’s secret. She was another longtime, loyal employee. They had each other’s back and at the same time, had mine.

More than anything else, Virginia’s visit reminded me of how lucky Ernest and I were to have had such good employees. Over those 35 years, Ponder Enterprises probably employed more than 25 thousand people. It did not work out for everyone. Fast food is a tough job. But for many, it was their own personal path to success. Virginia was one of those people.

As I enjoy my own retirement, I am reminded yet again of the many people who supported me, believed in me, worked for me, and trusted me. I stand on their shoulders, even today, and owe so much to their efforts on behalf of our company.

Thanks for taking the time to drop by, Virginia. Thanks for your loyalty, devotion, and hard work. Thanks for all the good times and the enduring friendship. You were one of the best. I could not have done it without you.