Thursday, May 24, 2012

John M. Kahl, Sr. Remembered

Today I had the solemn honor to speak a few words of tribute at the memorial of my mentor and friend John M. Kahl, Sr. The fact that this comes on the eve of my father's centennial adds another degree of poignancy. I believe it was Robert Bly who said that every young man needs to be admired by an older man other than his father. John seemed to fill that role for me at a critical time in my professional life. These were my remarks....

Fortunate are those who can name a few people who have made a major positive impact on their lives. Even to name one or two would be a blessing. John Kahl was such a person in my life. John Kahl was a blessing.

John was my manager at Raychem Corporation from 1990 to 1996. Early on he said something to me that I thought was quite strange coming from a manager—something surely no prior boss had ever suggested. He told me that he expected us to have a lifetime friendship. Indeed his expectations were met, for I know that our friendship not only extended throughout his too short lifetime, but more than that, his love, his wise counsel, his joy will abide with me—as I am sure is true for all of us here—throughout my remaining days as well.

If I had to pick one trait of John’s that stands out, it would be his ability to see the best in each person, and more importantly to help others see the best in themselves. John was without question the greatest teacher, mentor, coach I have had in my entire professional life. I truly owe my career to him. His gentle guidance, his wisdom, compassion, and insight helped me grow beyond all expectations and set a standard that I continually strive for in my relationships at work and elsewhere.

John was a man of vision. I don’t know any person who had a clearer notion of what the future might hold. He always had a plan. The following story may be familiar to some, but it bears telling not only as an example of John’s foresight and project management acumen, but also how John fully dedicated himself to the benefit of others, and above all to his family.

When Margarett became pregnant the two of them were living on a boat in the Redwood City harbor—clearly not the best situation. It was hard enough to get on and off that boat without being pregnant. As a developing project manager, I watched with awe as John used our project management software to map out a detailed step-by-step plan that included searching the Bay Area for the best multiple-birth doctor at the best multiple-birth hospital, in order to relocate himself and Margarett to a land based residence as close as possible to best resources available. (John believed in surrounding himself with experts.) He calculated every factor imaginable to insure a long and healthy gestation of the triplets!

After the children were born he continued to manage their well-being with the same meticulous care. One room in their apartment was a command center with all the supplies three newborns would ever require carefully stacked and stored. Looming above this array was a large white board with detailed logs of the inputs and outputs of each baby. John loved to manage projects, but that was nothing compared to his love of his children. He held nothing back in considering their welfare, and took immense pride in the accomplishments of each of them which he enthusiastically reported every time we spoke.

Only slightly less was his love and pride in the employees he managed. John once assigned me to build a world class factory—in Tijuana, Mexico! I had no prior experience with a project of that magnitude or complexity. Any fears I might have had were erased by John’s confidence and support. Ultimately we met and surpassed our goals as together John and I accepted an industry award for the outstanding project of the year.  
Quatros Amigos: Roland Lazzarotto, Wally Hong, John M. Kahl, Sr., Doug Ballon, and a mud splattered rental car after a wild ride through Tijuana, 1994.

It was in these days that he often uttered a 5-word phrase that I have come to adopt. He would say, “Your success is my success.” That phrase can be taken in different ways. From a narrow perspective—one could say that since a manager would be rated poorly if his staff failed to perform, John’s success was indeed based on my success. But I believe John had a higher vision, far removed from a mere performance review. John was passionate about nurturing success in as many ways as he could in the lives of all. John drew an intrinsic sense of satisfaction in contributing to the success of others.

John Kahl was a teacher. The world was his classroom. We all were his students, and many of us in many ways can attribute much in our lives to John’s teachings. Indeed, our success is John’s success.

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