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Spring of 1998; my first meeting with Richard at the SOS offices. He came to present his plan for recruiting salesmen for SOS subscription plans.
Richard is Canadian; always calm and sure of himself. I became immediately interested learning about his personal story.
Just like me, he had come to Romania recently and established his business: HRD Romania – “Human Resources Development”.
From then on, HRD would find for SOS some of its best performing sales people.
HRD and SOS started to work together. In fact, Richard and I started to work together. I was an owner of a new business developing in a foreign country. Loneliness was not only a matter of the time spent alone. It was also the very little choice you had in the selection of people you could actually relate to.
Richard and I got close. He established some “rules” which later on I found very clever for keeping the relationship going. If I did not call for a while, he would. “Please open your diary and mark next Tuesday for Supper”.
Supper was a word I used only when I made the appointments with Richard. My favourite Chinese Restaurant “Dragon House” was the first choice, unless he had enough of this, then Pasta was the second.
The first activity with HRD was at “Valea Cu Pesti” (Valley with Fish); a scenic place in a hidden fold of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. It took us 7 hours to get there.
We all had used cars, the affordable acquisitions of the new investments. We rented rooms in a beautiful building overlooking the lake. The building was a monument of the remains of the hospitality concept from the communist times that Romania was then recovering from.
My bed had a curve, and I had to deal with my back pain during the day. Most of us got sick, and the topic was… “What from?” We had important work achievements that weekend. Richard helped in “carving” the “Genetic Code” of the new SOS Company.
We spoke with the staff about the most important issues: the code of ethics, the service concept and the organization climate. In all those, Richard was helpful and creative.
Later on, MediHelp was born. At a later stage, my role in Euromedic began. In all cases, Richard helped me with recruiting, interviewing, training and more. Richard used to wander in the rooms, when activities were going on.
He would mainly listen, he was there for me. He never had any need to express any ego, or self importance. He was really there for the managers, for the company and for me.
After the sessions, we used to take a break for short briefings on the corridors, or over lunch. In those moments, I got the “feedback” of what I had done during the session.
There was never mercy. I got a real feedback. I knew that, for the sake of success in the process with my staff, I would better listen to what Richard had to say.
I knew I am hearing honest, objective and professional views and reviews of my relationship with my managers, about my leadership and about my mistakes. The information I got became valuable. As time went on, I did not want to go to any activities without Richard. He helped me so much.
Richard has an unbelievable amount of patience. He is a great listener. His ability to sit and listen and come back with an answer or with some valuable material, used to be a source of admiration for me.
Once I asked him “do you ever get angry?” From others close to Richard, I heard that it is very unlikely that Richard would get annoyed. However, I was told, “you’d better not be around when this happens”.
Lucky me I have never seen this happen. Maybe because I was just “not around”. Forgiveness was another side of the unique personality of Richard. At times, he suffered bitter disappointments from people he had raised and grown up from start. There was one extreme case: S. S. was a clever guy with very little experience whom Richard took to work.
Under the leadership of Richard, S. became very successful and grew to remarkable performance abilities, which made Richard very proud. At a point, due to money, ego, or other temptations, S. forgot the vast investment that brought him to his heights.
I will never forget the way Richard told me the story of how he separated from S. The text of the story was “it’s a nothing” issue. But I could bet I saw a new wrinkle along his expressive eyes.
But the nicest of all was the personal side of the relationship. Very fast, the borders of the business advisory started to fall, and a new friendship emerged. I found myself telling Richard about my private issues, and very often I could receive a tip, advice or a thought to take on with me.
There is no question about the contribution of Richard to my business success in Romania. My meetings and conversations with Richard were some of the best moments I had during my stay in Eastern Europe in the last decade. 11 years went by.
Richard sold his business and went back to live in Canada. Communication, as always in situations of this type, became rarer.
As I am writing this article, I know that it can take some time until the circumstances will make us meet again. Perhaps I will have to wait very long for the next conversation that will open some new thinking avenues.
However, I am very happy I had the chance to meet Richard. And as far away from me as he is now, I know that if I gave him a call, and say, “I need an hour from you”, the answer will be, “So let’s go out for Supper, would you like the Chinese?”
So good to have a friend like Richard.
Next: Matthias Krönke