In the opening line of a Kenny Rogers’ song, The Gambler, there is a line that goes, “Son, I’ve made a life out of reading people’s faces.” I identify very much with that line as I have made my living by observing and learning from successful people who visited and hunted with us. My only problem was that I never knew as a young man just how successful these folks were. A good friend, Ron, suggested that I buy and read the book Leadership is an Art. It’s a very short book, and I have quickly realized some of the leadership traits that I picked up were from learning and observing these titans of industry. It was only after I got to college and in my advanced finance and economics classes that I started reading names of people whom I only knew as Mr. Lem, Mr. Bill, etc.
I learned early on from these folks that one of the true marks of leadership is how you treat employees and your fellow man. It never ceased to amaze me how much these people went out of the way to learn the names of their dining room servers, the guides, the man who laid their fires, and call them by their names. I believe that one of the true marks of greatness is not how you treat your peers or those who can help advance your careers. Rather, it is how you treat those below you on the socio-economic scale who have nothing to offer you other than their time and best efforts. I still see that today. While there are too many examples to name- John, Grant and Bill are just a few of the prime examples of this type of behavior.
I also learned early on that great leaders are gentle persuaders at getting the results they want. At Riverview, sometimes that means they want a certain guide, courses or meals. Whenever possible, we try to accommodate any request as long as it’s legal. However, sometimes it comes down to the story of Solomon when he decided to cut the baby in half when both mothers claimed the child. When two men want the same guide on the same date, we try to go first with seniority of the number of years a group has hunted with us, but sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that make that impossible, and that’s where diplomacy enters the picture.
Sometimes, I am faced with a difficult person in a business that does not involve Riverview. When they get really belligerent and bullying, I tell them, “Buster, you are wasting your time with this line because I have had to go toe-to-toe with the best and brightest people in the world since I was 22 years old. And, you are not going to intimidate me; so why don’t you try a different approach.” I have learned that if I lose my composure, I also lose my ability to think quickly and respond. I owe any small success I have to great teachers who were guests here in my early years. A lot of the things we do here now are the results of guests’ suggestions. You younger folks may not believe this, but there was a time before iPhones,iPads, and laptops when guests actually came in from the hunt, propped up in their cottages, and chatted. I would visit each cottage to ask for feedback from the day. The amazing thing to me is that I never took a note pad, and almost every group had at least one request. I could remember every single one of them when I got back to the office. Now, I can’t even remember what I have walked into the kitchen to get sometimes. Well, there was one exception to that even way back then. Ernie would come over to the office in the wee hours of the morning, unplug our fax machine and hook some contraption up to it. He would sit on the floor cross-legged and bang on that machine until breakfast time. I think that I finally ended up giving him my key and the alarm code.
Oh, the stories I could and will tell one day of those early years before jets when everyone flew in on prop planes, and landed in Albany drunker than Fido’s butt. The first night was always difficult. In today’s world, all of our guests seem to be on 24-hour call, and hardly ever have more than one cocktail after the afternoon hunt and a glass of wine at dinner. Cader IV has it much easier than I did in the early 70’s in that respect.
I also have noticed that some of our guests must think that we can’t count. I will see a jeep come in with six empty boxes of shells, 18 quail, and say that they just didn’t see many quail. Well, duh, what were they shooting at out there, meadowlarks maybe. It is gratifying to occasionally hear a guest say that they saw plenty of quail but just couldn’t hit them. I feel like Diogenes at that moment.
In closing, I have one last observation concerning the rich and the powerful. No matter how big of a company they run or how wealthy they are, there is one person that they have no control over, and they must answer to. No, it’s not their boards. It is their wives, and that makes me feel better. I have heard a lot of “ Yes, Honey’s” over the years!