Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 2016: Christmas Letter

At the Great Wall with Professor Schilling
     I have been in the habit of writing a Christmas eLetter. It is a good habit. It is definitely a “feel good” and therefore I believed a noble habit. They have had, as my friend Ara Topouzian would love to point out irritatingly often, the same ring to them. He would say this because I would write them on Christmas morning, when it was still dark and no one else was yet up. The ambiance was “not a creature was stirring,” as I sat by the glow of my computer screen with a hot cup of coffee sharing my thoughts. Well, that is exactly what I am doing this morning. It is good to revive this part of the tradition once more… and I actually look forward to the “what again” comical soliliquy Ara will deliver later this week? That has also become part of this tradition.
     This is not your standard Christmas Letter that we still get a few of with Christmas Cards. I used to hate these letters and even penned a parody of them. Now, I actually cherish the few we get because in this Facebook age of continual updates there is no real need to them anymore.
     So what am I doing up so early writing a Christmas Letter?
     Allow me to extend this already overly long prelude with some more history of why I do this. I started this early Christmas morning ritual in the late 1990s or early 2000s, it was a time when my children were in their teens and not so eager to wake us so very early to see what Santa had brought. I, however, in the habit of getting up early to catch the train to Manhattan, could sleep in an hour or two and still be up at 6:30.
     What to do?
     I didn’t want to turn the TV on and wake others. There was no interest in fetching the newspaper as the news of the world would only dissapte the tranquility of the moment. I kind of liked the dark and the silence. So I made a
With the Faculty and Staff of the School of
Business and Nonprofit Management
cup of coffee and sat there and thought. As it was Christmas, my thoughts drifted to family and friends. I thought about those I would see later that day but thought more about those I would not see. I decided to send an early morning email to the folks I worked with in Latin America. It was, at that time, a short and simple email, wishing them Merry Christmas, appreciating the interactions, accomplishments, and comraderie of the past year and wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.
     It was a quite natural thing for me to do. It seemed like a very Armenian thing to do. It was definitely a very Latin thing to do. For many people I worked with over the years, work was work and friends were friends. It is not like that for Armenians nor is like that for Latins. In both cultures, business had the best and most meaningful results when there was a personal connection. It is that warm blooded bond, dak ayrun in Armenian and sangre caliente in Spanish. This cannot be faked, it has to be genuine and natural… I think in businesspeak some folks use the term authentic.
     I realized this when my colleagues in Latin America used to say, “you are different than the other Americans.” Larger? Less effective? Goofier? Probably. But, what they meant was that I went the extra mile to get to know them and
With Oswaldo Arias
make a connection beyond the business relationship which actually ended up building a firmer foundation for the business relationship. It was as they say: authentic.
     In 2004, I began writing a monthly eLetter. The first letter explains how and why I got into this. I continued sending out my Christmas morning emails and given the amount of writing I was doing, these early morning greetings became eLetters of their own. In 2009, a bit late mind you, I put 2 and 2 together and realized that my eLetters were really a kind of low tech blogging, so I started a blog and put all my old letters in the blog. All Christmas morning missives thus became blog posts as I will no doubt do with this one.
     There was an old Armenian tradition. I am not sure if it started in the US, but I suspect my grandparents generation brought it with them from the “old country.” Christmas morning a father would take his boys and go visit the homes of his dearest friends, wish them Merry Christmas, have a drink, and perhaps something to eat. Clearly, for this to work, most men had to stay home. I always liked this notion of taking a stroll through the village to visit friends on Christmas morning, give them a big hug, and wish them well. My Christmas morning emails were a tech-enabled way of doing exactly that. It is what I am doing now.
     When I left Colgate-Palmolive and moved to Newell Rubbermaid, I continued the same tradition of sending a Christmas morning email to my team. It was OK but I wanted to, and I do believe did, tell my Latin colleagues that they were different from my American colleagues.
      Yesterday, I FaceTimed Andres in Uruguay and Angel in Mexico City. I texted a Abraham in Panama. This morning I am thinking of all the good people I have met and worked with not only in the US but throughout Latin America and the rest of the world. So here is a toast to all of you reading this!
     I am no longer in the corporate world. I am doing something very different and something I love even more. I am a faculty member in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University here in Chicago. It is the best job I have ever had, which is saying something after my time in Latin America. It is also and encore career. So, I am feeling double blessed.
     For my work life to be meaningful and truly fulfilling, I believe there has to be a bond with the people I work with. A unversity is a wonderful place for this attitude and approach. The students are both our customers and our products. Students learn best when there is a connection and bond (watch how you react here Ara) with the students. The same is said for one’s faculty colleagues and the administration. I am thankful that North Park is rich and well-endowed university in this regard. It is a congenial and caring place. I am delighted to be there.
     At Colgate, I was a road warrior as I travelled 50% of the time. Since 2006, my business travel has been a mere fraction of that. This year was a special year for travel too. In March, I had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica. We took a group of Grad Students, Faculty, and alumni there to visit businesses and nonprofits. As Costa Rica was part of my old stomping grounds (we built two warehouses there in my tenure), I assisted in arranging the places we would visit. Colgate colleagues and good friends, Jim Gerchow, Oswaldo Arias, and Maria Royo helped planning some wonderful visits. It was great to reconnect with them. While, we missed seeing Maria, Jim and Oswaldo were above and beyond hosts. It was great seeing them.
With Jim Gerchow

     In May and June, Professor Schilling and I were visiting professors in China. We had the pleasure and honor of being at the Anhui University of Finance and Economics. I taught Quantiative Methods to graduate students and Marketing Channels and Supply Chain to undergraduates. It was an amazing experience. The students were taking their first full course in English. Read more about my impressions here.
     On the personal side, allow my share my delight and joy in having three grandchildren. Aris is the oldest at two and a half years. His brithday is one day after mine which is very cool. Vaughn will be two in early January. These two fellows are up and around, curious and energetic, and if I may gloat, pretty bright. They keep me active and running when we do get to see them.
The Grandsons 
Aris’s sister and Vaughn’s cousin, Lara is our first grandaughter. She is just six months old, cooing, and charming us with her smile. Her birthday is one day after her brother’s and, thus, two days after mine.
     In closing, I would like to wish everyone the blessings of the season. May we all be healthy and happy in 2017. With all that has happened around the world from terrorism in so many countries, the tragedy of Aleppo, the murder rate here in Chicago, and evertyhing else, this Bible passage seems more important than ever.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. ~ Luke 2:14
     Peace on earth, good will toward men indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Great Christmas Letter! I've been all over the British Isles but haven't travelled as extensively as you have. I appreciate your comments about connection especially with Latinos. In 2014 I rescued several Brazilian college students who were trying to get back to their Wayne State University dorms from Dearborn during the torrential downpour we had in August that flooded the city. We bonded during the three hours it took me to get them across the city. They are all back in Brazil now and we have kept in touch via phone and facebook. I've adopted them as my honorary grandchildren. They are undoubtedly the warmest group of young people I have ever met. We had them to our home several times and they have always treated us like family. Let me wish you and your family peace, health and happiness in the coming year