I was born in California, but grew up in New Mexico and always considered “The Land of Enchantment” my true home. So after 13 years in New York I was more than ready to get back to a little more user-friendly environment with dry air, blue skies and amazing sunsets. I moved into a home in the “East Mountains,” a largely rural area on the other side of the mountains from Albuquerque. The first couple of months were spent mending, repairing and improving my new home.
Eventually, it was time to get out and find another job. I’d been the general manager for a commercial bagel bakery in Brooklyn, but had no idea what I wanted to do next. One day, as I worked on patching the roof of the barn, I remembered that there was a job fair happening in Albuquerque that afternoon. I debated whether I wanted to finish the roof or drive all the way in to town for another boring job fair. Reluctantly, I decided on the job fair.
I showered, dressed and hit the road. A quick stop at the copy shop for extra résumés and I was ready. Up and down the aisles I went: Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard recruiters. Casino. Sherriff’s Department, Police Department, correctional facilities and private security firms. Casino. Every insurance company known to man. Casino. Casino. Casino. I should’ve stayed on the roof.
I finally got to the last aisle and saw the RIO GRANDE booth. I’d seen the Rio job ads in the newspaper; the company was expanding in just about every area. But because they had ads under every heading (Technical, Professional, Engineering, Management, Sales), I figured they were an employment agency and I never bothered to respond. Since I hadn’t seen anything else worthwhile at the fair I thought I’d at least check them out and see what the story was.
The two women at the booth couldn’t have been friendlier and explained that Rio was one of the world’s largest distributors to the jewelry industry. Well now, that wasn’t what I’d expected. I’d done some flavor of management for years—everything from directing television to running high-end retail shops—so I was looking for a managerial position. As I looked through the postings, the thing that struck me was that there weren’t any management positions!
Finally, I saw one listing for Product Manager and—not knowing the first thing about the job, but feeling confident I could wing it—I proffered my résumé and said I’d like to apply for that position. They let me know I’d need to come in to fill out an application and take my pre-employment assessments. Pre-employment assessments? What the heck? They explained that the assessments were comprised of an IQ-type test, a personality profile, an honesty/integrity questionnaire and a number recognition quiz. It was going to be a long commute from my house in the mountains to Rio and frankly, they were starting to sound a little odd, but I’ve always been fascinated by personality tests and was curious enough to follow through.
When I came in to take my assessments, the receptionist got me all set up for the IQ test and let me know that I had 12 minutes to complete it. 50 questions in 12 minutes?!? “OK,” I said, and got to work. When the 12 minutes went by in about five minutes, I’d only gotten to #38. Damn!
Next was the number recognition test. Four minutes to distinguish whether 200 pairs of numbers matched or not! Four minutes?!? How does anybody get through these tests? “OK,” I said, spirits beginning to flag. I got to about 150 when the time ran out. Damn!
Next up: the personality profile. 185 questions, but (YAY!) no time limit. I have no idea how long it actually took me to complete, but at least I got to answer them all. Things like: “My friends think I’m not very practical. True or False?” “Would I rather play chess or football?” I’m making these up, I really don’t remember the questions, and the tests have changed since those days, but you get the idea. After a battery of questions like that though, you start to question yourself… what does that answer say about me? Damn!
The last assessment (again no time limit) was the honesty/integrity questionnaire. Hey, I’m an honest guy, this’ll be easy. Lots of statements to measure on a “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” scale: “I always tell the truth.” “There’s nothing I can do to avoid tripping and falling on the job.” Again, I’m making these up, but even if somebody thought there was nothing they could do, would they admit that? Damn!
I left Rio that day feeling pretty confident I’d be receiving a friendly, but business-like letter of decline within the next couple of days.
Two days later I got a call. It was one of the coaches at Rio asking if I’d like to come in for an interview. By this point I had a number of interviews set up and I started confusing dates and times. Luckily, I was two hours early for the interview rather than two hours late. When I returned at the correct time, there were seven people in the room around a conference table. I would come to find out that everything at Rio is team-based, including interviews. And so we began.
It’s hard enough to interview with one person. With seven interviewers the questions come fast and furious. You can’t adjust to a single interviewer’s style and you get dizzy from whipping your head around the table. Throughout the interview, I was trying to read the framed posters on the walls. There was something about Principles, but they were tough to read while trying focus on questions at the same time.
About half an hour into the interview I’d started wondering about some of the questions I was being asked. It was then that one of the coaches asked, “You know you’re being interviewed for the coach position, right?” Eh… no, but if you’ll tell me what that is, I’ll be happy to interview for it! They explained the limited hierarchy at Rio and that the coaches’ role is to act as a mentor/facilitator/leader for our associates; to provide the information, resources and support they need to get their job done.
It was about then that I got a few more glances at the Principles up on the wall:
1. Do what you agree to do.
2. Do not encroach on other people or their property.
3. Create an environment of trust.
4. Be open and honest.
5. Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
6. Express and value all feelings, concerns and ideas equally.
7. Exchange your best effort for the best effort of others.
8. Develop long-term relationships of mutual benefit (WIN/WIN).
9. Have fun.
10. Passionately develop and pursue shared and individual purposes and goals.
11. Strive to maintain a positive attitude at all times.
12. Maintain your power to succeed by choosing not to believe you are a victim.
13. Take responsibility for your part in each life experience and learn from it.
14. Be successful by helping others to be successful and accepting that help for yourself.
15. Lead by influence (using reason, benefits, and inspiration) rather than by coercion (using force, fear, and innuendo).
Wow! I’d never seen anything quite like them. At least, not in the workplace. If these guys were doing even half of what they said in the Principles, this was the place I wanted to work!
It’s always tough to tell, but I felt like the interview had gone pretty well. As we walked out, my escort shared that they’d be in touch soon and that if any other offers came up I should let them know. That sounded promising.
Well, a couple of days went by and I still hadn’t heard anything so I called to check in. Folks were out of town and no decision had been made. I had other offers on the table, but none of them were anywhere near as interesting or seemed as challenging as the position at Rio. I really wanted it. At the same time, I didn’t want to blow off any of the other opportunities if Rio wasn’t going to make an offer. After a harrowing week of phone calls trying to placate the other employers, I finally got the call from Rio. I think the entire phone call, from “hello” to accepting the offer, took all of about 30 seconds.
I’ve been at Rio Grande 10 years now and still feel absolutely blessed to be here. It remains the most challenging job I’ve ever had, but it all happens in the most supportive environment I’ve ever encountered. I am ever grateful to the two women at the job fair—Gail Philippi, who has been in charge of our educational efforts for years and manages Education in Motion®, and Becky Scheffler, our Buyer for the Precious Materials product line—and the coach who guided me through my interview/offer process, Nora Kennedy, who is still my teammate and mentor.
P.S. I never could have been a Product Manager—they are a special breed of Merchants—but I have had the privilege of coaching them for many years.