While my parents live in Florida for most of the year, they spend summers up in Connecticut. During the summer, I try have lunch with my father on a somewhat regular basis as I always find some wisdom in the stories he shares about his experiences with American Express, the Coast Guard, or the New Rochelle Postal Service (“I learned quickly not to finish my route too early or else they would figure out we could handle more routes and therefore need fewer letter carriers.” According to him, my father knew every “Gin joint” in New Rochelle. But I digress.
My father’s stories always start with the same phrase, ”Have I ever told you this story?” To which I usually reply something snarky like “I suppose I will only know if you told me the story you are about to tell me when you actually start telling me the story.” Dad’s response is always the same, “Don’t be a smart ass.”
I never learn.
Back in the 1970s American Express had started to look beyond travel for card volume growth and was signing up retail stores to start accepting “The Card.” In those days, the sales person would work with the prospective merchant to fill out the application and it would be sent along to Amex HQ in New York for approval. A friend of my father’s in Atlanta filled out an application for a hardware store to take the card. He was surprised when it came back as being declined with the reason being “Amex is not targeting hardware stores.” Perplexed, this associate of my father’s asked my father for help and my father obliged by coming down and seeing the operation, which was unlike any he had seen before. Having contacts in the operations center of Amex, my father hand delivered the contract to those who could authorize it and the contract was authorized through the “Back Door.”
30 + years later, The Home Depot still takes the American Express Card.
What was potentially a missed opportunity turned out to be a big win for American Express all because 2 people had passion for something and could see the value in it even though it was “off strategy.”
How many missed opportunities do we have in our own family lives? Maybe we say no to our children when they ask to sign up for an activity because it has no interest to us:
“What, you want to play hockey? Your mother and I never played hockey…we are just not a hockey family…”
That happened in my house (and my daughter, incidentally, loves the sport and can skate with the best of them). Thankfully, we decided to let our daughter play hockey and the decision to do so was truly an eye-opening lesson for me on my own parental journey. We should not limit our children based on our own personal interests. Within reason, we should let them try on many hats until they find those that fit.