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CIO Unplugged 12/28/11

December 28, 2011 Ed Marx 18 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

The Connecters

For six-year-old Herbert, a train ride was nothing new. But this train was different. Cold. Smelly. No seats. Conductors wore helmets, carried guns, and yelled. Shrouded in darkness and smushed between people’s legs, Herbert clung to his mother and aunt. Passengers wept and prayed. Days later, they disembarked at Gurs.

Horrid scarcely described the inhumane conditions in the “relocation” camp. Herb dug through the trash each day, foraging for crumbs. Six months into the torment, a soldier grabbed him and carried him outside the camp gates. The French Resistance, hiding in the night, whisked Herb into the woods.

Dodging armed patrols, they traversed the countryside and came to a convent near Lyon—Herb’s new home. During routine inspections, the nuns would hide him, the only Jew amongst gentiles. A year later, the Swiss underground led him on foot over the Alps into Switzerland, where he found solace in a group home for Jewish boys.

Herb never saw his family again. While he scaled mountains to freedom, they boarded trains for Auschwitz.

After the war, Red Cross officials connected Herb with relatives that had immigrated to the United States years prior. A young adolescent, fluent in French and German, Herb sailed across the Atlantic. Lady Liberty greeted him in the New York harbor. He learned English. Five years later, Herb returned to Germany as an American soldier.

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He fell in love with a young fräulein. They had seven children. I am the youngest

At the end of each year, I reflect and give thanks for many things in my personal and professional life. I’m grateful for what I call The Connecters: the beautiful people who held my dad’s hand. From the German guard at Gurs who led him through freedom’s gate, to the hands of the men and women of the underground. For the nuns who loved a boy of a different faith. For the schoolmasters who hid my father in defiance of the law and for the hands of my immigrant uncle who welcomed him into his New Jersey home. They connected my father to his future. In my heart, I kiss those hands.

This year, my gratitude focuses on my personal Connecters — those who helped enabled my then-future career. While hiring me didn’t affect life or death, I am thankful to those who took a gamble on me. Here are my Connecters and what they taught me:

Pastor Rick Olmstead. In a small but growing church, Pastor Rick invited everyone from the congregation who had an interest in leadership to visit his home for a barbeque. He had hoped for gray heads of wisdom, but ended up with four young-in-their-faith sophomore college students. Trusting in a higher power, Rick pushed forward and invested in us. We eventually became part of the team that enabled multi-year, double-digit growth. His exceptional mentoring and leadership formed the foundation of who I am today.

Major Loomis. The Executive Officer of the 244th Army Reserve Engineer Battalion. This officer’s additional duties involved overseeing the Cadet program. As a nervous nineteen-year-old combat medic, I interviewed with him for one of the few coveted Cadet slots. I knew others had interviewed better than I did, but he took a chance and showed me unmerited favor. I went on to become a combat engineer officer. Upon earning the rank of Captain, I served as the battalion motor officer and battalion movement officer. I learned much about organization, leadership, and process.

Mary Hein. She agreed to interview me because she had misread one of my degrees. She thought I had a Masters in Computer Science when in fact it was a Masters in Consumer Science. When I brought this to her attention, she let it pass and continued the interview. I had very little experience to speak of, yet she offered me my first salaried professional position. I cried (not in front of her, of course.) Mary taught me poise, communication, and brand. She helped hone my leadership.

Mike Gogola. I was interviewing for a director of physician relations position when I realized it was actually an IT position. “You have the wrong person,” I told Mike. While I was good at physician relations and marketing, IT was not my forte. To this day, I’m not sure if he was desperate or sincere, but Mike assured me I had the right stuff for the position. He surrounded me with good technical people and I learned on the go. Mike took me with him to networking opportunities and conferences. He taught me project management and IT.

Kevin Roberts. Kevin believed in me before anyone else saw my executive potential. He took a major risk in supporting my bid to become a CIO at a young age and without requisite experience. He shielded me from naysayers as I learned to walk and then run. He pushed me to become increasingly independent, which grew my confidence. He believed in me.

I’m thankful for those men and women who saved my dad and made my life possible. And I’m thankful for the men and women who connected me, took a risk, and enabled my career.

Who are you thankful for? Take time this holiday to let them know your appreciation. But don’t stop there. Ask yourself who you can help connect. When is the last time you took a risk to help an eager wannabe advance?

Leaders are called to Connect.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. That was an absolutely beautiful post. While I have not had such important “connections” in my life, I do often think of those people who have helped and shaped the professional and person I am. Happy New Year.

  2. That was a great article Ed and although it is cool that you recognize the people that connected you I would submit that you did it on your own. In sports, even though you have a starting lineup, when one “bench” player stands out (hustles, always learning…) the coach will find a place for them on the team, and that process of self improvement, will continue to serve them well as future leaders. And as future leaders they will connect the people that make an effort to differentiate themselves from the pack.

  3. Happy New Year Ed. Another great post. Always good to take stock and thank those around you that help lift up vs compete. Thanks.

  4. The “connectors” as you put it are placed in our path at just the perfect time. I am thankful for your story and the connectors in my life.

    Be well,

  5. Nice story. My question is with “pastor” and “…higher power “.

    What religion has pastors who preach of unnamed higher powers?

    Sorry but I think you missed an opportunity there.

  6. Ed, you story was heart-warming! I, too, have had so many in my life who have fed me spiritually, “took a chance” when they hired me, mentors along the way who have shaped my professional career, and friends and family who stood by always to support me. One of my colleagues read your post and reached out to thank me today….I will do the same for the many who have been so influencial in my life. Thanks for the gentle reminder to express our appreciation for the many people in our lives who have blessed us in so many ways.
    Cheers to 2012!

  7. What a great post. Made me really think about my connectors and how they inflluenced my personal and professional life. I’ve made it a point to reach out to these folks today.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Thanks, Ed, for reminding me to thank the people in my life for making me the person and professional that I am today. Your story is warm and beautiful.

    Happy New Year!

  9. Ed,

    Nice post. It makes we wonder, how can I be a connector for someone? Who can I provide a chance, how can I mentor?

    If we all try to be connectors, imagine how strong the line could be.


  10. Ed,
    I was so touched by your blog and honored to be mentioned among those whom you felt helped you along in your professional life. As said by one of your readers, it was your energy, resourcefulness and hard work to go far beyond routine expectations that got you noticed.

    I am grateful that you came into my life and helped me to develop an inspiring team of professionals. I am thankful for your blog and for reminding me that each of us is buoyed in life, sometimes on the wings of eagles, and sometimes by a softly spoken word of encouragement.

    I close with this quote:

    “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” -Albert Schweitzer

    Thank you for spreading your light.

    Mary Hein

  11. Ed,
    Wow. Your gratitude is spite of some terrible circomstances is inspiring. I like the pictures of the kids in Lederhosen and Dirtels. May God continue to bless you and your family with a Gluekliches Neues Jahr und Gemuetlichkeit!

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