Playing the back nine

Another milestone birthday this past weekend provides an opportunity (and an excuse) to reflect. Jewish tradition wishes upon us a long life, until 120, the age Moses was said to have died. In his case, it was said that his vision not dimmed “nor his natural force abated.” [Deuteronomy 34:7] I should be so lucky. I have been working in the telecommunications industry for more than 37 years now, and I don’t think my “natural force” has abated.

If I do make it to 120, then as of today, I’ve made it to the turn, moving now to start playing the back 9. I will take the opportunity to wax somewhat philosophically in today’s post.

I get a great feeling of satisfaction when I think about some of the people with whom I have worked, people who mentored me and those who I have mentored. I was greatly influenced in my management style by my first boss at Bell Labs, Dick Grantges, who was said to have caused concern because of his supervisory style: “Dick’s people seem to get their work done, but they always look like they are having too much fun.” When he showed me around the Holmdel Labs for the first time, he paused as we reached a spot that overlooked the reflecting ponds at the front of the building. As I have written before, “he sighed and said that one of the things he liked best about working at Bell Labs is that if you get your best ideas while gazing out the windows, then we’ll pay you to stare at geese.”

Dave Hagan, who is now CEO at Boingo, had a similar perspective when we worked together at Sprint Canada. He would say that it shouldn’t be called “going to work”; we should be “going to fun.”

Whatever you choose to do with your life, find something that you enjoy doing and hopefully do it with other people who are also enjoying doing it with you.

I have learned that not every voice on Twitter deserves a reply. I don’t have to engage with everyone. Some people are beyond my skill set to help. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy from Star Trek: I am a telecommunications professional, not a proctologist.

I am really proud of the accomplishments of many of the people who I have had work with me, many of whom still hold senior leadership positions in the industry around the world. We have made some significant and lasting impacts on the telecommunications sector. As I wrote in June, we still stay in touch, though not frequently enough.

More than anything, I have been blessed with a wonderful family, inspired by my parents and supported by my wife of more than 36 years. My kids, and my grandkids, have always taken precedence over my career. Fortunately, most of the time when I was in a corporate environment, I had bosses who shared my priorities. There are countless examples, including one of my favourite moments from a little over 25 years ago. Preparing for CRTC hearings was a stressful and intense time: in the olden days, witnesses were sworn in (or affirmed) and opposing parties had an opportunity to cross-examine. Just before the Long Distance hearings opened in 1991, we were preparing in Ottawa with our law team. My daughter’s birthday was during the week before the hearings opened and her teacher had planned a special celebration. I flew back to Toronto for a couple hours, kept a cab waiting at the school to rush me back to the airport so we could continue the hearing preparations – flying was a lot easier then. The teacher went over to my wife and said “it is so nice that your husband has the kind of job that allows him to get away for a few minutes.” I hope that my kids are as fortunate.

Last October, I wrote about reflecting on my back pages, looking back on the earlier days of my career, working on national security network architectures, ending communications monopolies. Those were heady times when I was half as old as I am today. I may have added another year, but as Bob Dylan wrote, I still like to think that I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

My eyes may be slightly dimmed, but having spent the past month in the company of my 3 year old and 10 month old grandkids, I can attest that my natural force is still strong.

From the time I was very young, I remember my dad teaching us that what ever you do, always aim to be the very best. He would remind us that Louis B. Mayer, the founder of MGM Studios, was a junk dealer in my dad’s home town of Saint John, NB.

So my advice to my kids and grandkids can be summed up best as: find a career doing something you love doing; aim to be the best at what you do; find people who share your values to do it with; and, remember that family should always come first.

I think I still have plenty of natural force left in me, so I am ready to start playing the back nine. Let’s tee it up and have some more fun.

2 thoughts on “Playing the back nine”

  1. Great article (as always) reflecting the telecom industry, changes over time, and the impact of relationships in our business and personal life. I have been doing the same kind of reflecting since we moved to the London area to be near family. We have changed our focus on our UC/telecom consulting practice and focus on non-profit organizations, health care and NG911. All three areas have challenges, and not enough money to move forward, and we are hoping that we will be able to bring our experience, relationships and commitment to giving back to help make a difference in our ‘back 9’ parts of our lives.

    Keep up the great writing and running the Telecom Summit with Michael Sone! All the best Mark!

  2. Mark,
    Happy Birthday!
    Good counsel: to reflect on what we have, and continue the journey.
    Your favourite IT auditor, Chris A

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top