I read an obituary this month in The Wall Street Journal. The former CEO of a massive international brand passed away at 85.
F. Ross Johnson led RJR Nabisco in the 1980s. Mr. Johnson’s lifetime was summed up in a few hundred words, with very few of them positive. The sub-headline included “…a symbol of corporate excess…” The opening sentence read, “F. Ross Johnson is mainly remembered for the fleet of corporate jets that ferried him to celebrity golf events and other luxurious perks he awarded himself.”
The portrait of Johnson went downhill from there. The writer wrote, “Building for the long term was not Mr. Johnson’s strong suit,” and “He had an almost Mao-like habit of shaking things up.”
When I think about building, I think “built to last.” Bricks and mortar. But even a concrete and steel structure won’t last forever. It is only as good as the quality of whatever goes into the construction and the care and attention it receives over the years of service. Just like my reputation, or yours, or that of Mr. Johnson.
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Alfred Nobel, whose namesake is the Nobel Peace Prize, saw the writing on the wall as the guy who invented dynamite. He caught a glimpse of his obituary, because it was printed mistakenly — before he died. When he saw that he had been remembered as “the merchant of death,” he made changes to his life. What do you think when you hear “Nobel” today?
In thinking about the figurative bricks and mortar of my life, of what will be remembered and ultimately summed up in an obituary someday, I remind myself: It’s never too late to strengthen my character, to be better every day, to improve the story. Every decision, every action and every interaction are pen strokes left to history.
In this first month of a new year, will you join me in at least thinking about the state of the reputation you are building and the story that will be told of your life?
Reputations of integrity, ethics and trust are the best building blocks for your reputation and that of your business.