I saw an ad for Untuckit the other day, and it reminded me of a crucial lesson my mentor taught me 20 years ago.
I had just started a new job leading the marketing for a major hospital when the CEO who hired me was let go. To fill that gap at the top, the board of directors brought in an outside consultant to serve as interim CEO and assess the viability of replacement candidates. So on his first day, I walk into his office to introduce myself, and I tell him “I drew up a list of what I believe are the top 11 initiatives that you should focus on in your first 100 days.”
This guy looks at me like I have two heads — who’s this kid who’s just a few years out of IUP, telling HIM what HIS priorities should be for the next 3 months? — but he says sure, drop off the list and he’ll take a look at it.
It turns out that of the 11 items on my list, 8 of them were also on his.
That’s when he nicknamed me “Bullet,” because I was so fast off the draw.
Meanwhile, the board introduces him to the guy that they think should be the next CEO: a Harvard-Yale graduate who’s been at this hospital for 20 years and who has full board support. In meetings, they tell the consultant that they believe this is the guy who’s going to turn things around for them. But there’s a wrinkle: when the consultant looks into who’s actually doing the hands-on work to improve the business, a different name keeps showing up, time after time.
One day, the interim CEO comes into work. Our offices are all in a row, so he has to pass by my office to get to his. As he walks past my doorway, he stops, takes one step back, and looks at me.
“Hey Bullet,” he says. “IUP 1, Harvard-Yale 0.”
I’m confused. He clarifies: “I fired the other guy. You’re it.”
That consultant, George Hartnett, went on to become my mentor and one of my closest friends in the business.
Many years later, after we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, George attended MASSolutions’ Anniversary Party. I was thrilled that George could meet the next morning for brunch, too.
George walks up to me with a disapproving look on his face. He tugs on my shirt tail.
“Why’s this untucked?” He doesn’t say it, but his implication is clear: “This isn’t who you are. We’re suit and tie guys.”
I tell him, “George, you’re mostly retired, and you work out of your house now. You don’t know that this is the new normal.”
We laughed about it, life went on, and George continued to guide and teach me in incredible ways. But that moment popped into my head again when I saw that Untuckit ad.
If you haven’t heard of them, Untuckit is a new casual shirt company for men. Their angle? Untucked shirts that fit so well they look great whether they’re untucked or not. (Their slogan is clever too: “Every body welcome.” As an XL guy who sometimes has to add an X or two, I appreciate Untuckit’s declaration that looking good isn’t just for mannequins.).
We’ve come a long way from the days when you had to show up in a suit and tie if you wanted to be taken seriously in business. But while “social acceptability” factors like fashion trends and the perceived value of a college pedigree will always change over time, one thing stays the same:
It’s not what you look like or where you come from that truly matters to people; it’s your results that tell the real story.