Well, about 50 hikes, actually – and we’re not even including the one that he’s taking out of Star Building Systems headquarters in Oklahoma City after 43 years.
Yes, in case you haven’t heard, Gene is retiring. And should you find yourself associating the word retirement with mental pictures of him in flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts, tropical drink in hand … well, there’s something else you haven’t heard: Gene is a bit of an adventure-junkie.
Any guy who lists running, kayaking, adventure racing, and mountain biking among his hobbies isn’t exactly sit-on-a-park-bench-and-feed-pigeons material – and Gene, in true Gene form, isn’t meandering leisurely into this phase of his life. He has an SUV and an aggressive agenda: visit all 59 national parks and hike his way through the scenic route to retirement.
So now that we’re all envious of him, let’s remember that we’re really going to miss him when he leaves. Gene started his career at Star in 1973 as a Design Engineer, but it was only about six months before he was moved to Estimating Engineer. It was in this position that he began to have much more customer contact – a concept that was uncomfortable for him at first. “I was a very shy person before I came to work here. When I was proposing to my now wife, it took me ten minutes just to get the words out,” laughs Gene; “And her parents still joke that they didn’t have eye contact with me until years after we were married.”
But it didn’t take him long to warm up to the customer service role, and – to his own pleasant surprise – actually enjoy it. He gradually overcame his shyness and began to realize that people really appreciated what he did for them and that was a feeling he liked. “I found a lot of reward and satisfaction in following through and making sure we always delivered on our promises”, says Gene.
And that may just be the realization that led to what today is his unofficial job title of “Promise Maker”. The official title is Vice President of Operations, but Gene laughs that the former may be more appropriate, as a commonly heard expression around the halls of Star is “he promised WHAT??” Gene says it with a good-natured laugh, but there’s no question about the seriousness of his commitment to promising Star customers an exceptional level of service and making sure it’s met. “With very few exceptions, the promises I make to customers are kept – and that’s a huge benefit for the customer, and makes us look good as well;” says Gene, “I’m very grateful to the people who work here, because every one of them in some way is keeping a promise I’ve made and they need to know that’s important and it’s appreciated.”
Gene’s journey to his current position was nearly as adventurous and full of interesting turns as his national park expedition promises to be. In his 43 years, his name has been followed by titles that cover almost every aspect of Star’s service areas, including Sales Engineer, Chief Engineer, Chief Sales Engineer, Manager of Estimating, Team Manager, Director of Customer Service, and Director of Estimating, Pricing Administration and Plant Scheduling. “All of my positions have been progressive and I’ve gained knowledge at each one;” Gene says of the variety of work experience he’s gained, “Now I have a lot of varied knowledge and experience that helps the company as a whole.”
Overall, however, it’s the experience with people that makes him the most proud and that he’ll miss the most. “Throughout my career, I’ve built an ability to gain the trust of employees and customers as a person who’s honest and truly cares about them. They know I’m going to do what I say I’ll do – and I’m very proud of that.”
You should be, Gene. And as you set off on your next adventure, here’s one last promise we assure you will be kept: we’re going to miss you around here.
From Marcy Turner, Customer Service Manager in Oklahoma City:
“Gene was never one to care much about style or appearance. For years, he drove an old blue Jeep that was so banged-up, we wondered how it ever made it to work. We affectionately called it a “throw-away ride from Frontier City”. Then there was the time we were attending a national sales meeting and his shoes were so holey and worn out, one of the builders felt sorry for him and bought him a new pair! But that’s what makes him so endearing to everyone. We all felt comfortable around him. He was an excellent engineer and knew his trade better than most people, but was never condescending to anyone. He was always a gentleman and never too busy to listen and mentor.”
From Cary Barger, Director of Field Service, Claims and Warranty Administration, Oklahoma City:
“One late afternoon recently, Gene locked himself out of his office and had to get back in to get some keys he left behind. Two employees (names withheld to protect the innocent…) discouraged him from crawling over the wall, removing ceiling tiles and dropping a long way down on the other side to open the door. Instead, they told him to step aside as they dropped in a long roll of tape, looped at one end, to reach around the knob and open the door from the top of the wall. Gene was thankful, but not entirely sure how he felt about the criminal abilities of the unnamed employees.”
From Norman Elliott, J&N Construction, Morrowville, Kansas:
“We have known Gene for more than 40 years. We are a small business in Kansas, but Gene and the rest of the staff at STAR never made us feel that we weren’t important. Gene was always upbeat, had a smile on his face, and returned every phone call. And when we got a chance to talk, we always bantered about his Oklahoma Sooners and my Kansas State Wildcats. It was great knowing Gene and he will be missed.”