In honor of Jim Miller's retirement last month, we're proud to share this post which originally appeared on the Think Tank in July of 2014,
Here at Fisher Tank Company, we like to say we have a management team that has almost as much longevity as the tanks we build. Jim Miller, currently serving as a Vice President, started his career with Fisher in 1968. We’re looking forward to sharing some of Jim’s wisdom and experience here on the Think Tank Blog. Today, Jim shares a short story about an invaluable lesson taught by none other than Joseph Fisher, our company founder.
The Eraser, by Jim Miller
I consider myself very fortunate to have worked at Fisher Tank Company when our founder, Joseph Fisher, was still at the helm. Mr. Fisher had tremendous experience in storage tank construction and tank repair. He was a Field Foreman for CB&I for some 25 years before starting Fisher Tank Company. To the best of my knowledge, he never took a single management course. He did not attend college. But Joseph Fisher was a smart man and a true leader. He was a firm, no-nonsense kind of guy, but when you screwed up, he was more apt to see it as an opportunity to teach you a lesson rather than yell at you for your mistake.
Early in my career, Joseph Fisher taught me a lesson I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I was working in the Engineering Department as a draftsman. I’d been with Fisher about 6 months, and I was not quite 18 years old. Mr. Fisher had just purchased a new army green 1969 Dodge Polara station wagon from Bohrer Dodge, which was just down the street from the Fisher Tank Company office in Chester, PA. On this particular morning, he came into the Engineering office and told me he had gone under a low tree and snapped his antenna off.
Mr. Fisher was getting ready for the company’s weekly staff meeting and told me to take the car to the dealer and purchase a new antenna, which screwed into the front passenger side fender. I purchased the replacement antenna and returned to the office to install it. I unscrewed the stub of the original antenna and removed it. I used pliers to make certain the new antenna was secured tightly, but I over-tightened it and the antenna snapped, leaving the threaded portion in the fender.
I drove the car back to the dealer and solicited the help of a mechanic. He explained that the new Dodges had sealed fenders and that it was imperative that the antenna unit be removed with great care because if it were to be dropped into the fender, the car would have to go to the body shop to have the fender removed to retrieve the unit.
I watched as the guy gingerly used two fingers to unscrew the ring around the threaded portion. He succeeded in detaching the unit from the fender, but as he raised it to remove the wire, the wire snagged and the unit dropped into the fender. I had to leave Mr. Fisher’s car at the dealer for its trip to the body shop.
Devastated, I walked back to the office, called my sister, who had my car, and told her to get my car down to the office and to figure out a way to get back home on her own. Certain I would be fired, I proceeded to go through the office and say my goodbyes.
Once the staff meeting was over, I went to Mr. Fisher’s office to explain the situation. This part must have traumatized me because I remember it like it was yesterday. I explained what had happened, and that his brand new car was now in the body shop.
Mr. Fisher he told me to sit down. He held up a pencil and pointed to the eraser. He first asked me what it was, then asked me why they put them on pencils. "Because people make mistakes," I responded. He told me I was right, and that I just made a mistake – it was not the end of the world (and thankfully, not the end of my career). I thanked him and got up to leave.
I remember this part vividly: Joseph Fisher waited until I got to his door, and then he called me back. He held up the pencil again and told me to remember one thing about erasers: "They make them very small."
Over the years, I’ve gone through a lot of pencils and fortunately learned that they do make big erasers, because there are times when we need them. But the lesson learned that day from Joseph Fisher has never been erased from my memory, and probably never will. Mistakes happen, and they usually present an opportunity to learn. Keep your erasers handy.