As I’m writing this message, I’m packing to head off to Jackson, Wyoming, for the funeral of a great friend and mentor, Foster Friess. If Foster had his way, he’d tell me that it is a waste of time, as he walked away. But then he’d half turn his head and smirk, only to say, “You won’t want to miss it, it’s going to be great!” That’s the kind of simultaneous serious, self-deprecating, and silly humor he had.
For some God given reason, I was able to learn from Foster for the past 30 years. And while he amassed billions as a renowned stock researcher, he never once gave me a pick – oh…and I tried! Rather he gave me breadcrumbs. Not the patronizing toss-away idea that you might think of when you think of a successful guy meeting an ordinary person like myself. But rather the kind of breadcrumbs that lead you down a trail. And the destination of the journey he created for me should have been clear a long time ago, but my head was on the trail, ever so hungry for the next morsel. And when Foster passed, it forced me to raise my head to see where I was. And when I did, I was in full reflection of his lessons.
When you were with Foster, you saw a man that believed in the dignity of all people. We’d be at dinner and he’d call out the wait staff and thank them for leaving their families so that we could enjoy a meal. Sometimes he’d introduce the cook or the bus boy to his friends. But that wasn’t the magic. The magic was realizing that to Foster, perhaps his table mates were the “wait staff” and the folks who donned uniforms and trays were the CEOs of their worlds. So, during moments when Foster ripped off the boundaries of class and prestige, those who were paying attention realized Foster knew we could do more if we were all on the same team, regardless of how you arrived at the table. He multiplied his “others” from just his table mates to include those who were serving.
When you were seated around the table with Foster, he cared deeply for your story, regardless of your station in life. At the tables were wizards of Wall Street and cooks, television personalities and backhoe operators, oil tycoons, best-selling authors, small town retailers, Top Gun pilots, farmers, and missionaries from foreign lands. And when with Foster, everyone had a voice. Foster insisted that we have only one single conversation at the table or you’d get pelted with a roll. And everyone spoke their heart and their history. For me, I remember being seated next to Ross Perot, Jr. one time and not knowing who he was. I said, “So, Ross, what do you do?” He replied, “I have a family business, but my dad has retired.” I said, “Me too!” Boy, was I surprised when he was called upon to talk. When it was my turn, I assured him that since our company was EDiS and his was EDS, that certainly I must be family with him too! Everyone got a voice.
The best gift I ever got from Foster was a box full of votives from him and his wife Lynn. I thought, maybe he knows I like to light the votives at St. Anthony’s! But no, these had meaning to Foster and Lynn. They recognized that in dimly lit restaurants, while they were conducting their table talks, not everyone could be seen effectively. So, they sent instructions to use these candles the next time we go out to dinner (you can only imagine the look on the wait staff faces when Foster pulls out a dozen candles!) To me, this was more than convenience for Foster, he was modeling the need to not just give people a voice, but to put them in the best light possible so that their heart and their history could inspire others. The “others” could create others. His army for good was being deployed.
I was fortunate to have had a front row seat to see Foster’s generosity in the hands of his army. They are delivering clean water in Africa and bikes in Indonesia. They are sending at-risk youth to schools in Colorado and repairing lives in natural disasters in Louisiana. They are turning on the lights in places of worship, manning phones for suicidal veterans, and putting smiles on the faces of healthcare workers in Delaware. They are everywhere. The power of one is limited. The power of others is limitless.
So, gather your army, get them around a table, introduce them to others, listen to their stories, hear their voices, give them the light to shine, and then send them off to do the same. Our time is limited, so make a difference. You won’t want to miss it. It’s going to be great.