I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership, teamwork, and what makes a good boss lately. One of my former bosses, Jim Potter, died back in May, and I only found out about it recently. The news of his death hit me hard, surprising me with its intensity.
His real estate investment and property management company was a hardworking place but we had a lot of fun. Jim could always be counted on to think about things in his own unique way, and his many renovation and project repositioning successes had to do with this talent. By his example we all learned to think differently – to create partnerships with adjacent landholders, to anticipate the rental market, to make environmentally sustainable choices, and to never, ever forget who our customer was and what our company mission was.
The corporate culture he created there was always evolving, but challenge was the name of the game. No matter what we were working on we all knew we had to look at it from every angle and not miss a thing. He’d pop in to discuss it and in just a few seconds he’d think of some interesting ideas that I’d smack my forehead to have missed. But over time I truly did retrain my brain to explore the world the way he did.
One special thing about working for Jim was that we all solidly knew who we were working for at all times. “Who is the customer here?” is something we would ask each other whenever we’d get stuck. Making sure all our “arrows are going in the same direction” was something we considered throughout the day, every day. It’s what made us better, more efficient, more profitable and what made our deals different.
I can’t say I loved working for him 100%. There were times where I felt pushed too hard or when he withheld information that would have helped me do my job better. One time I had spent a lot of time and effort on a renovation budget for a property we were acquiring and when I gave it to him he casually slashed the renovation budget by more than half and raised the income expectation. I was so angry at him – but you know what, I made it work. Why didn’t he just give me the actual numbers at the beginning? I have no idea. But after a while I learned to plan “lean” and to think more like him. Go figure.
He trusted the head of Finance and me to be co-Presidents of his company while he and his family moved to Chile for a year, and that was an experience of a lifetime. The challenges we faced and dealt with – using the tools he knew we’d need and made available – made that one of the hardest and best times of my working life.He trusted us, he let us do what we needed to do, but he was available if we needed to consult.
I hadn’t kept in touch with Jim over the years although I did write him an email once letting him know what he meant to me, and I’m glad I did. When I googled him a few days ago hoping to see what new and innovative thing he was up to now, I never ever expected to read he was dead. He was always larger than life, always fully engaged in life, impossible to imagine gone.