Jeff Lehman is a UCF College of Business Hall of Fame Member, Supporter of our Professional Selling Program, Author, Entrepreneur, Mentor and Stand Up Comic. He is a man never afraid to get out of his comfort zone. He offers two failure stories. One when he was here at UCF and another as he started his career..
Failure at UCF…
While at UCF I received a BSBA in Finance/Economics and then started working on my MBA. Back then, to graduate with a MBA you needed to pass four proficiency exams. During finals week my management professor had a family emergency and another professor graded my exam. I failed. Really? Yes, I failed in a subject that I thought I had totally mastered and understood. My grades were fine in my management classes…but it didn’t matter. I didn’t think the circumstances were fair and said so. “Sorry, you’ll need to retake that exam…next term!” was all I got. I did, about a week before I started law school 360 miles away. And I passed. I was elated, but I never could figure out what happened the first time around. Sometimes you never know exactly why you failed at something.
I learned that even if you think you completely know your subject you might not fully understand another person’s perspective on the exact same topic. The irony here is that I went on to have a 20+ year successful career in sales and marketing management. Yes, management. I’ve even written a book on sales management that’s used in the professional sales programs at UCF and other universities. While I have more than made up for my initial epic fail, I always have to remind myself that failure can be just one step away.
First Job Failure…
I decided that I didn’t really like law school that much. My grades were fine, but I wasn’t feeling creative or useful. I resigned after a semester and headed to Los Angeles to work. In my first job I was a Market Analyst for Price Pfister, a consumer packaged goods company. I was soon promoted to National Account Manager and handled the Ace Hardware and True Value Hardware accounts. One of my early assignments was to create new retail packaging for a line of faucets. It put all my creative skills to work. The first project I did was a multi-color print run of 5,000 units. The cost of the project was equivalent to one third of my annual salary. Scary. The proof sheet came back. I checked and double-checked for typos. I approved it. The job ran. I proudly put the first printed sheet on my office wall. The CEO was doing a “walk around” one afternoon and came to visit. He took one look at the sheet and said, “Do you see what I see?” I didn’t. My heart sank. He pointed at the company logo. It. Was. Reversed. Pfister Price. Argh! Technically speaking, it wasn’t spelled incorrectly it was just backwards. The graphic artist must have been dyslexic, or I was. I showed it to a few other people and no one caught the mistake. Didn’t matter much though. I signed off on it…so I owned it. Things get a little blurry from there, but I think we just used the labels, and fixed the mistake the next time around. Whew. No financial loss, just a major ego bruise.
I learned that if you are a true professional you own your mistakes. As it turns out, I am mildly dyslexic…but not enough to turn Price Pfister into Pfister Price. I have learned to check and recheck everything. It’s the carpenter’s equivalent of “measure twice, cut once.” When you learn to accept the fact that you will make mistakes, and that you will own them, you immediately elevate yourself to a higher standard in the working world. Pointing fingers at others is easy…but you never learn anything from that.