George & Lilliana Seibert at the Harbor Pharmacy, 1958
Most of the mentorsI’ve written about have been work companions and no one I’ve worked with has had the same impact as George and Lilliana Seibert. It would have been their 60th anniversary today (George passed away in 2002) so it’s a great day to honor them.
Yes, Lilliana and George are my parents. And yes, most people can point to their parents as the prime influence on them, but I’m not going to completely bore you with too much personal biography. This blog is focused on work and my folks were my first bosses at their suburban pharmacy. The takeaway from my first work experience has shaped most of what I’ve done since. I picked up my complete love of work with them, and found out that for me “work to live” is not an option. “Live to work” is much more like it. I didn’t become a workaholic —I like my personal time as much as anyone— but I absorbed the real joy of the process of work itself.
I worked* in their store for more than 20 years.Along the way I picked up the building blocks of everything I’ve done ever since (as my parents had from their fathers' local stores). Of course, there was the simple stuff that lots of kids learn at home, like responsibility and politeness. And small business basics. But working with them side by side went a lot deeper. The measures of an outfit's viability. The service of a local enterprise to it's customers and the community.
When I got into the television business it didn’t dawn on me that lessons learned in a mom & pop drugstore would have any direct usefulness. But, one day in 1985 my partner and I were sitting down with the president of Nickelodeon, and I was trying to convey a particular scheduling strategy, where we’d take a bunch of our network IDs that we’d run the sprocket holes off of and just switch them to a different daypart. It would save money on new ID production, and the network would get new dose of freshness.
“How do you know about this stuff?” The president knew I was as relatively new to television.
I explained to her a lesson my mother had taught me at the store. A basket of sale lipsticks had stopped moving, so my mom just placed the basket at the opposite end of the counter. An hour later they were selling again. Transposing the exercise to media placement seemed like a good idea to me, nutty as it was. By the way, it worked on television too, and it was only the first of dozens of surprising tips I could put to good use.
Two decades in the family store netted me oceans more than can recounted here. Not to short shrift our home at all; my two sisters and I had a wonderful, warm life together with my parents. But, suffice it to say, when it comes to work, I was one lucky dude.
* The Harbor Pharmacy opened in suburban New York in 1954, and I started “working” right away. Babysitting was expensive and though most of what was given to me was busywork I took it as seriously as a child could. Stocking shelves was my first important duty, but I rapidly ascended to checking out customers (a classic cash register is way better than a toy for a boy). Accompanying the delivery “boys” (men from 16 to 60) on their rounds was the highlight of my day (not theirs, I’d bet), and my driver’s license let me graduate once again. By the time of my last stint in 1977, I was writing and designing their local Pennysaver ads.
** A quick word about the modern American Gothic photograph up top. Early in our pharmacy’s life a trade magazine was writing a story and sent an art director to supervise the photography. My father, a complete and proud professional, felt the proper attire for a business owner was a shirt and tie, which he wore at work every day for over thirty years. But, the art director thought that the appropriate pharmacist’s attire was the same lab smock it had been for decades. He insisted my father conform. It irritated Dad forever.