Don Rogers: A bear of a boss
March 15, 2018
I swear we must share a root from the same tree in Scotland somewhere, the Highlands if going by personality. Feisty, stubborn, a twinkle in a blue eye amid a good row.
Occasionally, we'd scare colleagues, jousting as if competing clans, neither backing off until one made the case and the other barked out a laugh in concession. The truth, or what finally bore out as the best course forward, was the sacred thing. We agreed on just about nothing but that, our tartan in common.
"No worries," I'd say when I noticed we weren't alone and coworkers in the room looked a little wide-eyed. "It's OK. Really, we like each other."
"That's actually true," he'd allow. "Believe it or not."
No question about saying what you really think with Jim Morgan, general manager of our high country Colorado division. No leaving elephants or even mice in the room unmentioned for the sake of delicate feelings. Whatever one of us held holy was fodder for scrutiny well oiled with skepticism, often a snort. Declare the sun rises without fail in the east and brace yourself for an argument about that.
But you'd never get to know his zest for a good, um, lively discussion without an instinct for poking the bear, maybe a nose for mischief, a robust disrespect for authority.
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Maybe it's because we both came from the newsroom, where debate is a job requirement, an idea a piñata to break open. Sales, where most execs started, and finance and circulation are more businesslike environments. More mature in a regular normal well-modulated professional way.
"What I like about you," he'd say sometimes, "is I know exactly what you think. No beating around the bush. Too many people ask me to just tell them what do."
I can understand that. He's an imposing figure, used to command and unblinking with it. Be ready to back up whatever you say, even the lightest observation. He pays close attention, ever prepared and sharp.
If you're smart, you learn to watch what you say. I never led with brains, it must be admitted.
I'd say I shared the blame in our head butting. But I don't. He hired me as publisher in Vail, after all, knowing me quite well enough as editor.
Our leadership styles couldn't be more different. He's old school, the stern headmaster. I'm more … Hagrid, I suppose, with a bit less girth. He the sage, me the beginner's mind. White papers for him, with pointed reminders about no second chances for first impressions.
Hogwash, I'd say. The world's moving too fast. Ready, fire, aim. The Frisbee and Apple itself came from no white paper.
"What in the hell are you doing?" he'd ask. "Already done," I'd reply.
We run at opposite poles of the trust meter, too. He doubts even you've come up right every time for a decade, needing to work out the numbers or the logic for himself, find every possible hole.
I trust my folks completely until someone breaks it. Then I become him. Yes, I've been burned a time or two. But so has he.
Let's put it this way: He's a set-play kind of coach, everyone running the right routes. I'm all read and react. Flexibility and creativity are my premiums, structure and process his.
He's more stern, I'd say, and I think I'm more demanding. Running the right routes isn't good enough for me. You also have to recognize which route to run. Even the "wrong" one at the right time works if the right result ensues.
I guess this makes me John Stuart Mill to his Immanuel Kant. Hah, no doubt we'll argue over that.
We share in some things, though:
Taste in single malt, for one. The joke, OK my joke, is I drank him under the table during my interview for the job at his house. His best bottle, too, Lagavulin.
There's Duke and the Yankees, though I also like North Carolina and the Dodgers.
Giving our very best effort, everything we are and have. That one burns deep: this work as holy cause.
Great authors. We listed our literary classics under the influence at 3 a.m., draining the last of his Lagavulin.
And of course, love for a good debate, leave your titles at the door. Only the bright edge of one's wit matters here.
I thought he shined during the Great Recession, a lowest low. People panicked across our industry, our company, at our papers. Not him. Not that I ever saw anyway. He served as lighthouse, solid, resolute and guiding well, always guiding.
Don't tell him I said so, though. There's no argument there, not with something surer than the sun rising in the east. What would we have to talk about then?
He's retiring now, incomprehensibly, though of course we saw it coming if never quite believed. I worked with him directly from 2009 into 2016, an epoch in our quicksilver world, just long enough to learn what to try to emulate even as I'll admit nothing of the sort. But I did pay some attention, learn some lessons, after all. Mainly about that lighthouse.
I wouldn't have reached consideration for Grass Valley otherwise.
It felt something like graduation when the transfer came through.
"I'll miss you," he said.
Likewise, Mr. Morgan.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, The Wildwood Independent and Truckee Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4299.
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