May 24, 2024

The Boss: It’s O.K. to Sleep at Camp

One day after basketball practice, two of my teammates got into a heated discussion about an incident that happened in third grade. It hadn’t occurred to me that these guys had known each other for so long. It was the first time I realized that moving every few years wasn’t the norm.

I married my high school sweetheart when I was in college at Duke, and we had a son who was diagnosed with leukemia. I dropped out of school and exhausted our medical coverage over the next three years. My dad advised me that the military would provide medical insurance. I joined the Army because it was a branch of the service that would let me choose the training I wanted.

Unfortunately, my son died a year later. Marrying young and having a child with serious health issues was too much for the marriage, and it didn’t last. I told my superiors that since there was no longer any reason for me to be there, I’d like to go home. But they pointed out that I still had three years on my contract.

I continued my training on computers and electronic communications and ended up with the equivalent of a master’s degree in computer science. I worked on a command-and-control system at Fort Sill, Okla., that managed an entire operating theater and was deployable anywhere. It integrated information like data about weather, troop movements, munitions and supplies.

Anxious to catch up with my peers, I got a job at a computer firm in New Jersey and enrolled at what was then Rider College. I worked full time and went to school full time, graduating summa cum laude in 1990 at age 30. Afterward I attended the Fuqua School of Business at Duke on a full scholarship.

Then I accepted a job at Procter Gamble, starting as a financial analyst with an eye to becoming a senior finance executive. On one assignment, I served as a controller at a paper plant in Greenville, N.C, to understand how seemingly small decisions have an impact on capital, costs and operations at that level.

A lesson I learned at P. G. from my mentor and boss, Wendell Clark, was to anticipate and prepare for the future. He suggested using the financial model I had developed to adjust various costs and predict the impact in seconds.

Next, I worked at Coca-Cola and helped turn around a noncarbonated beverage division. Then I became chief financial officer at Kidde, the smoke detector and fire extinguisher company. After that I moved to SPX, an industrial equipment supplier, which wasn’t a great fit. It was industrial engineering oriented and I was consumer marketing oriented.

Thankfully, Gary Kiedaisch, the Coleman chief executive at the time, called me to discuss a position there. I joined Coleman in 2005 as C.F.O. and vice president for administration. I became interim C.E.O. in 2007 when Mr. Kiedaisch left the company, and I was promoted to my present position in 2008.

I’m often asked about my camping experiences. During a humanities course in graduate school, I participated in an Outward Bound type of exercise that required us to camp. It was the first time I realized you’re actually supposed to sleep. In all the times I camped with the Boy Scouts, we had thought the name of the game was to keep the fire burning and to run around and scare one another; I’d sleep in the car on the way home.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

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