Fourteen years ago I was having a conversation with a neighbor who was a guidance counselor at O’Keefe elementary school in Madison, WI. I had done something like donated a bike to a fundraiser and he thanked me. "No problem," I responded. "If I can ever be of any help, let me know." To which he replied, "Well, if you really want to help, there are a bunch of kids at our school who need a mentor." "Fine, sign me up." And so a few days later I met my new friend Louis Washington. Street smart, ambitious, and a smile bigger than Magic Johnson's; I began to mentor Louis. Louis did not have the easiest life. In the first year that I mentored Louis, I think he lived in seven different places. Throughout some very difficult circumstances, Louis always survived and never went down the wrong road. I was at a Boys and Girls Club event the other night and Michael, the new Executive Director, spoke. He told a story about how he had grown up in the housing projects of Chicago and it wasn't easy, but he made it through. A few years ago, the high school asked him to come back and speak at graduation. Upon arrival he saw a photo of himself and his classmates. There were 18 boys in the photo, only three are alive today. When he told that story all I could think about was Louis. I can't say that the Louman and I have always agreed on everything. We haven't. And I have had to put Louis on the Tough Love program a few times but.... As Michael told that story all I could think about was how proud I was of Louis that he had stayed on the straight and narrow and had avoided making some really bad decisions in an environment full of difficult circumstances. Louis graduated from high school and went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
A few weeks ago, Louis called saying that he really needed a job. His timing was very good, it was right after I had heard Michael speak. I told Louis to come in for an interview. Louis passed the test and is a new employee at Trek. When I sat Louis down I told him that he and I had something in common. He obviously wanted to know what that was. I said, "Do you know how you got your job at Trek?" "Because of my interview?" "No. You got your job because of me. Don’t feel bad about that, I got my job at Trek because of my Dad. When my Dad hired me he said 'your last name gets you in the door, the rest is up to you.' The same applies to you Louis. You are now working at the Best Bicycle Company in the world. If you need any help, let me know, but your success is up to you."