The Toughest Assignment Yet!

Thanks to caller ID, I knew who the early morning caller was before I answered the phone. It was my boss, and while we talk regularly, she rarely calls this early in the day.

“Good morning, Deb,” I began. “How are you today?”

“I’m good, Lyle, and I trust you are doing okay as well.”

Deb Levy has been my boss now for a handful of years and she’s a true professional in every way. I respect her a great deal, and what she has built at Key Media and Research (KMR) is incredible. KMR publishes five trade magazines, including the industry’s most popular and largest circulation publication, USGlass magazine, and her live events are very successful, too. In fact, this last fall’s Auto Glass Week™ in San Antonio set all-time high attendance levels and featured Mike Rowe as the keynote speaker. I consider myself quite fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her and the entire Key Media team.

“I’m good, Deb, and thanks for asking. Now I’m assuming you called for some reason other than to check up on me, so what can I do for you today?”

“Well, Lyle, I have an assignment for you and I want to get you going on it in the next few days.”

One of the things that makes Deb such a good leader is the fact that she is so highly respected by those who work for and with her. You want her respect in turn, so you want to be productive and efficient in your own right. However, it is quite rare for Deb to give me an “assignment.” I’m usually given a great deal of freedom and while “suggestions” are somewhat common, actual “assignments” are few and far between.

“Sure, Deb. What is it that you want me to do?”

“Lyle, I’d like you to talk to Ellen Rogers for an upcoming issue of USGlass. The issue is going to be our Women’s Issue and I want to do a little something special for Ellen.”

“I can’t do this, Deb. You know that I am one of the most cooperative employees you have ever had. Second only to Holly Biller, Tina Czar, Dawn Campbell, Donna Stivers, Lisa Naugle, Tricia Lopez, Jennifer Church, Kathy Bimber, Erin Harris, Patti LaMarco, Amy Hennes, Nicole Rubio, Saundra Hutchison and Kim Borovina. But I can’t accept this assignment.”

“Can you explain to me exactly why not?”

“Ellen intimidates me, Deb.”

“That’s ridiculous. Ellen is not only an incredible writer but an incredible person as well. She is one of the kindest people you’ll ever work with. And she has always been supportive of you and is in every way imaginable a true professional.”

“Deb, that’s the problem. Ellen is a true professional. An award-winning writer who is, in my opinion, the real deal. She’s a true writer … I’m just a story teller. On a number of occasions over the past several years, I have sent her complimentary e-mails or text messages about something she has written. I mean … she is really good and for me to talk to her for an article would be an insult to her.”

“You know you’re being a bit silly about this now don’t you, Lyle?”

“I am not being silly, Deb. Ellen Rogers won a Jesse H. Neal award for journalism earlier this year and you know as well as I do that a Neal in the world of business journalism is considered the equivalent of a Pulitzer. And she was a finalist three times previously. I’m not worthy of changing the ribbon in her typewriter.”

“Pretty sure she’s using a computer, Lyle.”

“See what I mean? I’m just not in her league!”

“I need your article by the end of next week, Lyle. Give Ellen a call and I think you will be surprised at how well it all goes. I gotta run now so I’ll call you next week and you can tell me how it went.”

We said good-bye to each other and I sat at my desk looking at the ceiling trying to imagine how this was all going to play out. After a few days, I worked up the nerve to call Ellen. I was nervous but I didn’t want to let Deb down. Ellen answered on the second ring.

“Ellen,” I began, “I’ve been asked to talk to you for my column in the next issue of USGlass and before we start, I want you to know that this was not my idea.”

“Really? Well, I would certainly be honored to appear in one of your columns. Who asked you to talk to me and what is the purpose?”

“Deb’s idea, Ellen, for the women in the workplace issue. And you know how cooperative I am so of course I accepted the assignment without hesitation and went to work on it immediately.”

“Hmmm. This is truly a surprise but I’m okay with it, Lyle.”

“You are?”

“Of course. I trust you so let’s go.”

Wow, I thought. Maybe this will be okay after all. And to have someone like Ellen Rogers say she “trusted me” was a real boost to my confidence. I dove right in.

“Thank you, Ellen. I want to start with the Neal award. What was that like? And what does winning that award mean to you?”

“Well, Lyle, just being a finalist and getting invited to the awards ceremony is special but then to hear your name called out as the winner … it’s hard to describe. The article that won was titled “Less Than Zero” and dealt with embodied carbon in building materials and in particular glass. It’s an important subject and I felt it needed to be covered properly.”
“I remember it well, Ellen. It appeared in the November 2021 issue of USGlass. That entire issue was outstanding and your article was the highlight to be sure.”

“You know, Lyle, we have a great bunch of writers on our team and we take a lot of pride in our work. Our readers and advertisers expect quality and we try to deliver.”

“So, Ellen, how did you get involved in the glass industry?”

“I had never intended to work in the glass industry but after a couple of jobs that were neither challenging nor rewarding, I interviewed with USGlass and started my career here on Valentine’s Day in 2000.”

“And at that time it was an all-female organization as I remember. Did that sway your decision to come on board?”

“Not really, Lyle. It was a very talented group and I liked their level of professionalism. I had graduated from a women’s college so it was a setting I was comfortable in.”

“Ellen, did you always want to be a writer?”

“In high school I took a class called composition and I had a really great teacher. I had actually wanted to take the journalism class, but it was full, so I settled on composition, which proved to be a truly good thing for me. I came to appreciate the power that words, when properly constructed, can have. So maybe that was when I really got interested in writing.”

“And if you weren’t writing, editing and such, Ellen, what do you think you would be doing? What would your career path have been?”

“Believe it or not, Lyle, I think I would have pursued something in the architectural field. I have always been fascinated by architecture and design.”

“Okay, Ellen, I want to change direction just a little. What was it like coming into an industry very much male-dominated without much experience or knowledge of the industry?”

“It wasn’t always easy. There were very few women in the architectural glass and metal field when I started and while I did get encouragement and help from the women I met, there were some tough times. However, I’ve always maintained that I have a job to do and I am going to do it to the best of my ability regardless of what is thrown at me. Of course, as the years have gone by, there are more women in the industry now and many of them
are in key positions. I think most women do try to help other women in the business world and especially so in industries where women are in the minority. I think women tend to bond a little more quickly when they are in the minority. But I don’t want to be seen as a complainer either. The people I get to work with are generally respectful and helpful and being a female has nothing to do with it. We have a lot of fine people in our business and I’m so very appreciative of that.”

“Ellen, thank you so much for your time and candor. Anything else you want to say before I wrap this up?”

“Just that I feel honored, blessed and privileged to work with Deb Levy and the incredible team at Key Media and Research. The level of talent there runs deep and so does their commitment to our industry. And I speak here of the male and female members of the Key team. We get to work in an ever-changing and exciting industry with creative and dedicated people all around us. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

We talked on for another 15-20 minutes and then said our good-byes. Certainly the entire talk was time well spent and what I’m sharing here is only a portion of what we discussed. I couldn’t wait to let Deb know how well it had gone so I called her immediately.

“Deb, it’s Lyle,” I began, “and I just hung up with Ellen.”

“Good and how did it go? Did she intimidate you?”

“I think it went well and you were right, as usual. Ellen’s a remarkable person and a pleasure to know and work with. Thanks for letting me have the assignment.”

Humor columnist Lyle R. Hill is president of Glass.com®, an information portal and job generation company for the glass industry. Hill has more than 50 years’ experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com

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