Who is your Business Hero

07/17/2017 12:31 am ET

We all have them, heroes. Those people whom we try to emulate, our teachers, trail blazers, and mentors.

I lost one of those this week. Norman McClelland, the former Chairman of Shamrock Foods Company, passed away this week at the age of 90.

To me, Norman was presidential, regal, a man of deep integrity. He was my hero.

I started working for him when I was 28 years old. He had a quiet presence. He was not a fiery leader, rather one that listened, questioned and challenged me to be better. I spent nearly 18 years under his tutelage. He afforded me the opportunity to grow, to learn, and to create and provide a great life for my family.

I worked hard, I never wanted to disappoint him. He inspired me to be the best I could be. He made me think, question, and defend my logic. If I made a strong business case, he would provide whatever support that was needed.

He believed that you must treat employees like family and customers like friends. He felt that if you entered a market, you better plan to be number one. He took a small little dairy that his dad started in Tucson, Arizona in 1922 and built it into a multi-billion-dollar corporation.

Once, while walking with him around one of newest divisions in New Mexico, I asked, “Do you ever stop and think, wow look at what I’ve created?”

“No”, he said. “I think about what we need to do next.”

He wasn’t perfect, his drive and passion for his company came with costs. But, he was wise, kind, and shrewd.

He also had a competitive drive metered by a sense of humor. I ran my first half marathon at 38. Norman, at 78 also ran in the race. A few days later, I saw him and he let me know that he checked my time, and then with a wry smile, informed me that he beat me.

Today, years removed from working with him, his voice still resonates in my head. I still work hard to never disappoint him. His lessons still guide my actions and frame my view of integrity and of business ethics.

I believe deeply that it is important to pay it forward. I know I am not Norman McClelland, but I hope I’ve served others well. I hope that those with whom I’ve worked as an executive, manager, or mentor felt that I gave freely and that I added value.

I would love to use this as an opportunity to hear from you. Who is/was your hero? How did they impact your career, your business philosophy, your success? What lessons did you learn and how have those shaped your actions?

How do you plan to pay it forward? What can you do to support your team? How will you be viewed?

I am sad at his passing, but so grateful for the role he played in my life. I know his lessons will continue to guide me.

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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution, build velocity, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Food Dive.

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