When I started my first job after college at Premier International, which was founded by Jim and Dune Hempleman in Chicago in 1985, Premier was probably a third of the size that it is now, and it always had a small family atmosphere where everyone helps everyone else and takes care of each other. At the beginning of my first year at Premier, I would call Jim "Mr. Hempleman", but then he would respond that Mr. Hempleman was his father so I should call him "Jim".
Jim was the CEO, and he had a profound effect on my early career. I can remember storming into his office with a problem on my client project saying "we have a problem...", and Jim would calmly repeat it back to me saying "you mean that we have an opportunity...". Back then, we were very busy every fall season, and there were times when I was working past midnight at the office and I suddenly had to call Jim at home for help with a problem (sorry, I should say 'opportunity'). No matter how many times that I woke him up during the middle of the night or called him on a weekend, Jim was always available to help in any way that he could.
The most amazing thing Jim and Dune did for us was during the severe 2008-2009 recession. In an era when ownership and management lay off employees so that they can get their own bonuses, Jim and Dune sacrificed financially so that the rest of us didn't have to. During that same period, Premier had given an offer to a college graduate well in advance of the recession, and even during the deepest part of the recession, Jim insisted that we honor our commitment to that future employee. Jim always had a saying to "protect your people" and that people were the biggest asset at a consulting firm, and he lived it to the max. I'll never forget that. The other thing was that Jim always bet on the future, and he knew that our company would recover with the economy and we did; in fact, our company flourished a few years later.
It was always important to Jim and Dune that the company provide full health benefits for their employees. Even during the years when insurance costs were going up 20%-30% a year, Premier always fully paid for employees' health benefits. Likewise, I remember meetings with Jim where he would be looking at the salary raises or bonuses for the next year, and he would point to different sections of the spreadsheet and say "we can raise this more, we can give more here". In an era when many company managements try to do everything they can to keep salaries down, Jim and Dune always shared their financial success with the rest of staff. I remember another time when I was about to fly out on our first project overseas, and Dune handed me an envelope (this was before we had direct deposit, so we had paper checks). When I opened the envelope, it was a check to pre-pay my travel expenses, because Jim and Dune were so worried about sending an employee overseas for the first time that they wanted to make sure that I had extra cash just in case I needed it.
There were so many pieces of consulting advice that Jim shared over the years, such as "under promise and over deliver for your client". When we were working on some of our toughest projects which required lots and lots of hours, Jim would always say that we would look back someday and remember those as the 'good old days'. You know, he was right too, because I still remember those tough projects to this day. Jim would say to 'always act in the client's best interests', but the funny thing is that I always took that for granted, because that's how we always acted at Premier. It wasn't until 15+ years later, when I was witnessing unethical behavior by a few individuals on various other projects, that it really hit home what Jim had truly meant. There is actually a Code of Ethics that hangs in Premier's office, and it impacts everything that we do. To this day, we don't officially celebrate sales wins, but we do officially celebrate client projects successfully going live. Interestingly, a lot of the skills that I learned at work have helped me in my personal life too, which was something that I never expected on my first day at Premier 20 years ago.
To this day, I've never seen anyone analyze a set of requirements/specifications like Jim could. He was so productive all of the time too, doing work in taxis and on plane rides whenever we would travel together. Watching him entertain clients was an amazing thing, as he ordered many desserts from the menu at the end of the meal or selected a nice bottle of wine at the beginning. Of course, Jim and Dune threw these amazing parties for employees and our families every year at their home, both in December and during the summer. They put so much effort into every detail of the party, because they wanted to make sure that every single guest was taken care of.
Jim pushed me to grow in ways that I didn't realize at the time. I remember during meetings if I said that I didn't know a certain feature or process, then Jim would select me to work on the corresponding task because he said there was no better way for me to learn it. He also used to pull me into meetings and calls, so that I could listen in even though I really didn't understand much at the time. Without even realizing it, I learned so much over time by being there, listening, and watching how people reacted during meetings. Of course, Jim and I still got into heated arguments from time to time at work, but it always worked out because I think that both of us knew that the other person was trying to do the right thing too.
For my wedding, my wife and I invited all of Premier's staff, and during the reception we asked Jim and Dune to stand up in front of the entire audience so that I could publicly thank them for everything that they did for their employees. The interesting thing is that most of the people at the reception knew about Jim and Dune, even though they had never met them in person, because I talked about them so much to my family and friends. A couple of years ago, as Jim's health declined, there would be times where I would help him put on his overcoat at the office or drive him home when he was carrying something from the office. Even though it was difficult to see Jim's health suffer, I am so grateful now that in some small way I was able to help Jim then, in return for everything that he had done for me. My last long phone conversation with Jim was a random 5 minute phone conversation that turned into a 30 minute phone conversation, because Jim was trying to help me solve some problem (I mean, opportunity) on one of my client projects!
Jim passed away last May, and during that very same weekend, it was amazing to see Dune get on a phone call with our company management to help us through that difficult time. Absolutely incredible. Dune has done everything and more over the past year to take care of the company and its employees, and to continue Jim's vision and to grow it substantially more. Jim had selected his son-in-law to take over as CEO of the company, and there are so many situations over the past year where I understand exactly why Jim had selected him for that role.
Every night when Jim would leave the office, he would stop by every employee's desk and say "thank you for all of your hard work and dedication". After 20 amazing years at Premier, all I can say to Jim and Dune is the same thing: "THANK YOU for all of your hard work and dedication". I already talk about some of the details of my career with my kids, and hopefully someday I will be able to talk about the same things with my grandkids. I'll bet that they will say that it's amazing that owners of a company took care of their employees like that back then, and that it doesn't happen anymore... and I will say that people said the same thing back when I was working too, because nobody could believe it then either. Everyday I work as hard as I can at Premier, because I am still trying to thank Jim and Dune for the amazing opportunity that they gave me 20 years ago as a new college grad entering the workforce. I have worked at Premier now for almost half of my life, and it's been a tremendous honor for which I will forever be grateful.