WARNING: Sappy post
Once in a great while, even old Texas rednecks reflect on things…
I was sitting in an aisle seat on a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to San Antonio. The flight was almost full, and I was hoping the flight attendant would close the door before another passenger got on board and sat in the center seat beside me. I’d had a miserable day and was looking forward to a quiet flight home that evening.
As luck would have it, one last passenger rushed on board just before we pulled away from the gate. Sure enough, he scrunched into the seat next to me, out of breath and looking like he’d not had such a great day himself. My assessment of his situation was reinforced when he asked a flight attendant to bring him a drink as soon as she could. He said, “Why don’t you go ahead and bring me two and save yourself a trip.”
I couldn’t help making a comment to the effect that it appeared he’d had a tough day. That’s all it took to open his floodgates and his story to pour out.
He told me he had a family-owned pest control business in San Antonio, a company name that I recognized. He said he’d been to Houston to sign the final papers selling his business to a national company (Orkin, if I recall correctly). They had been after him for years to sell to them, but had gotten really serious in the past couple of months and offered him what he described as “A pile of money, and I mean a big pile, enough to make my family very comfortable for the rest of our lives”. After several weeks of negotiations, they had reached an agreement and he had come to Houston to finalize the deal.
But as he sat in that conference room at a huge table with all the executives and lawyers gathered round and with the sale documents in front of him, he said he couldn’t pick up the pen and sign. He told them he was sorry, but he’d changed his mind and decided not to sell. Apparently the conversation went downhill pretty quickly from there and he made a quick exit and headed for the airport.
It was obvious he wanted to talk, so I asked him what made him change his mind. He spent the remainder of the short flight telling me about the business he had started when he was in his 20’s, and about the 40+ employees he had working for him, some who had been with him for more than 20 years. He knew the new owners would not keep many of them since Orkin already had a business locally and would not want any of his office staff and probably not many of his technicians, especially the senior ones making higher wages. As he sat at that table to sign the papers, he just could not get those people out of his mind. He felt as if he was betraying them and when it came down to signing the sale document, he could not bring himself to do it.
While we talked he was downing the two drinks he’d ordered and I suppose the combination of those plus telling his story to someone had calmed his nerves. But as we started to land he grew apprehensive again and told me he was very concerned about how his family was going to react to what he had done. He said he had two grown children, a son and daughter, and both were in the business with him. The family had wanted him to sell and his kids were going to share in the profits of the sale to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars each. His wife was ready for them to retire (ER since I would guess the guy was in his mid-50’s) and do some traveling. He said although he had tried to call his family before the flight about his change of heart (this was the pre-cell phone era), he had only been able to leave a message telling them he had decided not to sell and what flight he would be on. He was more than a little apprehensive at the reception he would get on arrival, fearing his family would be very upset at his lack of resolve and their lost fortune.
I tried to reassure him that everything would be OK, but he grew even more apprehensive as we came to a stop and began to deplane. By this time he was a nervous wreck, pale and so distressed I thought he might become physically ill. Since I had been sucked into this little mini-drama, I allowed him to go ahead of me so I could watch what transpired.
As we entered the waiting area, he stopped and looked around for a moment. Off to one side stood three people, obviously his wife and two adult children.. They were holding what must have been a dozen colorful balloons and wearing goofy-looking party hats. When he made eye contact with them, they started cheering and applauding. He broke into tears and of course a group hug ensued.
Yes, I know it’s a sappy story, but it is true. It took place almost 20 years ago but I think of it each time I see his son do a TV commercial for the still family-owned business.
What’s my point? Not sure I have one, other than to reiterate “it’s not all about money”.
Numbers is hard.
Retired in 2005 at age 58, no pension