Thanks, Michael.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  Members of Facebook, Twitter and bloggers of all types are taking a moment to reflect with their friends, followers and readers on what they’re thankful for.

So I join their number and declare, I, too, have much to be thankful for.  Naturally, there is the urge to reflect on the immediate past.  Yes, I am grateful for my family, friends and my ability to do what I do and how I do it.  Yes, business could have been better this year.  It’s always seems to be the case, no matter what the economic conditions.

No, I thought of a former boss, mentor and friend whom I’ve privately thanked for many years for the attention he provided that enabled me to stretch my abilities.

When I met him at my first agency gig in Northern New Jersey, Michael Bratnick, without fanfare or ego, diligently went about serving his clients with dedication to quality, fairness and responsible advocacy.  He brought his scientific training as a meteorologist and oceanographer (among many other talents and experiences I found out about much later) to bear on the agency’s technical clients.

I was assigned to help Michael with a chemical company.   I quickly discovered that my communications and PR degrees didn’t prepare me for dealing with high level of technical knowledge needed to accurately and expressively discuss the ins and outs of sulfuric acid, calcium chloride and soda ash.  And those were just the commodity chemicals.

Upon taking on the responsibility for every aspect of a critical corporate newsletter that had intense management and subsequent shareholder attention, I found myself spinning my wheels.  I had eaten up a majority of the writing budget and produced copy that, well, stunk.

After reading what I’d written, Michael pulled me into his office and said, “Your performance is uneven.  But you have potential.  With most people, I wouldn’t care, but you?  You I’m going to help.  Up for it?”  With that, he handed back the edited copy and told me to try it again.

Over the course of two weeks, I worked practically every night at the office until 10:00 p.m. to make up for the time I burned.  During the day time hours, Michael repeatedly handed back my copy saying, “Do it again.”   Frustration and fatigue began to show.  I heard a co-worker say to Michael, “Bob is getting pretty pissed.”  Michael simply responded, “It’s good for him.”

And it was.  With newly learned writing abilities, at dead line I handed off what I knew was good, clean copy.   It was a turning point.  Two years later I moved on to a global agency in New York and then Chicago.  Michael left to start his own agency.

After a break of about five years, I again worked with Michael.  Despite me being in the Midwest and him in New Jersey, the work kept on flowing.  After thanking him one day for a new assignment, Michael remarked how difficult it was finding good, local professionals to work at his level.  “I just hand this stuff over and you get it done,” he said.  “You know I don’t like to hold hands.”

He’s right.  He didn’t hold my hand.  He beat me over the head.

That’s when I asked him.  Why did you help me?  He chuckled and explained that he was very close to being fired from his first agency job when his boss did to him what Michael did to me.

Michael died of cancer nearly two years ago.  Yet I’ll always remember the words he said on more than one occasion.  “Everything I know I learned from someone else.”

We all have someone who went out of their way to help and kindly beat us over the head… to believe, teach, guide and trust.

Here’s to you, Michael.  And thank you.

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Bob Reed

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