This week's guest blogger is Ron Ciancutti, Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. Ron began his career in 1985. In this essay he shares the story of his first job, and the satisfaction and pride he has derived from his long association with Cleveland Metroparks . . .
In May of 1984 I was a typical, overanxious young man who had been out of college for a year and had yet to find my niche as far as “long-term employment.” I’d worked hard in school. I had good grades, a strong resume and I had studied up on all the tricks needed for success in the business trade. I couldn’t understand why people weren’t lining up to hire me; couldn’t have had anything to do with the fact that other than college activities and writing 20-page papers, I didn’t know much about anything yet.
I’d read that Cleveland Metroparks was looking for a seasonal (6 months) project manager with some background in legal research and technical writing and I was proficient at both. I thought that this may not be the Wall Street job I was expecting to land but in the mean time it seemed like a decent place to mark time. Little did I know how the opportunity would humble me and readjust my expectations from the very first day.
The gentleman that hired me was a well-educated extremely humorous man who clearly loved his job and all that went with an addiction to nature and the proper management of land and water. My assignment was to assess and categorize all of the legal abstracts that described the parcels of land that comprised the park system and determine where we, as an agency, had mineral rights (and obligations) to those properties. By locating the wells and logging their status and condition we could apply for a grant from the state and get these potential hazards plugged and safely closed. After a month of combing through the legal abstracts I sat down with my supervisor and devised a schedule to meet the park managers of each gas well site on the given property. Before I left my supervisor cautioned me that many of the park managers I would be meeting were simply men that grew up working their way up at Cleveland Metroparks and they were very “territorial” about their responsibilities. Those men were cutting the grass as boys that they were now managing as men. In other words, as they might see it, I simply represented “Administration” and hadn’t yet earned the right to question their decisions and choices as they kept their lands. If I, as an “office boy/desk-jockey” was coming out to sniff around their properties they would naturally be defensive. I decided jeans and flannel shirts would be a better choice for these meetings instead of the suit and tie I wore every day to the office. I also decided I would do more listening than talking. I understood that the people I would be encountering were much like the tradesman and “salt of the earth” workers I’d grown up admiring and listening to. It was becoming clear to me that in this job I’d be relying on a lot of the things I’d learned BEFORE college; the common sense things and integrity I came to understand in my simple, blessed life in Berea, Ohio. Yes, I’d left home to get an education but now after the “book-learning” had been done, the mission wasn’t just getting a job, it was clearly becoming the blending of my education and a trade and environment that reflected my values and beliefs. Indeed I was finding the difference between an educated man and a man with an education.
And so it began. My first visits were greeted hesitantly at the start as expected but I worked hard to put these gentlemen at ease and they reciprocated. I found that each were stewards of the land and such dedicated and loyal workers that calling them an “employee” seemed way short of an accurate description. These guys were more like “investors” that all had stock in the company. In our opening dialogues I worked to drop any “college-boy” label they might try to hang on me. Yes, I’d been to school but that didn’t mean I was out of touch. I was determined to be myself and would ask about their families and their dreams and most importantly if they thought Cleveland Metroparks was a good place for a young man like me to try to secure a full time job. I didn’t read them my resume. I talked to them and listened to them and learned so very much from them. One said I had an honesty and sincerity about me that was noticeable and would serve me well in a place like this. His words made me swell with pride. He said my college peers would probably go on to make more money but if I stayed on, I would always have a job and always have enough to cover what I needed and the support of people to make up for what I did not. He said a man can work a lot of places but when you one day retire from a place like this you’ll know you’d made a difference in a way that would exceed any gold watch or plaque for “most sales in a year.” As the summer wore on my supervisor revealed that he was getting calls back from these men who felt they had “invested” in me somewhat. They were telling my boss he ought to try to keep me full time instead of letting me go after my summer stint. The term “fine young man” was evidently coming up a lot. I was so proud and feeling so “dug in.” I finished my 6 month seasonal stint and left Cleveland Metroparks with a prayer that something would open up permanently for me. Eight months later I got my wish, coming aboard full time in the Engineering Department as an instrument man on the survey crew; a position that had nothing to do with my education but I didn’t care. I knew now I just wanted to be a part of this organization. Where and how I finished there would take care of itself.
Over the next 30 years I would come to serve the Park District under a total of 4 appointing judges, 12 members of the board and 3 executive directors, accomplishing 7 promotions during that period, managing many projects, serving on more than a dozen committees within the company and winning numerous awards and honors – I even became Park District’s first complete tuition reimbursement candidate to graduate his Master’s Degree in Business from Baldwin Wallace University in 1993.
Among all those honors I still relished one more than any which was the faithful following of all those friends I made that first year. At the annual Christmas party these park managers would seek me out and introduce me to their wives. “This is the young man I was telling you about. He’s gonna carry the torch after all us old-timers are gone,” they’d say with a slap on the back and an arm around my neck. It was the most real and genuine moment I can remember and I took their endorsements with great pride. “You’re a good kid, Ronnie. God bless you.”
Indeed it sure seems He did.