Chuck’s Note: Jerry Striplin and I were entry-level technicians at AT&T when it was the largest corporation in the world. We were both inspired by some OWMs to move up and out, even though we may have been some of their best workers. We both escaped through Sales and, as you will read, he continues to take those and later experiences to remarkable levels. You will find similarities with your journey and may find him to be a resource.
By Jerry Striplin
As an OWM, there have been a number of markers in my career…my tipping points. I am not sure exactly where my passion for working in the international market came from. I am sure that one of these markers began actually at AT&T working on two interesting accounts. One was the FAA, opening my young mind to international travel that I could only dream about and the other was the Coca-Cola Company. It’s a well-known fact that if you live in the South and particularly if you live in Atlanta you cannot go to heaven unless you work for Southern Bell or the Coca-Cola Company.
At that time in my life, I remember when my family added up all the years of service in the Bell System, as it was known at that time. We started with my grandfather that ran telephone cable in the trenches of Europe in World War I and coming home to work for the telephone company. Adding my uncles, aunts, my mother and father, myself and my brother we totaled over 350 years of service. I worked with pride in the industry where I thought I would work and retire. That’s just the way it was. I also remember watching what we then called the old guys meaning that they were over 40 years of age and how they could be so unhappy in such a dead-end job. I wondered how they got there and made a promise to myself that that was not going to happen to me.
This was one of the many reasons that I took advantage of a very fortunate opportunity ” a tipping point” to work for the Coca-Cola Company. It opened my eyes and extended my horizon. I believe that it was through working with the international people that made up the core of the corporate offices that began to change my life.
As I entered the international market, I had no idea of the price I would pay. The lack of time for family, lost friends and alienation from colleagues because they thought that I had abandoned my country because I was helping the people of the countries when there was so much to be done at home.
I have still not completely reconciled the question. However, I do try to bring as many ideas home with me as I can, and I do try to extend a welcoming hand to those small businesses and individuals that are looking to work internationally. This is my passion, and this is where I give back every day to companies and individuals that are interested enough to reach out.
The other tipping point in my life was an opportunity to work in Central Eastern Europe beginning in 1988. At that time in my 40s, I grew a beard to look older and wiser. One out of two not bad. I had no idea of the impact that would have and now that I am one of the members of the OWM Group I still have the beard and I have found that that white hair is an asset if you choose the right place, in the right way and with the right people.
I’ve now worked in over 53 countries and as I write these thoughts from Kabul this is my third tour in Afghanistan. I’ve had the pleasure to mentor a number of people that have taken the time to ask how did you get here, what would you have done differently and what can you share with me. Those three questions open my heart and my mind and if I can teach them to listen to learn and not just listen to reply then I feel like I’ve succeeded.
There is a tremendous wave of age discrimination that moves across the world. I turned 70 years old in Afghanistan this year. I remember that in 2008, my first time here working with the fellow who was 82 years old. He became both my hero and my role model. He was in good shape, articulate, humble and had the skills to communicate what was needed in such a way that it was understood and appreciated. If I remember correctly, he was over 90 when he passed.
So, in sharing this information what is the message? In this age of discrimination, I believe that you have to keep three things in mind.
The first is to work and contribute in an area where age, experience and wisdom are valued. Allow me to put this into perspective. I come from a technical background. I know that in this age there are fields where even if you are an expert you cannot be respected because of the stereotypes created by age In the eyes of the beholder. Some examples might be virtual reality and augmented reality.
The second is the physical geographical area.. On a positive note there are countries that respect age, particularly in Asia, the Middle East and countries such as Afghanistan that highly value and respect age.
There is still an area, a third element, that has caused more people to fail than any other. The third lesson learned is that you have to “walk the walk and talk the talk”. I have a good colleague whose entire career is based on what she calls “updating people” and being “age appropriate”… for both men and women. We have all met the individual that was obviously top in their field, but we cannot see past the fact that they looked old. This age stereotype has shortened more careers than almost any other characteristic. They dress and act as if they are in a world that was 40 years ago.
So, my words of the wisdom…People hire and want to work with people that they respect, relate to and are most like themselves. This could be an MBA that only hires MBAs. It could be a Harvard that only hires a Harvard. It could be an Asian that will only hire an Asian. You cannot change the bias of someone who has never experienced the benefits of working with the type senior player that exist and operates within each of these three elements.
What do we do if we are unable to change the bias of the young HR manager, the hiring manager that’s had a bad experience working with a consultant that can only exist in the environment of “it’s their way or the highway”, or the senior executive that attempted to bring in one of his senior OWM colleagues that damaged both his reputation and his friend.
My recommendation is that you keep these three elements in mind… (1) A field of expertise that leverages all of your knowledge and experience and is age-appropriate, (2) You select a geographic area that appreciates and honors age and (3) Act and look the part of the Age-appropriate professional.
If you are in an organization that is biased, blocking and wasting talent… change it. If you are unhappy, change it. If you are not giving back, change it. If you are discriminated against because they don’t see the value, fix you.
Trust me you will have an opportunity to use your age, expertise and to make a difference. I have. At least for the moment.
Jerry M Striplin +1 404 275 9108 cell – SKYPE JMStriplin – Skype-In +1 912 480 0760 Afghanistan cell 93 (0) 728 30 36 10 ; Health Sector HSR, USAID Program
“Teach and they will remember – Involve and they will learn”