By SuzAnne M. Miller/for MISSOULA CURRENT
Toasts and roasts were in order on a recent evening at the Lolo Peak Brewery. Current and former Dunrovin Ranch employees and their families had gathered to celebrate Ranch Manager Jamie’s 5th year anniversary of service. While caught up in the laughter and comradeship of shared embarrassing moments and misadventures at the ranch, I could not help but pause and reflect on my own journey of becoming an employer.
In building a business, the most significant line that one crosses is that of becoming an employer. Hiring one’s first employee has much longer reaching and more complex implications than can possibly be anticipated.
Tension is inherent in the employer/employee relationship. Opposing priorities make some degree of conflict inevitable. With an eye to the bottom line, employers juggle the often nearly impossible task of honoring and adequately compensating their employees with keeping the business financially solvent, and realizing a return on their investments. Meanwhile, employees are given the equally challenging task of servicing both their own needs and those of their employers. It’s a delicate dance around a fire of failure. Both financial and emotional ruin may result if either party pulls the other into the flames.
While not my first employee, Jamie has been my longest serving employee. Furthermore, she is the one who has most helped me become a better employer. She is an outstanding employee, one that I strive to keep. Jamie takes on new responsibilities and deserves a raise; the business can’t afford it right now. Compromise is reached. Vacations are critical to her moral yet very expensive to the business if taken during the high tourist season. The timing of her leave is negotiated. Jamie is extremely responsible and has earned great latitude in setting her own schedule. This is not always convenient – but adds to her job satisfaction and is tolerable. Jamie offers suggestions, some of which I accept. I push new ideas, some of which she rejects.
Jamie and I have shuffled around the fire ring, gently pushing and pulling each other, yet without adding fuel or getting burned. The business is better and stronger for this give and take. Through it all, we have maintained a cordial, friendly relationship that includes mutual respect, loyalty, and a generosity of spirit. We each have our bad days. We don’t hold grudges or nurse grievances. We try to support one another.
Like nearly every business person I know, I care deeply about my employees. Yet I also struggle mightily to “make payroll” and include their well being in financial decisions. It can take years for businesses to turn a profit; money effortlessly – and seemingly endlessly – flows through young businesses’ hands. Learning is costly. Mistakes are made. The economy takes a downturn. Business slides. Supply costs rise but seldom fall. At times, the old cliché that business owners end up serving the interests of their employees rather than their own seems all too true. Yet it is absolutely true for me that it’s been the dedication and creativity of my employees that has turned the ranch towards profitability. What a pas de deux!
OUCH! I began this article confident that Jamie was securely ensconced in her Dunrovin position. However, Jamie’s life circumstances have changed. She sought, and found, employment better fitting her family needs. That is what her just-received letter of resignation says. What a surprise! Ouch doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I had not planned on this being a farewell or thank you letter to Jamie. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to publicly acknowledge my gratitude for all that she has given Dunrovin. Jamie is an incredibly talented young woman. You could call her an employer’s dream. She will be more than missed. Her league of fans, both young and old, will ask for her for years to come. Our animals will watch for her car to come down the road. For awhile, the gears at Dunrovin will move more slowly, need more grease as they respond to different hands at the wheel.
May the next phase of Jamie’s life be rich and rewarding. And may the new, yet to be determined, ranch manager try not to fill her shoes, but wear their own to tread their own path to their success and that of the ranch.
Employers are risk takers and must embrace change. Our world is dictated by constant churning, continual coping, relentless balancing, and always putting our best face forward. Having crossed the line into that world, I realize that I must choose to see Jamie’s departure as an opportunity – an opportunity to add a new voice to our choir, illuminate things we have yet to see, and add more vibrant colors to Dunrovin’s kaleidoscopic landscape.