Behind the Scenes at WOWO Radio: Ben

There is this fellow named Ben Saurer that I have known for around ten years.  Ben is my manager/coach/boss at WOWO radio in Fort Wayne.

Recently I mentioned that I’d tell you about Ben and with him being out of town at the moment, he can’t stop me today.  Not that he would, but he certainly wouldn’t like the attention if he knew about it ahead of time.

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This article is about relationships between employers and employees.  Most of you reading this are one or the other, perhaps both if you are a manager of people with a boss above you.

Ben and I worked together for another group of radio stations.  When he was hired 10 years ago, it was his first job in radio and I was asked to mentor him.  Back in those days, the company we worked for would hire salespeople by the handful and see which ones would stick.  I recall being introduced to two new guys before a vacation and when I returned a week later, only one of them was still there.

Back to Ben and those early days.  Ben had a determination to give it his best.  Later when I was in management and I was training new staff, I asked them to learn from Ben.  Ben was fresh to the business and made it while others fell by the wayside.  I was pretty entrenched by this time with a solid base of advertising partners, and Ben was creating his own success story.

Ben also saw the writing on the wall at those radio stations.  Despite our best efforts, our company was hurting financially.  Out of town investors and owners had accumulated so much debt that all we were doing with our profits was servicing the debt and paying our people.

Ben was hired away by Federated Media to become the General Sales Manager for WOWO radio and our local ESPN stations.  That was 6 years ago.  Between 2011 and 2013 Ben and I spoke on occasion. At the end of 2013 I joined Ben at WOWO as part of his sales team.

The culture is different at WOWO and Federated Media than the other stations I have worked for.  And while there are similarities in the sales culture between WOWO and our sister stations, the reason I decided to join them 18 months ago was Ben.

I trusted Ben.  I still do.  Because I watched Ben mature as a sales person and for awhile our roles were reversed as I was his boss at that other company, I figured if Ben was still true to the person I knew when I last worked with him, it would be a good fit to join him again.

Even though Ben has worked with my WOWO Radio Sales team nearly 5 years longer than I have, there is a mutual respect and understanding based on our past. In our meetings, he will sometimes quote me (stuff I shared with him years ago), back to me. Ben is fortunate that he inherited a seasoned and successful staff.  While they had to follow him, he also had to earn their respect.  At least one of my co-workers is twice the age of Ben.

Ben has also had to un-hire sales staff over the past 18 months I have been there and in the 5 years previous.   I know that is not easy.  Most employers and managers want their people to succeed, that’s why we hire them.

A couple of lessons and questions to wrap this up.

I know that my relationship with Ben is based primarily on our business relationship.  When Ben worked for me, I wanted him to be successful and he wanted to be successful.  Now that I work for him, the same is true.  If Ben was a lousy manager or I was a bad employee, this would not work.  Lesson: Remember the business side of our relationship trumps the personal side when it comes to us working together.

I joined the WOWO Radio sales team because of Ben.  If I did not trust and respect Ben from our previous time together, I would not have joined WOWO.  Federated Media goes through a multi-step screening process to find potential sales candidates.  Not everyone makes it through the entire cycle. I did not receive any special waivers or consideration in that process.  However because I stayed in touch with Ben over the years, (only about once a year), I was on his radar a couple of times when he wanted to add to his team. Lesson: Don’t burn bridges or ignore people from your past.

I see Ben incorporating many of the same principles that I used to use when I was his manager.  Hire the best you can, and give them the tools to be successful.  Make sure you are there to support them, not to hinder them.  Give them the freedom to succeed and be an honest encourager. At Federated Media, the General Sales Managers are Coaches.  They do not sell and compete with their sales teams.  The coach mentality is a healthy one in the way Ben carries it out.  Lesson for Managers: Don’t micro-manage.  Instead support each person on your team to be their personal best.

Lesson for employees: You need to be responsible for your own success.  Do what you need to do instead of waiting for someone to do it for you or tell you what to do.  Ask when necessary, but always be learning. 

The final thought is the about working relationships. If you are an employee, are you treating others, including your boss in such a way that they would want to work for you if one day you were in the position to hire people?  And Mr/Ms Manager… are you treating your staff in a manner that they would want to hire you if the tables were turned?

Scott Howard aka ScLoHo has 25+ years of experience in marketing , advertising, media and works directly in the radio and digital world from Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Contact him at Scott@ScLoHo.net or 260.255.4357.

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