One of the great lessons about managing people in my team came from Gene Christophersen. I first met Gene in 1976 when he interviewed me for a position in the “Data Processing Department” at Universal Foods. I started as a Control Clerk at $600 per month.
At the time I just thought the lesson he gave me was something he made up on his own. Now I think he got the ideas he was using from Harvard Business Review. He said something to me very similar to the article first published by the HBR in 1974. The article was “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?”
Gene promoted me to Operations Supervisor for the mainframe computer data entry and operations team. One day, early in my days as supervisor, I came to him with a problem I thought he would solve for me. It probably had to do with some employee issue, but I really don’t remember. What I do remember was what he said to me. One of the things he said was the problem would remain mine, but that I could receive his advice if I came to him with some potential solutions and a solution that I thought was the best of the bunch. He said something very similar to what the HBR article said.“When this meeting is over, the problem will leave this office exactly the way it came in—on your back. You may ask my help at any appointed time, and we will make a joint determination of what the next move will be and which of us will make it.” Harvard Business Review (The article was originally published in the November–December 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever.) Link: https://hbr.org/1999/11/management-time-whos-got-the-monkey
There are many things about Gene that I remember that were very positive. He cared about people. He cared about doing hard work and doing it well. He cared about getting results. But I remember the monkey lesson and his repeated encouragements for me to get my business degree. He was a wise man. That degree was fundamental in helping me in business and giving me opportunities for future employment. He passed his wisdom on, so I share it with you because I learned it from him. Note in his obituary below, that Gene graduated from college “later in life.” He didn’t ask me to do what he himself had not done. Thank you, Gene.
“Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Proverbs 9:9 (ESV)
From an obituary regarding Gene: Eugene “Gene” R. Christophersen, 84, of West Bend was called home to be with the Lord on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. He was born on October 31, 1933 to the late Andrew and Violet (nee Bartels) Christophersen in Marinette WI. Gene honorably served in the United States Army during the Korean conflict. On July 21, 1953 he was united in marriage to Mona Pfaffenbach in Milwaukee, WI. Together they raised their five children. Later in life Gene graduated from Carroll College in Waukesha. Gene was a member of the West Bend Korean War Veterans Post 111 and a longtime member of Christ Alone (formally known as Calvary) Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thiensville. He worked for Universal Foods in Milwaukee for over 25 years until retirement. Gene enjoyed sailing. His family was the most important thing and loved spending time with all of them. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him.