I met George for coffee last week. At 70, graying and distinguished, he reminded me more of a banker than a farmer.
He might have discussed the lowering of farm subsidies or the price of fuel for his tractors. Instead, he told me about growing up Hispanic on the wrong side of the tracks in the border town of Alice, Texas, population 20,000.
“I remember the first time I realized I was different,” he said with a gentle smile. “An Anglo boy moved in across the street. He taunted me from the window with ‘Hey Mexican’. It hurt. It was then I realized what a leap of faith it would be to overcome the one thing I couldn’t change.”
Hard work and trust in his own abilities brought George to Houston where he attended Rice University and started a business.
Was it a success?
“If that means making money, sure,” he shrugged. “But, our staff wasn’t happy and the business could have been doing better.”
He thought he had a people problem, George declared shaking his head, and tried everything to fix it.
“Nothing worked. That is till the day I bought a plow from a store thirty miles down the road. The clerk told me to take it home. If it worked, come back and pay him. I would never have done anything to undermine that trust.”
That’s when it dawned on George. “It wasn’t our staff that needed fixing, it was me. I began to trust our people with broader authority. They responded by redoubled their efforts and our business boomed.”
I think he was right about trust. And he should know. Over four decades farmer George Martinez also co-founded and managed two of the most successful banks in Southeast Texas—-Sterling Bank and Allegiance Bank.
The next time you’ve got a tough row to hoe, try a tincture of trust. My friend George still banks on it every day.
Malcolm D. Gibson
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