In February 2003, I watched as the doors of the trailer sealed off all of our belongings and began the process of moving my family to Monterrey, Mexico to start a new position with Hilti Mexicana SA de CV. In many ways it was a dream come true, working international and running a small sales team. In other ways, I was utterly terrified inside. What if they don't like me? What if I forget all my Spanish? What if, when my wife and children do arrive, they decide Mexico isn't for them?
My fears were soon put to rest. The team welcomed me with open arms and we dug right in and got to work. We had a lot of fun, made some great commissions, ate some amazing street fair and I fell in love with "Mexican Coca-Cola" in a bottle.
But it wasn't all roses. One of my first challenges was our retail location. It was near the industrial district of Monterrey, quite run down and lacking in any inventory on display. Imagine a store with nothing on the shelves and actually there weren’t any shelves. The next weekend I organized a BBQ and invited whoever wanted to join me to help clean up the store. We scrubbed, painted, fixed ceiling tiles, washed windows, and brought it back to life. The next hurdle was trying to convince the employee who ran the location to install shelving and actually put inventory out on display.
Monica came to Monterrey to cover for an employee who had decided that being home with a newborn was far more rewarding than standing in an empty room all day with only a plant and the passing traffic to look out at. Monica had been with the company for almost 8 years and had been working retail behind the counter since the beginning. She was energetic, articulate, driven and committed and had a way of making everyone feel welcome.
In less than a week she had memorized the names of several customers and won the respect of the outside sales team. One Sunday, I decided to take a drive and go past the store. I was surprised and concerned to see a white truck parked out front and the steel rolling covers opened. I stopped to investigate and was greeted by a gentleman I did not know holding a power drill. Behind him stood Monica grinning ear to ear.
"It's hard to sell items that the customers cannot see. Would you agree? I found some shelving in the back, offered my neighbor here a case of Coronas and a couple hundred pesos (roughly $20 USD) if he would install it for me. We should have items out on display by later this afternoon."
The world needs more Monicas, I thought, as I drove away.
That Monday, the once empty store was filled with bright, red and white Hilti boxes of all sorts. Monica ran the store like it was her own and the customers LOVED her.
A bigger challenge for both.
The next step for me was clear, I needed to promote Monica to a field sales role. She was a single mother and had only planned on being in Monterrey temporarily, but wanted what was best for her son and was willing to take on the challenge although she didn’t believe me that I would make it happen.
On my next visit to the main office in Mexico City, I was not surprised that my proposal to the VP of Sales was met with complete resistance. The conversation went something like this:
“Look around,” the VP of Sales argued. “There are no women in the field here in Mexico.”
“Well, let's change that,” I challenged.
“Have you spoken to her prior managers?” he persisted. “I don't think they would agree or approve of promoting her. She can be "difficult" and besides, she doesn't have a college degree.”
“Half of the men in the field don't have a college degree!” I argued. “She knows the products and sales process as well as any of them, and I have seen what she is capable of. I'm not interested in the other manager's opinions of Monica, I've formed my own.”
“When it doesn't work out, it's your head,” he promised.
“I'll take that bet!“
Lucky for me, as amazing as Monica was in the store, she was equally amazing in front of the customer. Whether in their office, production plant, or job site, her follow-through and attention to detail were terrific and her hustle was simply unmatched.
At the end of her first quarter of field sales, during one ride-a-long, as we called them, I asked her if she had taken the time to calculate her commissions and bonus for the pay period. She hadn't. "Do you mind if I calculate it for you while you drive?" I asked.
"That would be great!" came the reply.
I pulled out my calculator, opened the sales sheets and began to crunch the numbers. I checked and double checked knowing how important what I was about to say was.
When I shared the number with her, her eyes went wide and she let out a scream! Then, she did something I'll never forget, she pulled the car over to the side of the road, placed her head in her hands and cried.
"Never, ever, did I think I could make this much money." she said through tears.
She was in the field that year for only four months, and in that time, she rose near the top of the national leaderboard.
"Next year, Monica, I expect to see you as the top field rep in all of Mexico." I told her.
"Oh Chris, but the reps on that list, they are amazing." came the reply.
"You are every bit as amazing and deserve to be in the number on spot as much as any of them." I assured her.
In our annual business review with the senior leadership, the General Manager, looking at the rankings, said, "Tell us more about Monica," and when I had finished, he looked around the room and stated, "We need more Monicas."
I quietly smiled and agreed.
I left Mexico mid-way through the following year, but before I did I took the time to write Monica a note. I thanked her for her hard work and commitment, and the way in which she inspired not only the team, but other women in the organization. I told her to remember what I said about deserving to be at the top of the leaderboard and to call me when she made it.
In February 2005, that call came. It was Monica. She was the #1 field rep in Hilti Mexico!
To you, Monica, and all the Monica's out there, you are deserving! Press for Progress.
- - -
The rest of the story.
In 2017 I flew to L.A. to speak at Social HR Camp hosted by Jeff Waldman. During my presentation, in from the back, walked my dear friend Monica. She had seen on Facebook that I would be speaking and wanted to surprise me.
Since leaving Hilti Mexicana, she had moved with her son to Los Angeles where she runs a small import/export business.
She had come to say hello, to thank me for believing in her, and to share with me the note that she had carried for the past 13 years.