Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Fascinating story of how a homeless man became a CEO

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Really an amazing story by Burt Helm in Inc.:

“What do you mean, a 50 percent refund?” says the voice on the other end of the line. “Are you serious? When the account has already been suspended? That’s not fair!”

Blood rushes to my cheeks. I desperately want my next sentence to calm her down, to sound confident, sympathetic. I want this customer–my customer–to feel assuaged. Satisfied.

But as the little timer on my computer screen ticks into the call’s ninth minute, I have other worries: I have to say “please” and “thank you” at least twice. I have to keep my refunds-per-call metric low. I don’t realize it at the time, but also I have an audience: The call center’s president and CEO, Gabriel Bristol, is secretly monitoring my calls from his office. He, I am learning, is something of an obsessive.

“You say ‘um’ too much,” he cheerfully tells me the next morning, minutes into breakfast. I’ve joined him, his life partner, and his adopted daughter and son, both 11, at a Las Vegas brunch place a few miles from the Strip. They’re all dressed preppily, in woolens and saddle shoes. It’s Sunday, family day. But Bristol can’t yet put me and my ums behind him.

Never say “um,” he tells me. In the customer service jungle, this signals weakness, uncertainty. Instead, I should pause. Speak slowly. Let the caller hang … on my every word. “It makes you authoritative,” he says. Customer service, a business of micro human interactions, is full of these tricks, ways to keep a caller calm–and keep her money–all while making her think it was her idea. Bristol knows this. He’s spent 10 years working the phones himself.

I’ve flown out to his offices to learn about call centers. Bristol, who took over a phone room of about 40 people two years ago, has big plans for his–so far, he’s grown the business into a 300-plus-employee company called Intelicare Direct, with locations in San Diego and Las Vegas. Bristol is consumed with thoughts about the industry. He wants to fix it, to make call center jobs–widely regarded as the scutwork of the white-collar world–into valued, rewarding careers. For him, it’s deeply personal. Call centers brought him up from nothing. On the telephone, he’s something of a virtuoso.

I’ll bet you didn’t know call centers had virtuosos. Bristol didn’t either. At least, not until the day he found out he was one. It was 1989. He was 19, freezing on the streets of Lansing, Michigan, giving blood for money. A runaway. Homeless.

Bristol grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan, a village of 2,500 people on the shores of Lake Michigan, the fourth in a family of five adopted children. Child services took him away from his birth mother when he was 5. His earliest memory is of waiting for her at the police station as she was being booked on prostitution and heroin charges.

Bristol’s adoptive parents, a cement-truck driver and a stay-at-home mom, were devoutly Christian. But Gabriel and his biological half-sister, Joanna Bristol, who was adopted along with him, say the couple used their religious beliefs as a pretense to control and abuse them. “After every meal, we would have to read the Bible,” recalls Joanna, “and we’d all have to recite a sentence from the passage from memory. And if you couldn’t get it, they would beat you for it. It was so scary.” The siblings say they had to ask permission to bathe, to brush their teeth, and even to have a drink of water–or else have their ears pulled or their faces slapped. Gabriel received the worst of it, he says. “I was hit every day,” he says. “Every day. Some days, I couldn’t go to school because–I didn’t get this at the time–my mom knew if I went to school looking like that, she’d get in trouble.”

“Gabriel really suffered a lot,” says Joanna, “because the dad knew he was feminine, or gay or whatever you call it. He would beat Gabriel constantly. I don’t know if it was because he enjoyed seeing Gabriel in pain, or because he was trying to make Gabriel more manly. But it was horrible.” (Their father is now deceased. Their mother, who hasn’t spoken to Gabriel in 27 years, denies he was ever beaten. “How could you make him more manly by hitting him?” she says. “There was nothing like that. Nobody hit anybody. I don’t understand where all this is coming from.”)

At school, Gabriel struggled to fit in. He had few friends. “A lot of times he would go outside by himself and role-play, kind of like an escape,” says Joanna. “Just making believe, talking to himself in different voices.” Puberty isolated Gabriel further, when he realized he was attracted to other boys. He kept those feelings secret, hoping no one would notice.

Still, people knew. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2014 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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