He’s seen it all

Justin Runquist

This was the simple yet empowering advice I received during a conversation with Management professor James Glasgow this week. I’ll admit I expected the former senior executive to focus more on practical career advice – perhaps the conventional “build up credentials,” or “pay your dues and be patient.” But Glasgow is far from a conventional professor or businessman.

Instead, as he reflected on his career, the theme was undeniable. Glasgow has made a career – actually, a life – of excelling at what excites him. He loves building things – from relationships to tangible products to organizational systems. He also loves learning. He loves the fulfilling feeling of influencing positive change. In the many roles throughout his diverse career, it became clear that these basic passions drove him. They became the building blocks for his career.

As a graduating senior, this was a refreshing conversation. I could relate to his feeling of uncertainty after graduating from LaSalle University – he knew what excited him, but he was unsure how to apply it right away. So, as a self-sufficient person – he paid his way through college – he sold, of all things, extermination supplies in North Philadelphia. He also held a modest, honest, hardworking job with the post office – sorting mail, driving trucks, filling in for absent workers.

Returning to his basic maxim – find what excites you – he began to stretch the selling skills that once originated along the streets of North Philly. By his mid-twenties, while working for 3M, Glasgow gained confidence as a salesman when he was promoted from selling copy paper to selling copy machines. It was enough that, soon after, he signed on with Chesebrough-Ponds USA, now a subsidiary of Unilever. For ten years, he thrived within a culture that truly excited him.

Glasgow got to build things, learn, build relationships and influence positive change. At Chesebrough, he got his first taste of best practices for training and development. This passion for motivating people spilled over to a new ten year stint – this time with Time, Inc.

Glasgow was recruited as Vice President-Director of North American Field Operations for his experience and skill selling to retailers. Congruent with his passion for building, he essentially built an organization from scratch. He got to launch new products, got to develop and implement new management and sales structures, and got to design new training programs. He was traveling consistently throughout the continent. He was doing what excited him.

Wooed by at other publishers, Glasgow, now in his mid-forties with a wife and children, soon found a golden opportunity at Pezrow/James Weaver, a food brokerage business. Beginning as a Vice President, he rebuilt the non-food sector of a Pezrow subsidiary. After being promoted to President, he rebuilt and refocused the sales culture of another subsidiary. And, when he became a senior vice president and member of the Board, Glasgow was responsible for building revenues by implementing new business development procedures.

His most recent experience in industry – influencing people and systems within for-profit organizations – was at AIMS Corporation, a Chicago-based national group of 47 major sales and marketing agencies. Glasgow also became the founding chairman of National MegaForce, a retail service company. He was also running seminars – meeting and training executives across the country. He would speak on topics within his expertise and interests: market management, business development, negotiation, communication, and problem solving. In being a senior executive, in representing so many agencies, and in consistently mending relationships with so many people, Glasgow said he became an expert at “dancing.”

“Dancing?” I wondered. By this point he entire career seemed like a focused dance, at least, but I was curious to hear his definition.

Glasgow began referring to the concept of uncertainty again – and I, of course, remembered him mentioning his career uncertainty back in his days of exterminating those North Philly roaches. “Dancing,” he said, “is the art of effectively pulling off things you’re not prepared to do.” In other words, take uncertainty and squash it with the skill of, say, an insect exterminator.Upon reflecting on Glasgow’s entire career, this new theme emerged. In many ways, he didn’t just “dance” in his role as a senior executive… he did dance throughout his career. In making a career of doing the things that excited him, and in continuously entering new roles to satisfy that need, Glasgow often had to reinvent himself. He often had to gain new areas of expertise, build new relationships and succeed in new business environments. In constantly building new relationship and systems, he was constantly building himself. In constantly stretching himself, he was constantly learning.

Today, learning is certainly the cornerstone of Glasgow’s life. His customers have changed – they’re now us, the students, of course – but his mentality remains the same. He’s basing his life and his vocation on what excites him, like building management courses for undergraduates, graduate students and executives and learning new things from his current consulting practice. Influencing positive change within C&F – serving on the board of our Center for Responsible Leadership and Governance, serving on the committee for setting our Graduate Curriculum.

From delivering mail to running large organizations to teaching in Villanova’s classrooms, Glasgow’s path has been far from linear. Jumping from consumer packaged goods to magazine publishing to academia required much dancing and stretching. So many diverse experiences, and so many diverse networks. What an interesting life, I thought – never the same, never easy, but, of course, always exciting.