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News Story
Updated: 11/18/2012 08:01:54AM

Fresh lettuce for the king

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Just over one year ago, “Frisbie’s Laws: 20 Surefire Rules for Successful Management,” was released to the English-speaking world.

The world yawned.

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Frisbie’s Laws, a book of 123 pages, is a compilation of everything I learned about management in my first 40 years at Frisbie Publishing Co., compiled at the rate of one law every two years. (The book can be yours for $14.95 plus tax.) I initially compiled Frisbie’s Laws as guidance to our staff — primarily our supervisors — on how I felt the company should be managed. The laws dealt with such things as the importance of profitability; the assignment of responsibility and with it, the right to make a mistake; even how to fire an employee in such a way that he can keep his self-esteem.

After retirement, I had the itch to expand on the laws and create a short book on management.

The two most important laws are: —No. 13: The customer is king; if we take care of the king, the king will take care of us; and —No. 16: Always do the right thing.

If they are the most important laws, why are they No. 13 and 16? Because it took me that long to realize how essential those basics are to successful business. I am not proud of that.

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To illustrate No. 13, the customer is king, I told the story of the manager of Bartow’s largest supermarket, whom I called one Saturday night to find out if a certain item on sale was still in stock.

He told me that it was, but that the sale ended that night, and it was a few minutes before closing. And he told me he would keep the store open until I got there to make the purchase.

Though I didn’t name him in the book, it was Bill Helmuth, manager of Publix. As I noted in the book, his kindness probably cost the company a few bucks for overtime and air conditioning, but four or five decades later, I was still telling the story, and still shopping at Publix.

Bill Helmuth died years ago, but I discovered last week that his spirit remains in the store.

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It was right at closing time Saturday night, and Mary and I were among the last shoppers in the store, perhaps the very last.

The cashier rang up each sale, passing it along to the bagger, a young woman.

The bagger hesitated when she picked up the two packages of bagged lettuce and asked Mary, “Are you going to eat these tonight?” Mary said we were not.

Even though the expiration date on the packages was several days off, she said, “I don’t like the looks of it.” The ribs of some of the leaves had started turning pink, she pointed out.

She handed the packages to another bagger who was waiting for closing time, and asked him to go get us two more packages.

———

The bagger who saved us from disappointment over the purchase of two packages of lettuce that was going bad was too young to have known Bill Helmuth.

Nor did she know Mary and me, and she probably hadn’t even read Frisbie’s Laws.

She did two things: she took care of the king, and she did the right thing.

Bill Helmuth would have been proud.

———

(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He remembers when Publix opened its store on Main Street in Bartow, the third in George Jenkins’ fledgling chain. He went to the grand opening with his parents and fell face down off the running board of the family’s 1939 Ford onto the parking lot as he was getting out of the car. The crown on the tooth he broke serves as a reminder of that day.)




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