I used to daydream a lot — now, not so much. The busyness of everyday life seems to leave little room for the imaginative sessions that childhood allows — but the other day, I found myself lost in an elaborate daydream of sorts and I’ve thought about it several times since.
Have you seen those “good news” 60 Minutes stories that they often air at the end of the show featuring some happy little human interest story? Perhaps it’s all the business reading I’ve done lately — or the great gifts I see in Kate — but in my daydream moment the other day, I narrated my own human interest piece, that, though fictional, is sure to be truer than I realize.
And it went a little something like this:
The Chief Happiness Officer
John Stevens is your typical CEO. He completed his undergraduate degree at Stanford — his MBA at Harvard — and now runs one of the largest textile manufacturers in the world. He started at the company 33 years ago, as an intern, and has climbed the ranks through good ole’ fashioned hard work — and a little something extra.
“I always knew that if I worked because I loved it — and not because I wanted a paycheck — that I would be successful. And here I am,” says John.
Do what you love. It’s a philosophy that John has followed religiously since the beginning of his career. And now, with over 700 employees in his Colorado Springs office, John has turned his personal philosophy into somewhat of a company motto.
“I want the people who work for me to love what they do — and I want to do everything I can to help them do that. ‘If you’re not happy here,’ I say, ‘then find where you’ll be happy and go there.” He chuckles as he continues, “Heck, I’ll write your recommendation letter.’”
The happiness quotient is not something John takes lightly. And because of it, the employee satisfaction scores for his company are among some of the highest in the nation.
Sara Jenkins, a Senior Account Executive, says, “The benefits of working here are fantastic. I get more vacation time, more maternity leave and more flexible hours than anywhere I’ve worked. We have a health club, an on-staff chef and an on-site daycare. But the best part about working here? That would have to be… Donny.”
And she wasn’t the first to say it.
“Who’s Donny?!” John exclaimed when I asked him – as if everybody knew Donny on a first-name basis, like Madonna or Cher. “Well, he’s our Chief Happiness Officer.”
“You have a Chief Happiness Officer?” I asked curiously.
“Of course,” John said matter-of-factly. Then he paused for a moment and continued, “Everybody should.”
From the dozens of interviews I conducted at John’s company, I had heard a lot about Donny — but I knew little about his credentials, his background, or how a man could reach the executive level of a Fortune 500 company by specializing in… well, happiness.
But then, I met him.
Donny Walters was born in 1952 with a special gift for making people happy. At the time, Peggy Walters, Donny’s mother, was encouraged to institutionalize her first-born son because he was born with something else special: Down Syndrome. And in the 1950′s, institutionalizing children with special needs was common place.
But Peggy scoffed at the idea, asking the doctor plainly, “Why would I give away the greatest gift I’ve ever received?”
And to this day, Donny is still a great gift to everyone he meets.
“He’s the first one here in the morning — and the last one to leave,” John said about his star employee.
“What’s he doing that keeps him so busy?” I asked.
“It’s an awful hard job trying to please 700 people,” John replied.
“And how’s he performing?” I asked.
“Have you seen our employee satisfaction scores?” John answered.
And with that, I knew the answer. Though Donny has a plush office on executive row, he’s hardly there during “normal work hours.” During the day, Donny walks the halls, greeting people, attending meetings, tidying up clutter, planning events — and in his spare time, even participates in some employee counseling.
Matt Bauer, Technical Specialist, recounts an especially profound interaction with Donny. “I don’t want to be dramatic, but I would say that Donny saved my marriage.”
“He saved your marriage?” I probed. “How did he do that?”
“He just has a way of reminding you what’s important in life.” Matt laughed, “And reminding you when you’re being stupid.”
Donny has worked for the company for 8 years now — and has only taken one month of vacation. He leaves his apartment across town every morning to take a 45 minute bus-ride into the office — and still arrives before the CEO. And when I asked why he works so much, Donny answered with four words that would make his boss proud:
“Because I love it.”
“But Donny,” I said, “This company gives you 4 weeks of vacation -— every year. And you’ve only taken a month in 8 years? Don’t you want a break from work sometimes?”
Donny laughed. “When you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.”
But perhaps the most profound impact of Donny’s role is what he teaches his fellow employees, every day. That the secret to success is not how many hours you work, how much you produce, or how many degrees you have — but how you make people feel.
And for this Chief Happiness Officer, Donny’s the best in the business — but don’t just take the CEO’s word for it.
“We do Employee of the Month awards every month voted by your fellow employees and Donny’s won every one of them,” John brags with Donny sitting next to him. “Well, except for one month.”
“And what month was that?” I asked.
Donny replied with a proud smile, “When I was on vacation.”