Snarky Behavior

Sad News

July 28, 2008 · 6 Comments

There’s been no formal announcement of this yet, but since only friends read this blog, I think I can share:

Susan Hager, the founder and CEO of the company that I’ve worked for off and on for the past two plus years, passed away on Friday.  This is a sad day at our office.

When you work for a small business, and I’m talking about a single-floor office of about 40-45 people here, the work experience becomes very familiar very quickly.  Within a month, you know who everyone in the office is by name, and you probably know where they sit.  Within six months, you pretty much know everyone’s bis-nass, and your staff meetings become hour long laugh-fests. :)

As a junior staff member, I would see Susan from time to time without having a chance to work directly with her… I conceptualized her much in the same way I understood my elementary school principal– a distant figure of authority who operates at a level beyond me.

What I didn’t realize– at least not right away– is that everything that seemed familiar, the “culture” of the office as it were, was set from the top down.  And once I did realize this, it was like running into my principal at the grocery store, or at church… outside of the limited confines of the environment in which I previously understood her, I began to appreciate Susan as more than the title or role or symbol she served within the constructed environment of the office.

About a month ago, Susan invited me– even though I’m technically a temporary worker for the summer — to celebrate the 35th anniversary of her company at a black tie dinner.  My seating arrangement was at the head table, next to her and her husband.  Although I was initially quite nervous to make small talk with the head of the company, my date and I quickly found her and her husband to be extremely gracious, and genuinely interested in our pursuits.

As the night proceeded, the Senior Vice-President gave a brilliant speech that reminded us all how hard it was for Susan to establish a company in an era when women couldn’t even get credit cards without their husbands’ co-signature.  I realized that establishing a viable and sustainable business for 30 years… being responsible for the employment and livelihood of over forty people, is quite the accomplishment.  Moreover, Working Woman Magazine called Susan one of 25 people “whose actions over the last quarter century have given women in the workplace a better shot.”

She and her husband had planned a trip to Italy at the end of the month.

I am glad I decided to write her a thank you note after that dinner, and tell her just how grateful I was to her for that night and how impressed I was to learn more about her career and success.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • John // July 28, 2008 at 9:32 pm | Reply

    I sent a belated thanks for our 35th anniversary last week. I was always most impressed with Susan’s attitude and demeanor; she really wanted to do what was best for the world. I’m not a person that fits in with the corporate culture (hippie dad and a strong “punk rock” peer group). In my interview I asked about the work I would be doing and was told that Susan only took on clients she believed better the world. That sold me on the company.

  • Jon // July 29, 2008 at 7:07 pm | Reply

    Susan’s family has asked that In lieu of flowers, donations be made in Susan’s memory to Washington Hospital Center Kidney Transplant Fund and mailed to:

    Washington Hospital Center Foundation
    110 Irving Street, NW
    East Building
    Room 1001
    Washington, DC 20010

  • John Kulka // August 6, 2008 at 1:51 am | Reply

    Jon/ John,
    Thanks for the kind words and thoughts about my sister, Susan.
    It’s difficult for my to believe her passing-she was so supportive and encouraging of me. I will miss her.

  • Jon // August 6, 2008 at 3:53 pm | Reply

    John,

    Thank you for sharing, and I am truly sorry for your loss. Susan is greatly missed in our office.

  • Elizabeth Finley // August 13, 2008 at 4:17 am | Reply

    Thank you for posting a lovely description of my Mom. She was an incredible mother, wife, friend, leader, and mentor who touched many lives. She was generous beyond belief, and she had a rare ability to relate with everyone she met. Her warm and vivacious personality could light up any room. And thank you for mentioning my Dad — he’s pretty great, too. Take care.

  • Jon // August 13, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Reply

    Elizabeth,

    Thank you for sharing also… when I wrote this the day our office heard the news, my boss asked me to take out some things until the family had a chance to inform loved ones, and the office could announce it publicly.

    What I really wanted to express was that to her tremendous credit, at that dinner Susan announced that she would be implementing an Employee Stock Ownership Plan… part of her transition to retirement would ensure the lasting viability and legacy of the company she created, to the benefit of her employees.

    I’m only temporary– returning from grad school for the summer– but to other long-term employees, that decision has ensured their job security for the future, and I know the office is incredibly grateful for that. Susan continues to be missed dearly. Take care as well.

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