Alex Learning and Development Specialist

Posted & filed under Culture.

It’s a little known fact that tenacity and perseverance are not synonyms.

Though both words imply an element of resilience, tenacity is the ability to endure tribulation, while perseverance is ability to continue acting in the face of tribulation. While the world’s share of tenacious people is limited, a perseverant person is a true diamond in the rough.

Having battled cancer, financial uncertainty, and stress, all simultaneously, Alex did so with a glimmering smile, and a light bright enough to reveal the gem he is, still reflecting his shine on any that will catch it.

Arriving as a capacity manager in August of 2013, Alex negotiated a steep learning curve, but through relentless persistence, won several sales competitions and collected accolades for his hard work. After proving his talents as a professional people-person, Alex was made a learning and development specialist in August, 2017.

Today, Alex spends his time schooling his co-workers in the office, and on his road bike.

EL: Alex, you have quite a history here at EL. I say that in the traditional implication of holding many different positions, but the word ‘history’ also typically denotes a culture, and your interactions with people, and the contributions that you’ve made to the culture, which, in your case, have been extensive. With that all being said, tell me a little bit about your history.

Alex: I started with England Logistics back in August of 2013. The reason I started with England was happenstance.

EL: I didn’t know that!

Alex: This particular position was not something that I was seeking. I was coming off of almost a full year of unemployment in 2012. The first day of November, I was diagnosed with leukemia, which threw me and my whole family for a loop. When my doctor said I had leukemia, my life flashed before my eyes. I thought, “What does this mean? I barely have any life insurance, I don’t have any life savings, I’ve got two kids and a wife.” But then the doctor said, “If you’re gonna have leukemia, this is the best kind of leukemia to have.”

“When my doctor said I had leukemia, my life flashed before my eyes.”

EL: He said you have the best kind of leukemia?

Alex: He told me I would likely grow old and die of something completely unrelated.

EL: At least he was comforting.

Alex: Right? I had so many other questions, but just as an FYI, I am in complete remission right now. It’s undetectable in my system, but they can’t ever say that it’s gone. At the time, I was working at the Wonder Bread bakery in Ogden. I was a production floorman for them. On the 15th of November, just two weeks after my diagnosis, my boss told me, “Don’t come back to work. There are chains on the doors. Hostess declared bankruptcy and the plant is shut down.”

EL: Oh my gosh, it was that sudden?

Alex: It was that sudden. I went from being a new cancer patient and navigating all that stuff, to jobless and worrying about insurance.

EL: I can’t even imagine that heavy of a burden, let alone the emotional trauma that would accompany it.

Alex: It really was. And it all happened within a very short period time. The holiday season was coming up, my unemployment benefits were only going to cover so much, and so we were in a very dire spot.

[With emotion]: And it’s really only because of the generosity of neighbors and friends that we had one of the most abundant Christmases we have ever had. It makes me emotional talking about that.

EL: I can understand.

Alex: Anyway, we’re still adjusting to medication regimes, and everything that’s going on, and on top of everything, this was still a difficult job market. I could go and flip hamburgers, but I had more responsibility than that would cover. I had a cousin that posted something on social media along the lines of, “My company is always hiring.” My wife saw it and said, “Hey, you know what? My cousin posted this awhile back. Maybe you should see if they’re still hiring.” And so I did! I called [the recruiter] and she asked me to come in for an interview. I went in for the interview and, EL, I don’t know how I got hired.

EL, [laughing]: It was that bad?

Alex: Oh yeah.

EL: Did you know much about the industry?

Alex: Not whole lot. I didn’t know what this was. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing. But I thought, “Let’s give a try.”

“I went in for the interview and, EL, I don’t know how I got hired.”

EL: What was it like to receive that call that notified you that you got the job when the self-feedback was, “That was awful.” Was it relieving? Did you feel a lot of pressure?

Alex: Yes and yes. It was finally something that I could take care of my family with. But at the same time, I felt a lot of pressure because it was my performance that was determining if I would be able to take care of my family. As I look forward from that point and backwards from that point, I’ve learned something about myself. And that’s that when I am determined to do something, I win. I win all the time. And it doesn’t matter what sacrifice has to be made on my part. That’s my personality. I don’t like to lose. I don’t like to feel like a failure. And–

EL: Wait. I just need to confirm that. I need to make clear that that is 100% accurate. And you make everyone else around you feel the same way.

Alex: Thank you EL. I appreciate that. So, this is what I remember from my early days. My trainer was awesome. I mean, I just remember absolutely loving my training experience, and doing my best to soak it up. And then I remember hitting the salesfloor. I remember making mistakes that I thought were career ending. One day, the stresses of life caught up to me. I was sitting at my computer, and thought I had things figured out when I got an ocular migraine.

EL: I am not familiar with that variety of migraine. What happened to you?

Alex: The outside portions of my vision got… sparkly? There were different light variations. I began getting this really crazy tunnel vision where the only thing in focus was right in front of me, right in front of my nose. I was literally freaking out. I stood up from my computer, walked over to my window, and I was very vocal. I told everyone that I could not see. Some other people around me said, “Oh, I’ve had that before. That’s an ocular migraine.” And I said, “Well my head doesn’t hurt.” And they replied, “You’re head doesn’t usually hurt. It’s caused by stress.” So my team diagnosed me, I relaxed a little bit, and my vision returned. And it only happened one time.

That was another pivotal moment for me. I realized that there are things that I can control, and there are things that I can’t control. Focusing on what I can control helped me to lower my stress and be successful. That took me from a noobie to the top paid-out CM in referrals for one year. I was winning March Madness in sales competitions as a capacity manager. And it was awesome and cool, and I got to a point where I said, “I’ve won at this.” But I knew there was more out there for me, but I didn’t know what that was.

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I went to a career fair in high school and I was like, “You know what? A veterinarian sounds cool.” Then I got into college and I declared that as my major. My first class of my first semester was a 7:00 a.m. chemistry class. I have never worked harder for a D+ in my life.

“That was another pivotal moment for me. I realized that there are things that I can control, and there are things that I can’t control.”

EL: That sounds worthy of an ocular migraine actually.

Alex, [laughing]: Right? I went undeclared for as long as you could because I just didn’t know what to do. My counselor told me I had to declare a major. Long story short, I took this class that helped me discover what it is that I wanted to do and at the end there was this aptitude test. The results of this aptitude test came back as recommendations for either be a bus driver or a schoolteacher. A bus driver doesn’t sound super appealing, right? So, I thought I could maybe be a schoolteacher.

I was starting realize that I really do love teaching people. Fast forward back to my capacity manager days, and I’m looking for something new. I need something to challenge me. And one of my neighbors at the time was a career counselor at his place of work.

I spoke with him, and he asked me what I wanted to be. I told him I wasn’t sure. He asked me, “What are you passionate about?” and I responded, “Bicycles.” And he’s like, “Okay, well, what else?” And I thought back to coaching tumbling for 10 years.

EL: I had no idea we had taught similar skill at one point.

Alex: I loved that. I loved watching kids learn and grow and progress and get excited about things. And so that that sparked my memory again, and I said, “You know what I love? I love teaching, but I’ve got cancer. I have to have work for a company that can provide insurance and medicine.” And so it was that moment that gave me the idea that corporate training would be awesome.

I mentioned this to my neighbor, and he asked about how much experience I had. I said “Well, I’ve built cabinets. And I’ve made bread, and I work now as a logistics capacity manager.” He says, “Well, what’s your education in teaching?” I told him I had none, and he replied, “Well, that’s not gonna help you.” I was like, “No kidding.”

EL: Sounds like you were on your way to being a bus driver after all.

Alex: Totally! He told me that there were two things that I could do. Number one, I could volunteer some time and get some experience. And I’m like, “I already work 40 hours a week, and family life is important to me.” He told me that my only other option was to cross my fingers and hope someone would take a chance on me. And that’s exactly what happened.

Soon after, I saw an internal posting to be an ECS trainer. I applied, and Elias took a chance on me, because on paper, I probably shouldn’t have been the logical choice.

EL: That’s fascinating that he allowed you the opportunity regardless of your experience.

Alex: It’s true. I mean, I didn’t have any experience in ECS whatsoever. And they wanted me.

EL: Do you know why he made that decision? Like you said, your resume wasn’t exactly primed for a career of that nature.

Alex: I think it was just a gut feeling that Elias got. So when I took over our training, it was, essentially, a blank slate. I got to build and make the training program what I wanted. I got direction from Elias, but he pretty much said, “Well, you’re the expert in this now. So you build it however you think is going to be best.” This has been a pretty significant accomplishment for me, to take a training that was bare bones and reinvent it.

EL: So no experience coming in, and by mostly intuition, you were able to land the position. And then from there, engineer a program that’s been sustainable, and even internationally acclaimed with the Top 100 Training Awards. It’s pretty remarkable that things happened the way they did. Is there anything that you chalk that up to? Why do you think it all worked out?

Alex: You know, you hear a lot of gurus say that, when it really comes down to it, it’s a matter of who wants it more. And I really believe that I wanted it more. I knew this was my one shot. I wasn’t gonna let it pass without giving it everything that I had. I would sit in front of the mirror, and I would practice delivering my presentations for the interview. I got feedback from people and did all I could. I think my drive to get the position came across in the interview.

And, you know, if I were to be in a licensed position, and if I were to see two candidates, one probably more qualified than the other, but I could see heart and drive in one of them, I’d go with heart. I’d take that chance every time. It always pays off.

“I knew this was my one shot. I wasn’t gonna let it pass without giving it everything that I had.”

EL: And in your case, it has certainly paid off.

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s been fun. I think I have the best job of the whole company. I love getting to meet new people. I feel like I get to mold them and shape them and start them off in the best possible way. And anybody can be successful here.

The training I provide is just a recipe, but each person is the secret sauce. And no one’s gonna make that secret sauce the same way that you are. And that’s what I love about our culture. We’re not about strict adherence to a process or culture, you figure out the way that works best for you and run with it.

EL: I think sprint may even be more accurate in our case.

Alex: It’s awesome. We’re gonna show you the recipe for success, but it’s up to you to modify it to work best for you. That’s why my classes are never the same. I don’t think that there’s anybody else that would be able to look at my program and say, “Okay, I got this, I can take over for you.” That’s because each outline flexes and molds to fit the personality of the class.

EL: I think that format, actually, the idea of adapting your presentations to suit your student’s needs, is reflective of your history and the person that you are.

You’ve been handed some pretty difficult plates in your life, but you’ve adapted. By sincere belief in yourself and others, you have risen above all that difficulty, and it’s culminated in a legacy of people being changed. And from what I’ve gathered, you have also been changed. That’s pretty remarkable in my eyes. And I completely believe that.

Alex: Thank you. I mean, it’s, it’s been a journey. But when I first started as learning and development specialist, I looked forward to some point in time when the trainings would have been built out in such a way that I could be proud of. And as I stand at the edge and look now backwards in time, that is where I am now—but it was never what I thought I wanted. The middle of the journey is what gives value to the end, not the vision of the end.

EL: It also yields the most lasting consequence, but it is hard.

Alex: It is hard! I look at all my new hires that come in, and they’re just beginning. And all of us, we have a vision of what we expect it to be at some point in the future, but too often, we want to skip the middle and just jump to the end. And it’s when we jump to the end that we lose sight of why we started in the first place.

EL: I love the idea of being able to hold on to the culmination of everything you’ve become, but the most important part is how you became. And if you can remember that constantly, then you will always continue to grow. I think that’s very insightful.

Alex: Thank you. And you know, we also need to look at where we are now. I know that this isn’t the summit. There’s more for me to do and more for me to become, but I’ve got to be okay with the journey.

EL: And with that investment in the everyday, inevitably that summit comes closer. Sometimes we don’t know what the view holds, but we know it’s gonna be worth it.

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