A tribute to a great boss: Mike Hamlin

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This strays from the theme of my blog but I want to pay tribute to my former boss, Mike Hamlin, who passed away last year.

Photo from TeamAsia's Facebook page

I am writing this close to a year after you have passed away.

I remember the day I discovered you passed away - it was Saturday night and I was at home. I read a text message from an officemate saying, 'wala na siya' and I felt close to the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I did not want to believe it. But there it is, it was true. You passed away.

I took the bus the next day to attend a 'meeting' that my officemate scheduled for the executive committee. That meeting was held in Loyola Memorial Chapels in Sucat and the conversation took a PR turn - how will we announce this? What materials are needed? It was a very surreal time of my life. Why were we going to talk about PR in a time such as that?

It seemed so unreal that we were grieving over an important person while reviewing our next steps. It somehow sunk in when one of our colleagues came late and upon seeing the urn, she started to cry.

I allowed myself to cry while editing a cover photo for Facebook with your face as highlight (the photo posted above). There's no sophistication in how I cry. I was so ugly and after just a few minutes of crying, my eyes were so puffed up and red.


I only have a month-long experience in a provincial company before I joined TeamAsia and had zero experience in business writing. No wonder the first long e-mail I received from you was one that most employees would cringe at. You started to point out my lack of knowledge in business writing and gave out points on how to improve the writeup.

That e-mail did not stop me from writing, instead I took it positively and continued with my work. From long e-mails, I would receive 'Here you go' with the revised draft. We were dependent on Microsoft Word back then. You always reminded us to turn on Track Changes when sending a draft. And when we look at the edited writeup, it would be decorated nicely in red. From that, I learned. It wasn't easy, but I learned.

I remember you defending a writeup that I developed after a long trip to La Salle Lipa. In the end, the article was scrapped but it felt great to have someone on my back.

You were always so professional. Our editorial board meetings were so straightforward - update, comment, advice, what happened, next item - there were no snide remarks but there was always the occasional joke that you would mutter amid your white Santa beard, and all of us would laugh.

Despite your serious demeanor, you always had a light side. You tell jokes that would lift the spirit of the room. You had a way to motivate people with your speeches. There were no taint of doubt or "ka-plastikan," which would make us feel genuinely motivated. You had that power to drive people.

You always had the perspective that your company and your employees are the best that competitors are laughable. I believed in what you said because I see you as great. I never knew someone who was so connected that clients as well as the media would stop by and shake your hand.

I don't know that many executives but you were probably the only boss who would drive his employees to a meeting, in your huge black Ford SUV. It was not a way to save cash but it was more of convenience - and you did not in any minute complain.

Yet after all you were from a modest background - an American who did odd jobs like driving an ambulance and teaching English in Japan for a time. You always told our media relations associates how you painstakingly dialled all those numbers of the media using an old school telephone and how we should follow that type of perseverance and patience.

When something was not working, you had a favorite quote that we heard countless of times: 'Remember the definition of insanity? It's doing the same thing and expecting a different result.' We would snicker silently as you repeated that phrase but the gist of it is true.

I remembered a time when you were so angry. We screwed up a project and the client sent an irate e-mail to you directly. You e-mailed four of us to reply what happened and the next day, you confronted us during a birthday celebration in the 2nd floor office. I'm not sure if the photos are still with me but I could clearly remember that moment. Three of us who were confronted went our separate ways to cry. We cried, I think, because we disappointed you.

You were always the level-headed decision maker. There are no questions from clients that would leave you thinking for a moment or two. There was no hesitation in your replies. You were the embodiment of confidence.

The best memory I think was how you actually listen to your employees. You would look that person in the eye, narrow your eyes sometimes or smile when I felt nervous. You listened and believed in all of us. I think that's what a real leader should be like.

You were a great leader and I will never forget what I learned from you. Today, as I start to write more and more, I would remember what you taught and remember you through my work. We all miss you and your guidance. I hope you never get bored up there, where you deserve to be.
We miss you, Sir Mike.

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