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Saying Farewell to Tom Phillips of EC2 Windows

This is my tribute to Tom Phillips, director of EC2 Windows, whose life in many eyes was taken before his time. He was born in Michigan on February 21, 1959 and passed away on December 3, 2011 at the age of 52. He was a very generous man and I am blessed to have known him. I feel honored to have attended his funeral today and learn more about a man I respected from those who were much closer to him; his family.

Tom was one of those rare individuals that a lot of people pray that they encounter in their life. He was very bright, had a very inquisitive mind, had a broad technical knowledge, great business acumen and was very generous with his time/help. Most of all, he was very much loved in both the community, workplace and by his family. I want to share my story and I take solace in the fact that my story is in line with so many others, who have spoken about him today.

I met Tom during a meeting about issues with one of our products. He was in charge of the engineering team and I was a part of the support organization. Right off the bat, he led by example and took ownership of the concerns. More importantly, he shared numbers with us that impressed everyone of what those failures were and how they impacted customers. He knew what was going on and he had a plan, which reassured everyone and resulted in a very productive meeting. It lead to two departments working together to make the customer experience better and allowed for collaboration. I felt proud to be in that room and working for both departments. I think Tom was also impressed with our approach, because we did not come in seeking to attack his department, but that we wanted to help and I know he appreciated that effort.  I looked forward to our next meeting, but sadly he passed away before it took place.

When I heard the news, I was in shock, like so many others, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the reality of his passing. The more time I spent thinking about it, the more my heart would be crushed thinking about his wife and 2 daughters (aged 16 and 11) that he left lovingly behind. I am glad that I got to give her a hug today and thanked her for sharing this experience with us. As I told her, my prayers and thought reside with her and the family. God blessed us all and I know he will continue to bless them.

I want to share a story from Joseph Womac from the Fulcrum Foundation (http://www.fulcrumfoundation.org/about-us/fulcrum-staff-board-trustees/) who spoke very eloquently about Tom at his memorial service today. He spent the past week preparing for this speech by looking back on all e-mails that were exchanged over the years. Joseph talked about 2 words that summed up Tom very well. Will do!

No matter when he needed help or what the task was, Tom displayed a confident and can do attitude when he offered his help. He gave his all, on any task and used it as an opportunity to further enhance those around him. There is no better in the feeling in the world when you reach out for help and someone steps in to give it their all. It is a very empowering sense of team work that is very rare in most people today. So many others tend to focus on just their needs and rarely put forth the effort to serve the higher need in helping others. We need more people like Tom Phillips who take pride in their family, community and go out of our way to help those who need it most.

The other thought that Joseph shared with us was the concept of Nemawashi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemawashi) which Tom shared with him. It is the Japanese process of moving a plant or tree from one area to another by “cutting away from the roots” to prevent them from going into shock. At first, I did not see the correlation until Joseph elaborated further.

Joseph was assigned a task that he had no experience with, so he reached out to Tom for assistance. Tom being his usual self, said he would gladly help out. Not only did Tom offer to help without complaining, but he also took the lead and mentored Joseph on how to perform this task on his own in the future. As he walked him through the process he pointed out a very important step that most leadership fails to take. Implementing a change without causing the existing situation to go into shock. It was at this moment, I got what Nemawashi meant and how it relates. So many times, I have seen change being made for the sake of making change or because change had been put off for so long that it was in dire need to be changed.

For so many years at companies like, Compaq, Dell, Rackspace and others I never appreciated that effort from my management that allowed us to change gracefully. Today, I do appreciate it and I am glad that I was made aware of it, because it is an awesome ability to command. I understand that as time goes on, change is imminent. I really respect people like Tom Phillips and other leaders who took that extra effort to be a little different and make change easier to deal with.

It made me very aware of what is missing today, which is the ability to make change happen gracefully and stay up to date. I take a look at elect officials in government, community leaders and others. Very few people are willing or able to take the extra effort to make a difference in approving the life of others by using the Nemawashi approach to prevent shock to the system. More importantly, it lead me to feelings of regret as I have been very blessed to have been around many people, like Tom, in my life and I am sorry to say that I took them for granted. I am both sad (for taking so long to see this) and glad (that I finally did see it) for this moment of truth. I owe a special thank you to Tom, like so many others, who wish they had that chance to have one last conversation just to say thank you.

As I end my thoughts about Tom, I thought I would also share some of my positive thoughts about what we deal with on a daily basis. Most of the time when we deal with challenges it deals with overcoming a perception. Not all of us are blessed like Tom who can give so naturally and selfishly, but we can appreciate those people, who can give like him. Instead we struggle, to go the extra mile out of our way to provide that help and a lot of times it might be due to the feeling of avoiding the criticism if we fail in our efforts.

For some reason we failed to grasp to see the higher good of helping others to begin with, which is to be a servant. When we focus our hearts and minds on helping others, it provides with an opportunity to change a perception of ourselves. I heard many times in the Army, that a good leader starts off by being the best follower. I can see that was a great bit of advice very clearly today.

I hope these thoughts and words help you remember that life is short and very precious, so make the most out of it. We are given a very rare opportunity to live our lives, fulfill our dreams and make a difference in others. I hope to see more people follow Tom’s example by picking up the slack to help others in need and also recognize how it helps us grow to be a better person. I was blown away by how many people attended his memorial today and now I see why so many attended.

He will be missed by many and for the brief time that he was in my life, I can say he made a very lasting impact on me. As they say, if you are not happy with today’s results, then do not be surprised by tomorrow’s events if you fail to make the needed changes today.

“LIFE is too short. Grudges are a waste of perfect happiness. Laugh when you can, apologize when you should and let go of what you can’t change. Take chances. Give everything and have no regrets. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE UNHAPPY. You have to take the good with the bad. Smile when you are sad. Learn from your mistakes. People change & things go wrong but always remember, LIFE GOES ON”

Watch Your Thoughts; They Become Words
Watch Your Words; They Become Actions
Watch Your Actions; They Become Habits
Watch Your Habits; They Become Character
Watch Your Character; It Becomes Your Destiny

If you would like to know more about Tom Phillips, this is a very nice article: http://www.geekwire.com/2011/remembering-tom-phillips

In closing, 2011 has been a wake up call for me. I have seen people who I admire greatly (Like Tom Phillips and Steve Jobs) pass way at an age that I felt was way too early, but at the same time I can see a very fulfilled life where they took an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives. It is amazing when you look at their lives and the sense of purpose that it makes you glad to have seen them. I leave you with Steve Jobs’ thoughts on life and death: Steve Jobs\’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

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