The Value of Relationships

Jay Foliano is probably not a name many of you know, but he’s someone who early in my professional career taught me the value of relationships. Back in college (late 90’s), I was lucky enough to be presented with internships during the summers and Jay was an integral part of this experience. He was a project manager on a number of projects I was part of and the best PM I’ve ever worked with.

Let me share a story about Jay to start which really shows his character and values. Picture being onsite at a client and your team’s project manager is facilitating the day long session. Because of the jam packed schedule, he’s organizing a call-in lunch order so we don’t lose any steam. When lunch arrives, meals are passed out. Realizing he needs to get the meeting moving again quickly so we stay on track, the project manager eats his lunch in a feverish pitch. A full salad is consumed within a few minutes.

The client’s VP re-enters the meeting room to eat their lunch as they had just stepped out to take a call. This is when the “uh-oh” moment hits. The project manager realizes he ate the wrong meal. He ate the VP’s salad (yes the same VP who’s funding the project). What does the project manager do?

For most they’d stick their head between their legs and turn red like a tomato. They’d scramble, apologize profusely and feel deflated. Good thing that PM was Jay Foliano since that’s not how he responded.

Jay did apologize and immediately left the meeting. He found the best local restaurant and ordered the most expensive meal on the menu and swiftly brought it back for the VP. In that moment, Jay turned a complete goof into a client relationship building event (and story we still tell to this day).

Jay’s passion is two-fold:

  1. Ensuring his team delivers a solution that the client needs and more importantly wants
  2. Ensuring throughout the entire project life cycle, the client is informed, kept in constant contact and pleased with his team’s efforts

Pretty simple but really powerful. Jay was the perfect mix of internal project manager and external business development executive.

As much as we use to “rag” on Jay for being a kiss ass, we all knew the tremendous value he brought to the table and the experience our clients received because of him. And I’m probably being nice saying we use to tease him as sometimes we were downright brutal (think about that lunch story above and you can imagine how relentless we were). I can still hear Todd Donaghy singing “Foooooolliiiiiiaaaaannnnnoooooo” in his best high pitched voice every time Jay was spotted. But our fun with Jay was out of respect, out of the value we knew he brought to our team and the project overall.

This past weekend I ran into Jay at a wedding and it was the first time I’ve seen him in over 15 years. He looked exactly the same, had the same burst of energy and like always was a pleasure to speak with. He asked about my career (again, we haven’t spoken in over 15 years) and was really excited to hear about Shugo. During our conversation though, it struck me how much of an impact he had on my career and how he indirectly shaped the culture at Shugo.

It was his question of “What’s had the single biggest impact on your business?” that brought this to life. My answer:

“It’s the value of the relationships we’ve built with our clients and the payroll industry.”

Not realizing it until this moment, Jay is a big reason why I believe this to be true. He instilled in me as a 20 year old intern the value of relationships in business. We do business with folks we like and respect. And it’s not just building “business relationships” though, it’s building personal relationships with our clients, vendors and partners that truly makes it a great experience.

Jay, even this past weekend, always asks how your family is doing and what your kids are up to these days. This was part of his way of building a fantastic relationship with clients, vendors and partners.

So to Jay, I say thank you.  Thanks for being a positive impact on my early professional career and for helping shaping the values and culture we have at Shugo. To prove how the value of relationships are important at Shugo, check out this 10 minute clip of four Shugo clients sharing why they chose us and our solutions.  I hope after you see this, you’ll understand the impact Jay Foliano has had on my career.

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