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[BUSINESS] Spencer S. Lee (CEO of Roto-Rooter)

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  • chiayuan25
    THE BOSS Digging In to Find Success As told to Eve Tahmincioglu Published: November 28, 2004 The New York Times BACK in Korea, we ate bananas once a year
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 28 1:56 PM
      THE BOSS
      Digging In to Find Success
      As told to Eve Tahmincioglu
      Published: November 28, 2004
      The New York Times

      BACK in Korea, we ate bananas once a year because they were so
      expensive. I remember, on an annual picnic, my mom packing one in
      the picnic basket; it was a treat. So I remember vividly the first
      week we came to America. It was 1971, I was a sophomore in high
      school and we went to the supermarket. We started comparing prices,
      and I realized bananas were the cheapest thing you could buy. My
      parents bought three bunches.

      About a year after we moved here, Watergate happened. I remember
      watching it every day, thinking, "What a great thing." The
      corruption and problems at the highest level of public office is
      common everywhere. This is the only country where this comes out in
      public. Korea, when we left, was a dictatorship. It was an awakening
      for me.

      I thought of that when I became a citizen, when I was in college, in
      1978. My friends helped me study; they were having a good time with
      me. They convinced me I would have to sing the national anthem to
      pass. We were going to a place in Los Angeles where I would take the
      test, and in my friend's car I was practicing the national anthem. I
      am tone deaf; I'm a terrible singer. But when I got there, the only
      thing they wanted to know was if I was a Communist.

      They asked me in 10 different ways. "Do you belong to a Communist
      organization? Do you have any friends who are Communist?" That's all
      they cared about. It was kind of a rude experience. But I thought,
      and always think today, "Thank God I'm here."

      Until I was a junior in college, I had no idea what I was going to
      do. I bought time by going to business school at the University of
      Chicago. I started working for a company called Chemed in 1980,
      straight from business school, and then Chemed bought Roto-Rooter
      from a family business in 1981. I jumped to Roto-Rooter because it
      was small back then and I thought I could be part of it and help it
      grow. In 1982, after being in headquarters, I decided I had to learn
      the business. I volunteered to go to Boston and be an assistant
      branch manager.

      I spent quite a few days riding around with technicians to see what
      they do, riding in their trucks, helping them out, doing drain
      cleaning. It's not a clean job, not a job with a high social status,
      but it's extremely hard work. I learned that drain cleaning is more
      of an art than a science. When service technicians go to a job, they
      really have to feel when they put the cable, or what some people
      call a snake, in the line, have to feel what's there without looking
      at it.

      Holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas - those are very good for us
      because a lot of people abuse their kitchen sinks when they

      One time I was out there with a technician; it was Thanksgiving. The
      woman was panicking. She had people coming over and had not finished
      cooking. I'm guessing she threw everything down that sink. When we
      showed up on Thanksgiving the customer was so thankful. The
      technician got the clog through pretty quick. The customer was so
      happy. The job was worth $60 or so, but I remember the technician
      getting a tip of about $50. There's an inherent satisfaction with
      doing the job. I saw that when I went out with the technicians.

      My father was a workaholic. He worked seven days a week. When we
      moved here, he was senior vice president of Korean Airlines. He was
      the person who established the U.S. routes. We had, probably, family
      vacations two times a decade, and that would be long weekends. He
      taught me that with hard work and perseverance you can overcome a
      lot of things.

      As a parent, I think you have to try and spend time with your
      family. When I am in town and not traveling for work, I spend 100
      percent of my time with my family.

      As told to Eve Tahmincioglu.

      SPENCER S. LEE, Chief executive, Roto-Rooter, Cincinnati
      DATE OF BIRTH: Sept. 20, 1955

      EDUCATION: B.A., Claremont McKenna College; M.B.A., University of

      WORST PLUMBING PROBLEM: When his water heater failed in winter in

      found alive

      HOBBIES: Tennis, golf

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