The world became a little less creative, a little less gentle, and just a bit less interesting last week when Eric Lieberman passed away unexpectedly.
Eric was a friend for twenty years. He also happened to be my boss for part of that time. I’m grateful for what we did together in the workplace, but I’m more thankful for my time with him as a friend. I’m also ill-equipped to do justice to him as a person in this piece. However, I’m compelled to share a few thoughts as my final thanks for his friendship. (He was a regular reader and commenter here at the blog. He would find this fitting.)
First, let’s get the boss stuff out of the way.
Working with and for Eric was an adventure. He was a non-traditional CEO (to put it mildly) with an unrivaled creative flair.
I was traditional business, and he was far from traditional. It worked, albeit, not without some hiccups.
I learned long ago there is no perfect CEO. Eric wasn’t perfect, except perhaps in one area. He had a wonderful ability to find talented people and give them room to run. He gave a few hundred great people room to do what they loved, and the results were priceless.
That may be the most important leadership lesson of my life. We all hear and read those words, yet few live up to them. Eric found great people and served them as they created products and programs and strategies and success and happiness.
We battled occasionally. Mostly, I battled, and he quietly didn’t fire me. I would have fired me a few times.
We shared a car-ride from the east coast on that very painful day in September of 2001. During the ride, we talked about life and business and how to go on, in spite of our lack of comprehension of how profoundly everything was about to change.
For eight years while working together with some incredible people, he inspired, challenged, motivated, asked questions, offered crazy ideas and cheered us on to success.
Thanks to Eric, I left some of my “traditional” behind. He taught me how to view the world through very different eyes. He once shared with me that I had helped him understand how to truly grow a business.
That’s good teamwork.
As the business part of our relationship faded into the rear-view mirror, the friendship emerged.
We celebrated together at his wedding to June.
Eric helped edit my book, Leadership Caffeine. I always suspected that was a difficult task for him, as his talent for writing exceeded mine and was on par with his considerable skills as a musician and photographer.
He joked that he had a bit of Forrest Gump in him. He somehow managed to find himself on the bleeding edge of many societal and business trends.
He was at Berkley when people were marching and sitting-in during the Vietnam era.
He crashed Richie Daley’s wedding as a reporter.
And he met celebrities, journalists, politicians and many others who grace our history books (especially in Chicago) as guests of his parents.
He was there when the world recognized data as the new oil.
And at the all-too-early end, he was active in helping guide a firm in the emerging world of crypto-currencies.
But most of all, for me and I know for many others, he was a friend. He was always there in short-order with encouragement and counsel when you needed it.
His last email to me literally reads: “I really enjoyed our brief call today. You always inspire me. Since the day I have met you, you always made me smarter and better. Let’s talk again soon.”
We never know when that last communication will take place. I expected to talk with Eric for years to come.
We are all here for a blink of an eye. I hope we’ll talk again soon, Eric. In the meantime, I will redouble my efforts to pay forward what you taught and gave to me so unselfishly.
Rest easy, Eric. Job well done.