Around this time of June at the age of 12, I first hired out my services to put up hay. By the time I was 14, I was helping put up 30,000 bales a year. At the end of every day, I would ask the farmer, my employer, how many bales we put up that day. Whatever he said I wrote down in my log. The amount generally ended up being around 100 bales an hour.
This job was one of the most physically demanding jobs I ever worked. In the heat of the summer sun, my fellow workers and I would sling these 30- to 40-pound square bales over our heads onto the wagon. Hay chaff would float back down and stick to every part of our skin covering our arms, chest and back. I got in a habit of bouncing the bales off my forearms. It was a good technique except the sharp stalks of hay left small cuts on my forearms.
After the wagon was stacked as high as possible, we headed for the barn. The ride to the barn cooled us as we sat high on the pile of hay. The best thing about returning to the barn was reaching the water cooler. As the barn filled with hay, the job got tougher. Most of the farmers filled their barns to the roof in the good hay years. An elevator carried the bales just so far and then we had to drag them by the strings to the peaks of the building. The heat magnified by the metal roof made me sweat like it was raining. The dust often choked me and I coughed for several minutes after I climbed down.
But I went back the next day and did it again. From June through August with the exception of the days it rained and football practice, I put up hay. One dollar an hour was good money for a teenager in those days. I felt good about becoming a little more independent financially. I added the almost $300 I earned putting up hay to the money I earned growing and selling sweet corn, cabbage, and tomatoes. Some of this money went to pay my school expenses for my freshman year at Western Kentucky State University.
These experiences taught me about capitalism and the benefits of an honest exchange of goods and services among people.
Unfortunately, in our country, we have seen repeated recent examples of those who have given capitalism a black eye. I have always believed in working for my employer as though I were working for myself. I have always believed in providing a product worthy of its cost. The year that the corn worms were bad, we told the customers and cut the price in half. As leaders, let's all focus on the quality of the services and the products that we deliver to our customers. Leaders who enrich themselves unfairly at the expense of their customers, stockholders, or workers hurt their organization and America.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.