It was a pleasant mid-season day when Roger and I first spoke. We met virtually as is the wont in this post-Covid time. The fact that we were on different sides of the planet, me on the Southernmost tip of Africa, he in Florida, hardly seemed to matter; two picture-perfect days, two time zones colliding mid-Atlantic. And the reason for the call? To find out who Roger Terry is, what makes him tick, and what’s the deal with flamingo-emblazoned shirts? (The man has two dozen for crying out loud!)
Roger Terry does a really bad job explaining his role because, in his own words, “I do a lot of different things.” I try to pin him down on his responsibilities and he tells me that he works cross-functionally across the BPO team, which, for the uninitiated, is an acronym for Business Process Outsourcing. Specifically, among other things, he supports the AOU program, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the IRS programs. He joined Tactis in June last year, and his profile pic reveals a man in his late thirties with a broad smile, checked shirt, and bowtie: part-academic, part-politician.
Barbeques, Canoes, and Toasted Ravioli
Roger Terry began life in a state which, if the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology is to be believed, translates as the ‘place of large canoes.’ And if you haven’t guessed yet, it also plays host (unofficially) to the best barbeque in America (not to mention toasted ravioli). And, if you still haven’t guessed, the largest city in the state from which he hails features an iconic landmark, the tallest human-made monument in the Western Hemisphere, the Gateway Arch.
Roger was born in St. Louis, the middle child from a middle-class family, mostly a problem child, to use his words. His dad worked and for the earlier part of their lives, his mom was a stay-at-home mom. “I had the best of both worlds,” he says, lighting up. “In those days I was able to play out in the streets, ride my bike with abandon, that sort of thing (bikes will become a regular feature in his life, as we will see). And like so many of the people who ended up working for Tactis, even at a young age, Roger had an infinity for computers and what he calls “technical stuff,” a quest to understand how things worked. In fact, his earliest memory of being in trouble was when he took his mother’s vacuum cleaner apart on the living room floor and his dad had to figure out how to put it back together again, “so we could clean the floors,” he adds. He was barely five years old at the time.
His parents were believers in technology and brought home a computer in 1991, way ahead of other parents in America. It had a small screen (here, he gesticulates like a fisherman with a very small catch), and a weird tube out the back. “It was a very odd-shaped thing,” he confesses, “but we were very enamored with it.” It was one of the first to have a Graphic User Interface which he refers to as a ‘click GUI’ (as in ‘gooey’).
Unlike his sister who did a lot of word processing, he played a lot of games. His parents, on the other hand, created documents. One game that took his fancy at the time was called Dave (he sadly can’t remember the premise). There was also a chess game that occupied his time but that was clearly not designed for children. In this version, if the queen was going to get you, she would actually come on and kill you! He survived that, only to come face to face with his first Macintosh in elementary school where he played Oregon Trail and took his first typing class.
High school involved the arts. “I was really trying to round myself out,” he explains. He performed in plays for four years and clearly remembers one comedy, a farce, where he played a priest locked up in a US Embassy during the cold war. [Ed note: The play was actually Woody Allen’s first professionally produced Broadway play and was described as ‘one big overfed American folk joke’ by theater critic Otis L. Guernsey]. There were two other artistic explorations: The marching band (trombone, which has sadly gathered dust in his parent’s basement since then), and a speech class (home for radio wannabees). “We did a thing called extemporaneous speaking,” says Roger, “where we were given 30 minutes to prepare a presentation. Despite a sonorous radio voice (the interviewer can attest to this), he garnered a host of ribbons but no radio career.
Next was a stint at university, after which he got into finance working for a large company that, thanks to the banking crisis of 2008, now finds itself part of Bank of America. This was followed by sixteen years (nearly a lifetime) with a national cable company. So when he joined Tactis, it was uncannily, only his third job.
Third Time’s a Charm
Tactis would hire Roger based on the strength of his experience working for call centers, or supporting call centers (with only two jobs in a career spanning nearly 20 years, it was probably the shortest resume Tactis had to consider). He was also chosen because of a long stint in which he was involved in product development, testing new products for the cable company he worked for. “The last company I worked for,” he says, “had 100,000 employees. I spent a lot of time doing UAT testing on the various apps that they had.”
Roger has still not met a single Tactis employee in the flesh, such is the new floorplan laid by the pandemic. But when Covid hit his previous company, a cable company, suddenly there was more work, not less, and with distance working, trust, and communication became a big thing. This is where he developed a lot of good relationship-building skills. Roger is a firm believer in the concept of servant leadership, which he describes as “being the person who is pulling the rope with your teammates. You’re not just in the front pointing the direction,” he goes on, “you serve the people you work with every day, whether it’s getting resources for them, helping them with problem-solving, asking them about the work, and letting them design the way they do work.” He explains that, “Working in that collaborative environment, you can’t do what’s only good for you, you have to do what’s good for everyone.”
When not in his virtual office with his cat Tulio, or on the beach, Roger applies his relationship-building skills to others in the form of inspirational videos on LinkedIn. “We lose sight of stuff because of our day-to-day challenges, and most of our relationship problems have to do with communications,” he says. “things are going well and I just felt I wanted to give something back. I am a big proponent, post the COVID-19 pandemic, of fine living, maximizing your joy because it can all be taken from you like this (here, he snaps his fingers). We have to enjoy the time we have on planet Earth. He has gone so far as ditching his car for an e-bike. And if all else fails, he can lay claim to being the person who introduced fun-shirt-Fridays to Tactis, ensuring the pink Flamingo as a species will never go extinct, at least not when it comes to his shirt selection.