Shine Your Shoes by Dave LaRue

Bob Nyrop was a major figure in my life. He was my mentor, friend, business associate, father in-law, and my boss. He was like a father for me. He shared his values and taught me countless lessons. He was an inspiration to many people that he met, and there’s one story about him that was shared with me at the end of his life that I’d like to share now.

We were well into the second year in a tense lawsuit when Bob was deposed by a law firm that was notorious for going for the kill no matter what their case was. Part of their overkill strategy was that they deposed Nyrop intensely for two days. The deposition generated 317 pages of questions and answers.

Less than two weeks later he suffered an aortic aneurism. The lawsuit went on despite this.

During that time my days would start by being at the hospital by 6:00am. I would stay until at least 10:00, then, when the doctor would come, I’d leave for a few hours and head over to my office at Baldwin for the next several hours trying to cram as much work as I could before heading back to the hospital.

The odds are that most people in the same situation would not survive beyond a couple of hours, but Nyrop hung on. He managed to fight for 21 days with the best efforts of his doctors, who performed 14 different procedures, and a lot of hope and prayers from his family.

When Nyrop passed away I was devastated. I felt scared and lost. When he died I lost the one person that accepted me for me, something that I appreciated at the time, but something that means even more to me now.

The planning of the funeral was very tense and extremely sad. I was trying to be strong for my family, but inside I was going through so much turmoil. On the day of the funeral, I just really wanted to be able to get through, but instead of being a purely sad event, Nyrop had one more lesson for me.

In testament to the many lives that Nyrop touched, there were over 800 people in attendance at his funeral. I stood up at the casket near the altar before the funeral service. I was one of two men standing there with our heads solemnly bowed down. I glanced up and was surprised to see that the man next to me was Steve, our company insurance rep. He was crying as hard, if not harder than me, but even as emotional as the day was, I couldn’t help but notice how professional he looked. His suit was immaculate. His shoes were spotless. The service started and we had to take our seats.

I remember thinking throughout the service about Steve standing there crying with me. I think about 400 or so people stayed for the typical Minnesotan/ Lutheran reception, complete with goulash, potato salad, Jell-O, and dessert bars. I searched the room looking for Steve. I had to know his story—why was he crying so hard about losing someone he just sold insurance to?

Steve explained with a story was that was the last lesson Nyrop left for me.

Steve told me that his first job after graduating from college was with an insurance company and his very first call was on Baldwin Supply Company with Bob Nyrop. Steve was competing with several different agencies and worked hard on getting the business, meeting with Nyrop several different times.

Decision day finally came and Steve had his meeting scheduled with Nyrop. He got to the office fifteen minutes early, and sat in the lobby nervously waiting to be called back to Bob’s office. He was feeling confident about getting the account, but still wasn’t 100% sure. It would be his first deal. He said he was clammy and almost shaking because he was so nervous.

Then the moment came. Nyrop called him into his office and after a few minutes of small talk, Nyrop said “Steve, I’m impressed with the results you’ve gotten, your responsiveness, pricing….” Then the old man went silent for about 10-15 seconds. Steve said it felt like forever and he just froze.

Nyrop got up from his chair and closed the office door. Then he sat down on the chair next to Steve and said, “Steve, I really want to give you our business. You’ve worked hard for it and you deserve it.” Then another 15 seconds of silence. Steve thought in those moments that he had lost the account.

Nyrop looked down at Steve’s shoes and continued, “But, if you treat our business the way that you treat your shoes I’m afraid that you won’t provide us with the level of service that we expect. You see, it’s one thing to get the business, but it’s another to maintain the business. The condition of your shoes tells me that you’ll just go out and buy a new pair next year... just like maybe you will just go get another account if we don’t renew with you.

“If you want to be successful, you need to display that you care; that you are going to maintain what you have; that you protect your investments. You need to shine your shoes, son. You need to demonstrate that you do care, and that you can and will make sure that our business is serviced better than any of your competitors could. You have all of the ingredients to be successful: your presence, intelligence, energy, likability… but you won’t get the opportunity to do business with us if I’m concerned that you don’t take care of your stuff.”

Apparently Nyrop and Steve came to an understanding at that point, because the old man took a chance and gave him the account that day. Steve has gone on to become one of the top performers for his company for over 30 years. Every time you run into Steve, his shoes are shined. On the day of Bob’s funeral, he shined his shoes to where you could almost see your reflection. This was Steve’s way of showing his respect to the man that taught him one of life’s greatest lessons.

Keep your shoes shined.

Dave LaRue


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