Buddy with an idea

“Who am I? It’s not an easy question.”

An Early Success

John Deere logo

Discovering who you are can be really tough.

After earning my BSME from Iowa State, I started work in Manufacturing Engineering at the John Deere Dubuque Works. One of my projects was to implement Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM). After a few years we had hundreds of computers connected using office and shop-floor networks.

Working with Deere corporate, we also installed a wide-area network to our sister plant in Davenport, Iowa. Corporate was really biased towards IBM mainframes and joked that we were in over our heads. They named our project the Factory Interconnect And Systems Connectivity Options (FIASCO) pilot.

It turned out to be a huge success. When Deere's CIO signed off on the final implementation, he said "Great work, but change the name." I did: Wide-area Integrated Network (WIN). Our FIASCO became a WIN.

After the pilot I said "You should have someone at corporate doing this." "OK, you do it." (Oops!) So I transferred to Moline and helped drive connecting all the Deere plants to WIN and to the early commercial Internet.

A Career Mistake

Department of Defense logo

My career was on hot streak; I was getting interviewed by magazines and speaking at conferences. Then I decided to take a risk. I left Deere and joined two partners at a computer reseller to start a systems integration group.

One of the partners was charismatic; he could be your best friend one minute and flame you the next. I only saw his best bud side at first. Later I saw his other side. I didn't like how he treated our staff (including the people I managed) or how he made business decisions.

After six months we started to run tight on operating capital. Each of us needed to co-sign personal guarantees for a $200k loan. I looked at who had hard assets to loose, my confidence in the business, and made a decision. "I'm done."

"Who is this?"

Erin & Amber

"You WHAT?!" my wife said.

"I quit. Its fine, it won't be hard to find another job." Looking back now I was way too confident.

I scoured want ads in all the newspapers and sent out over 200 resumes. Nothing. After a couple months I began to worry a little. Cindy tightened our finances, we started having more hamburger and hot dogs. The girls were too young to understand what happens when money goes out but no money comes in.

Still confident, I called a buddy who was VP of HR at McGladery & Pullen.

"Bob, here's my résumé. Think you can help me find a job?"

I was so proud of that six page document. It had every detail about every exciting project I'd done. It was my masterpiece. Bob took the paper, studied it, flipped the pages, then handed it back.

"This isn't you. Who is this? Go home and think about it. I'll be back in town in a week or two. We can get together then and see what you've got."

I was crushed ... and scared ... and worried.

"How'd it go? Can he find you a job?" I don't remember what I told Cindy.

Who am I?

Buddy with an idea

That conversation with Bob was about the lowest point in my professional career.

When I was looking for a job in college it was just me. Now I had a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and a savings account that was dwindling away.

I did some deep soul searching, then wrote a new version for Bob that was straight from the heart. I thought about who I really was - a builder and a communicator. It just flowed. What I wrote then is still true today (here's my current résumé).

When I showed it to Bob he smiled, nodded, and handed it back. "That's better. Now I know it's you. Let me see what I can do."

Moving On

Alcatel logo

Bob made some calls but no strong leads turned up. I was getting desperate.

With nothing to show from my 200 letters, I decided to hit the phone. I did find a local government contracting position, but my best call was with a recruiter. She had a friend in Greensboro, North Carolina who just happened to have a friend looking for an Engineering IT manager in Raleigh.

I interviewed, played both offers to get the best salary I could – and waited. We were down to the wire. I took the local contractor job in Davenport. Then Ed called from Raleigh. I jumped at his final offer, declined the contracting job, and we moved the family to North Carolina. Wow.

Your Personal Brand

Doug signature

Between leaving Iowa back then and today there are a hundred more stories I could tell.

But what did I learn from this story? I learned who I am.

I've also learned over the years that you may cycle (many times) between employee, employer, or freelancer. To survive, you need to build and grow a personal brand that transcends your employment.

At the core of your brand is your story. What do you do? How do you do it? How are you different AND better than your competition? Most importantly, why do you do what you do?

What would be your answer if you asked yourself "Who am I?"

Think about it.

Category: Thoughts
Topics: People
Tags: Doug Foster


  1. Butch on 2012-12-13 at 12:02 pm

    Doug, I love the design of your current resume. Very nontraditional…what else would one expect from such a creative individual?

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-13 at 1:18 pm

      I’m blushing. Creative? Thanks. Most people use the phrase “half a bubble off level.”

  2. Pat Regan on 2012-12-13 at 3:04 pm

    I didn’t see about good Christian and Family values mentioned but you sure have them also.

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-13 at 10:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment Pat, we sure try hard!

  3. Harlan Pedretti on 2012-12-13 at 5:35 pm

    Doug, Enjoyed reading your notes above. Sam Allen is probably glad you left Deere so he could become CEO instead of you! Anyway, it sounds like times got a little tough when you were looking for a job. I also read your note on the non-traditional home and it brought back memories of our solar envelop home. We got transferred to Davenport and had to leave our home in Dubuque also, but it sounds like it is still performing well. Glad to hear that the story turned out positive for you and your wife. As you know I am retired now and enjoying life with two new little granddaughters born in the last year and a half. Hope this finds you and your family doing well! Harlan

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-13 at 10:33 pm

      Hey Harlan! Great to hear from you. (For those reading the comments, Harlan was my first supervisor when I started at John Deere Dubuque.)

      Hah! I don’t know about CEO, but I often wonder if I went down to the John Deere building here in Cary NC, would they hire me back ;-)? Lots of good memories of the times with you, Charlie, Russ, and the whole Perishable Tooling group. Have a Merry Christmas and make sure to spoil those grandkids. I’ll do the same down here!

  4. Maureen Reed on 2012-12-13 at 8:50 pm

    That is a great story. I didn’t really know how you ever got to NC. Interesting too – we have things to talk about next Labor Day weekend. I pursued my MBA after working in engineering a while, and wrote a thesis on How to Hire the Right Person. It is based on who we are, but more importantly, not necessarily what we’re good at, but what we really LIKE to do – what makes us tick. You acted out your motivational pattern at your very first job. I didn’t hear in detail what you do now, but it is quite amazing. Looking forward to our ISU reunion. Thanks for sharing, Maury

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-13 at 10:42 pm

      Glad you liked it Maury. I’m sure looking forward to the ISU reunion next Fall, thanks for setting it up!

      Sometimes I think there’s two sides of trying to figure out who we are. On one side, it’s a moving target. What we like, what we do, and how we think changes – sometimes every week! Then there’s the other side: that place where somewhere deep inside you – if you really thought hard and long and tried to go back to as young of an age as you could – you’d realize those feelings and perspectives never (or rarely) change. It’s a conundrum to keep them both in balance. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. L.E. Foster on 2012-12-13 at 10:43 pm

    Hi Doug: Just finished reading about who you are – it surely gave me a new insight to yourself that tho being your Dad, I had not envisioned before. And thru those trials and tribulations, you never once let on to me your state of mind and the wall you were up against. And yet, as I sit here writing this, it’s what I might have predicted. I might throw in a thought: It isn’t the easy times that make our character, but what we do when the chips are down and our backs to the wall that makes us who we are. Being your Dad, am I biased? You bet I am, and proud to say it!

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-13 at 11:09 pm

      Dad … you biased? Never ;-). But that’s ok! I’m so blessed with your support and the wisdom you share from 90+ years of living. Thank you. I only hope I can do the same for my kids as the years move on.

      So, I once asked a question: which comes first – do stories inspire life or does life beget stories? Neither. Both seem locked in this unending loop. But in each, without conflict (overcoming challenges, facing your demons, defeating your antagonist, …) neither would have value. I agree with your thoughts completely – it’s the tough times, not the easy ones that give our lives the most meaning.

      Thanks for the comment Dad!

  6. Larry McManus on 2012-12-15 at 8:39 am

    Another great story!! From our low points come growth and insight – clarity can be an expensive lesson, but usually worth the price.

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-15 at 10:57 am

      Thanks Larry. I heard someone once say “The best things in life are free.” Like you – in this case – I’d disagree ;-).

  7. Greg Pelton on 2012-12-15 at 11:54 am

    Doug, when I read the title I immediately flashed to the scene from Zoolander when Ben Stiller stares into the puddle and asks, “who am I?” You were able to answer the question a lot better than he did. Introspection and insight are often lost in the day to day jumble so it is great you are able to step back and gain that perspective. One of the inscriptions at the Temple of Delphi “know thyself” and we are still struggling to follow that advice. Thanks for posting this!

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-15 at 12:17 pm

      Hah! Yeah, but the facial expressions are something I could never match 😉

      Glad you enjoyed the story Greg. Thanks for the comment!

      I’m off to find more about the Temple of Delphi. But in the mean time, here’s an interesting quote I found from Wikipedia: … In 1750 Benjamin Franklin, in his Poor Richard’s Almanack, observed the great difficulty of knowing one’s self, with: “There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.”

  8. Tony Zeoli on 2012-12-26 at 5:08 pm

    Hey Doug,

    I read! I read! LOL.

    Yes, I got the email a while back and put it aside for reading over the holidays. I completely agree that in the dynamic business and creative environments we live in today, creating a personal brand is a valuable tool.

    I sifted through the slide deck and appreciate the identity building. When I was setting up Digital Strategy Works, I knew that I needed a name that conveyed “digital” and “strategy.” Just like your “WIN” moniker, I added “Works” at the end. I used the color red to convey a sense of purpose and power.

    What I haven’t done, is spend enough time on the site to really bring it forward. I don’t blog as much as I should, if at all right now, because my focus has shifted towards Market America, my day job. I don’t have much time for DSW and in fact, I’m switching gears to focus more on Netmix right now.

    Like you said, you gotta do you. What I’m more interested in today is my musical heritage as a DJ and someone who worked in and around the music industry for some time. I really am getting back to who I was and who I really want to be. That being said, I do have my tonyzeoli.com blog, which I’m working on as well. That is being updated to reflect my work as well as my process.

    I’ll be looking out for the next post.

    Tony Z

    • Doug Foster on 2012-12-28 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks Tony. It’s a challenge isn’t it? Be focused .. be broad .. be focused … you have to shift with what the market seems to want.

      I don’t think I ever told you, back in college I used to flip records for our college dorm house. That was back when it was vinyl, turntables, and tube amps. Nazarath, Heart, Fleetwood Mac … did I just give the era away?