Kyle Johnson and the Triumph of Substance Over Style

September 4, 2013

When it comes to all matters relating to HR, my colleague Jackie runs the show. She has a real knack for sizing people up and she isn’t easily fooled by style over substance. Indeed, one of the many lessons Jackie’s taught me is to never mistake an employee’s humbleness and quietness for a lack of confidence, talent or drive. Kyle Johnson, our Holy Cross intern this year, certainly proves her case.

We’ve participated in Holy Cross’s innovative intern program for nearly 10 years now. Under the program, the school’s alumni cover the student’s stipend and living costs providing they receive a meaningful work experience at an organization employing a Holy Cross alumni. Virtually all of our Holy Cross interns have been on the quiet side – a quality I’m not sure is required to gain admission or is instilled by the school – but Kyle brings it to a whole new level. The guy should be the poster boy for the art of keeping your nose-to-the-grindstone.

Regretfully, I had limited interactions with Kyle this summer because I was in San Francisco focused on establishing STARKMAN’s west coast presence. Even so, the forcefulness with which my colleagues advocated for the highest caliber “shout-outs” for Kyle in this post-internship acknowledgement blog post were very much welcome — and unprecedented. Katharine Rose, a former intern herself who now oversees our program, was among his biggest fans.

In addition to being the consummate team player and someone who always greeted his colleagues with a hearty good morning, Kyle is someone who is willing to take on any and all challenges, even when it’s way beyond the designated closing time. Without fail, his parting words at the end of the day were, “Is there anything else you need help with or would like me to work on?”  You could set your watch to this daily offer.  And while his day technically ended just after uttering that question at 4:30, we would routinely receive emails from him in the evening flagging stories of potential interest to clients that he found on the Twitter feeds he monitored.

Many of our clients are in esoteric businesses, but Kyle always effusively stepped up to the plate when called on to help craft a client blog post or tackle a similarly challenging project.  The guy seems to thrive on challenges – the bigger the better!

As was true with most of our Holy Cross interns, Kyle produced work way beyond the level of our expectations for someone just entering their senior year in college.

In terms of diligence, let’s just say that even in this age of computers and electronics, the value of Post It notes hasn’t been lost on all our youth. Kyle’s cubicle was always laden with them to remind him of deadlines, checklists, and other tasks that needed time and attention. And perhaps we were mistaken, but we couldn’t help but detect that Kyle established a rather close bonding with the plant on his desk. There was even a discussion of offering to let him take it with him, but we decided against starting what could prove to be a rather odd precedent.

Remarkably, Kyle somehow managed to stay in fighting shape, despite being surrounded by some rather voracious eaters who devour cupcakes every Thursday with a seemingly reckless abandon (“It’s Cupcake Thursday because we can all use a little sugar to make the final push to the weekend!”). Kyle must have enjoyed the cupcakes because he treated the office to a batch on his last day, which happened to be on a Wednesday. He simply didn’t want to be left out of that week’s Cupcake Thursday.

We are going to miss Kyle and truly hope he considers returning to us when he graduates. There will be one requirement if he does: stop calling me Mr. Starkman!