Career advice from Bob: In order to be promotable, you must be replaceable

Last week, I posted that I had my 23rd anniversary with Epicor (now officially on year 24). In the comments, I posted about my boss the President of the company who regularly called me into his office to give me advice. I really look at him as one of my early mentors. I was a 24 year old hot-shot programmer who was really wanting to learn more about business. Bob was a calm/mature businessman/salesman who really knew how things worked in business.

A couple of the noteworthy things he said to me was:

  • "In order to be promotable, you must be replaceable".
    This almost sounded like a threat at first, but this is probably the best advice and what keeps you at a single company the longest… it is always “easy” to quit one job and move to another, getting a promotion / job change in the process, but it is sometimes harder to promote from within, ESPECIALLY if you are in a position where you “cannot be replaced” (until you quit). My advice… Give away all knowledge, and in this way, you show your value.
  • "MBWA"*
    I remember Bob saying this… I said “MBWA?” he said: Yes… Management By Walking Around. Walk around the plant, sit in the users chairs. See what they do and why they do it. THEN come back to your office, write software that makes their life better.
  • "Teach me something new every day, and you will always have a job."
    Again, this almost sounds like a threat, but I knew what he was saying… he said this after he had called me into his office to ask me how to get certain data from the computer. He further told me that I was showing my value to him because I knew something more than he did about certain subjects.
  • Keep your nose clean, and show them what you know.
    This was during a session where he called me in to tell me that our division was merging with a much larger division of the company. This meant that we would have TWO IT departments merging, TWO sales, TWO HR, etc… At first this sounds like doomsday. But Bob knew different. He knew that our IT Department (which I was the head of) had more knowledge and ability than the other one. He than said “Do you want to be the head of our small IT dept, or of the bigger consolidated one”. His prediction was correct… 6 months later the department was collapsed into one department, and I was the head. Our software (that I had written) became the standard that we used for the entire new division.

I am sure that there were additional “Bobisms” that I don’t remember, but these were the most important and have helped in my career building. I have typically tried to follow his advice whenever possible.


Great post Tim. I definitely live by the first 3. Not had the opportunity for the last yet.

Sage and sound advice! I could not agree more.

I try to do this every day of my life - both business and personal. Give away knowledge, see it from their perspective, learn something new/teach something new, and be the mentor everyone wished they had before they met you.

And lastly - tell the truth when asked a question. In the IT field, truth is the only thing that matters, and the only good information the leaders can make sound business decisions from. Tell the truth, help the company.

Great words of advice! I’ve used all of them at various times :grinning:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about this. As a young programmer back in the day working for a well-known drug store chain, part of my test plan was to test a new “module” out at one of the nearby stores. I would install it onto the cash register system and then work with the cashiers to find out where any remaining bugs were (if any) and how they felt it worked. I would ask them their opinions of it and listen to the feedback. They were thrilled to take part in my “experiment” because no one ever asked their opinion before. I kindly reminded them that they were helping me be a better programmer. The rest of the chain had no idea what an important part this played in creating the software but my boss did. Asking the user for their ideas is an important part of a successful programmer’s job :wink:

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The first time I really remember using the MBWA concept was when I was asked to create a Cycle Counting program. I went to the stockroom, and talked to Claudia about how she did her regular counts. She had a completely manual process. I asked her some questions about how to make it give her better suggestions on what to count. She said “If i knew which parts had the most transactions, it would really help”.
So I took her advice, and developed a complete new system that took the “worst case” items, and suggested them to be counted. This was entirely based on transaction count, and NOT value. This is because in our stockroom, the items with the biggest value also had the least likelyhood of being wrong, but the small valued items, were also very tiny/weight counted items, and also some of the most important/Shop stopping items in the room. RESULTS, we had a VERY HIGH success rate in our cycle counting and we used it exclusively for 16 years before moving to Epicor software.