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Thursday, June 25, 2015

He was always my manager...

Sad news came to me yesterday about the best manager I never had.  Kirby Mansfield was the Director of Software Development at the Software Division of Houghton Mifflin, and one of the people principally responsible for my being hired by Houghton Mifflin and coming to work in Boston.

It was the summer of 1992 (I think) when I came up to Boston to visit my best friend Tom (one of the reviewers of the CDA Book) and also a software development colleague whom I've worked with at three different companies, and spend time with him and my soon to be girlfriend and later my wife. Tom brought me into work with him at One Memorial Drive (now Microsoft NERD Center) one day to meet his buddy Win, and his boss Kirby.

When he introduced me to Kirby, we started talking about what I was doing, and Tom made some excuse about having to go to a meeting, and I found myself in a job interview I never expected with one of the kindest and gentlest people I would ever meet in life.  It was so subtle that it took me about 15 minutes to discover what Tom had contrived. While I wasn't in the mood for a new job at that time, my situation changed about 3 months later, and I called Kirby back.  "About that job you were talking about?" I said to him, "I'm interested."

Kirby had just been promoted up the chain, and so I would now be talking to his replacement.  We did a short phone interview, and I was hired within about 48 hours. Kirby made sure I got a good relocation package and a good salary.

Over the next decade (yes, I worked for the same company for that long), Kirby would never be my manager.  I always reported to someone else, and he migrated quickly to the top.  I never quite caught up with him.  But what I remember most about him was that he was always on the floor talking to people up and down the chain, he always sought the opinions of others.  He would patiently explain our business strategy to anyone who asked, and always encouraged everyone to do their best.  Kirby listened, and when appropriate, he also changed his mind.

Kirby was the kind of manager everyone always dreams about.  He was considered to be a mentor to about a half dozen different people I know, all of whom became excellent managers under his tutelage.  That's a pretty significant achievement when you think about it.  Being a mentor is a very special relationship.

I caught up with him every now and then over the years, but never frequently enough -- at least as I look back at it now.  Kirby was never my manager, but in my heart, he will always be my manager.


  1. I really appreciated this, Keith - more than I have words for, but not more than you know. He was a role model and teacher to many of us.

  2. Keith- I follow you/your blog. Your words are very touching and making me think about the role models and mentors that have come in and out of my life play. It can be rare to cross life paths with such a person as your describe. I especially enjoyed the fact that you were drawn into an interview and then subsequently never were supervised by Kirby. He obviously opened a new door for you. Also the fact that he personally communicated up and down the chain is a testament to his character. Thank you for sharing this story. Sharon Wentz, RN, State of Oregon Office of Health IT