My Last Conversation with Mike Hammond
About two weeks before Hammer passed away, Ted asked me to give him a ring, I gladly accepted. Over the years, Hammer and I have kept in touch, but it had been about a year since we last spoke.
We talked for 99 minutes, which I would describe as a normal conversation between him and I. During that time, we laughed, cried and reminisced.
Hammer had an incredible sense of humor, with a unique talent to make a large group of people pay attention and laugh. His sense of humor was gruff, intelligent and usually insightful. I would put Hammer’s wit similar to Larry the Cable Guy. I love this Robin Hood photo of me, Hammer and Tommy because I have a huge grin on my face. I am sure Hammer had just pulled off another one liner.
Hammer shared with me the details of his wife’s passing. It had happened very suddenly. They learned of her illness in March and she was gone in June. Hammer was hurting and he let it all out. I had known Hammer for over 25 years, but I had never seen him like this. I knew that my friend was hurting, and so we cried together.
Hammer’s accomplishments at Gateway were numerous and profound. The sum of them all is a testament to his hard work and insane intelligence. His one accomplishment that he was the most proud was driving the company’s cash balance over one billion dollars. I asked him how he did it, and he slowly and humbly told me what he did. To be honest, I did not understand a lot of it, but I do know it took a special person to make it happen.
Shortly after we both became Senior Vice Presidents, he made it his personal goal to drive the company’s cash over ten figures. No one told Hammer to do this, he just took it upon himself. Think about how much understanding of the company’s financial status and operations to make such an ambitious target. Over the next four months, Hammer worked tirelessly on this goal. He traveled the globe to realign our supply chain to make the company as efficient as possible. The buzz word at the time was “just in time inventory”, and Hammer made it all happen single-handedly. To be clear, there were no drawn out meetings, no Powerpoint presentations, just one guy “hammering” his vision home. I remember the cold January day in South Dakota, when Dave McKittrick shared with the management team the Q4 97 financial results. Hammer and I shared a long hard hug.
At the end of our conversation, Hammer said, “I love you, Robby.” He frequently ended our conversations this way, and to be honest, I did not always reciprocate. I am so glad that this last time, I did. And I really meant it.
More importantly, he said, “Robby, we accomplished great things together.” I am very proud of this last comment. The most important word in that comment is “together”. Hammer made me a better business man and person and I like to think I did the same for him.
I love you Hammer.