Business leaders often struggle to define corporate culture. The right culture is elusive and fragile, and if it’s not a carefully protected part of what you’re about every day you can lose it. This weekend I got a lesson in organizational culture I’ll never forget. I went to my first football game at Texas A&M University.
These guys get it.
This weekend the Aggies played their first game as newest members of the mighty Southeastern Conference. The University of Florida Gators had come to town, and although their last season had been a disappointment, Florida was only a few seasons removed from its dominant run of two national championships in three years. The Gators represented SEC royalty, and they had been picked to travel to Aggieland so A&M’s inaugural conference game could be played at home. This was to be an epic game, the dawn of a new era at A&M on college football’s biggest stage.
The game had been sold out almost since the more-than 83,000 tickets were printed. Saturday broke crisp and electric, the weather gorgeous and the energy palpable. The city was awash in maroon and RVs had been parked for days. History was being made, and everyone within 5 miles of historic Kyle Field felt it.
Into this other world walked about 5,000 Gator fans. My son and I were among them. We wore our Gator jerseys and our orange and blue hats. We steeled ourselves for the harsh and sometimes insulting epithets to which we had become accustomed in less hospitable environs, places where foreigners are often considered fair game and common expectations of decency often suspended on game-day afternoons. As we emerged from our car and into the maroon milieu we thought we had prepared ourselves for anything. We were wrong. We weren’t prepared for the one thing we found.
Genuine friendliness and hospitality. It was pervasive and natural.
People smiled at us and welcomed us to the campus. They thanked us for “letting them into our conference”. They wished us luck before the game, and after a Gator win they congratulated us with sincerity. Members of the famed Aggie Corps of Cadets posed for photos with enemy Gator combatants. People offered directions when we appeared lost, waited so we could go before them at every queue, and let us know that they were glad we had come to the game.
It was a remarkable experience, and as the day wore on I realized that I was witnessing perhaps the most pervasive positive culture I had ever seen. Sure, to a person they were passionate about the Aggies. But at their core, they were just as passionate about being polite hosts and friendly neighbors. They were welcoming us to their home, and it was important to them that we had a great experience.
Understand, I’m not talking just about elderly and statesmanlike alumni. I’m talking about students, and parking lot attendants and concessionaires and ushers and every single person who’d paid god-knows how much for the chance to see their beloved Aggies win their first game in America’s premier football conference.
That kind of culture doesn’t just happen. It’s built, and it’s nourished. It’s taught and it’s passed on. Ultimately it becomes part of the fabric that makes up what and who you are. And the Aggies have it. In spades.
My hat’s off to Texas A&M University and the Aggie nation. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon you showed me what culture is all about. Well done.
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Jeff Whittle is Managing Director of Cogris Consulting, and the President of The Alternative Board – Metro Dallas. We kick around business issues regularly on this blog, and on his Twitter account. You can follow him @jeffwhittletx, and be sure to check out our Facebook page.