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#29: Charlie Morecraft

July 3, 2019 | 52 minutes 21 seconds

Live at the University of Notre Dame Safety Summit, podcast series host Jill James connects with one of her idols, the spellbinding safety legend Charlie Morecraft. 30 years. 1 story. Hundreds of thousands of lives touched. That’s the Charlie Morecraft experience. Charlie shares the unforgettable story of how he got into safety the old fashioned way—after a serious injury at work. But there’s so much more. And that’s why his message has taken him from standing in a double-wide trailer in the middle of an Exxon refinery, across the world, in front of huge audiences.

Transcript

Jill:

This is a special edition of The Accidental Safety Pro recorded live at the University of Notre Dame's 2019 Safety Summit. As always, the Accidental Safety Pro is brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and The Health and Safety Institute. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer and your podcast host. 13 years ago I was in an audience of about 1,500 when my guest today took the stage to deliver the keynote address at a safety conference. I sat spellbound for a solid hour listening and watching. You could have heard a pin drop, for that is the effect Charlie Morecraft has on an audience. Charlie has been sharing his personal story for the past three decades. It's a story of surviving an explosion at an oil refinery and the physical and emotional impact of his significant injuries. Many of you listening have heard Charlie's story and you've shared it with your employees and some of you have even shared it with your families. And if you've ever heard him, you can still hear Charlie's voice in your head repeating and for what, and for what, as he shares the safety shortcuts leading to his life altering event. Well for me back on that day in the audience, I was thinking about the people who raised me. How they bragged about safety shortcuts, knowing what had happened to Charlie could happen to them. I also thought about the deaths and injuries I've investigated in my time with OSHA and how many times I had heard, "It was just a short job", or "We only do that once a year", or "There wasn't enough fuel to support and explosion." I also thought about the man on stage, what he had been through and noting he was a gifted storyteller. Many people can deliver speeches and in front of groups, but it takes something special to hold 1,500 bodies in the palm of your hand and touch each heart. If I have a hobby, it's listening to and watching how great storytellers craft and deliver their messages, so I was hooked. Not only on Charlie's message but how he delivered it. Charlie you don't know this but you became my storytelling mentor, if you will. Someone I aspired to be like. Right up there with great orators like Maya Angelou who spoke like the poetry she wrote.

Charlie:

Wow.

Jill:

And I wanted to inspire people to change behavior like you do. So after hearing you tell your story Charlie, it took me about 10 years to get brave enough to find my voice, and I did. I started telling the story of a man named Nick who lost his life at work 21 years ago this month. I had investigated his death and co-wrote a safety law as a result of it. I got to know his wife and his former employer about four years ago. And with their permission I share how Nick's death impacted each of us and an entire state to as many audiences as I can. So thank you for inspiring me and thank you for being on our podcast today.

Charlie:

Oh you're welcome. Thank you for inviting me.

Jill:

So perhaps we should start by telling our audience why we are both at Notre Dame this week. Yeah right. So the story is, Notre Dame has done something, they're in the midst of doing something that no university has ever done before in the country. And that is, they have started the application process of the Voluntary Protection Program with Federal OSHA or VPP as it's known. And so they started this process about a year ago according to their safety director, Eric Kloss who we'll hear from on another podcast episode. And to kick off their event they wanted to get the whole campus, all the faculty and staff, excited about it and interested in knowing what they were doing. So they held a safety summit here on campus and Charlie was the keynote address and I got to hear him for the second time in my life yesterday.

Charlie:

This is my second time at Notre Dame. I was here years ago and it's always an honor to speak at Notre Dame. By the way the VPP is the only program that I will endorse besides Dr. Scott Geller's program and his daughter Krista. Dr. Krista Geller. The reason I like VPP is it forces ... I don't know if force is the right word. But management, labor, unions, OSHA, everybody comes together and they talk about safety issues. It's a better way of handling things. And I've seen every safety program you can possibly see out there. So this one works, this one works.

Jill:

Yeah so the impact that you have on an audience since we've been walking across the campus since people across the heard you yesterday has been significant including this morning when I walked back on campus to set up for this podcast. Employees were telling me how you had touched them and the impact that you have on them and what they wanted to do differently in their lives already as a result of hearing your message. So it certainly resonates.

Charlie:

Thank you.

Jill:

And has been resonating forever. So as this podcast, as you know, as I've told you, it's really about people telling their story of how they got into safety and your route to safety was definitely by accident as survivor of a terrible incident that happened to you. And part of your story, when you were telling it yesterday, your accident happened at Exxon.

Charlie:

Right.

Jill:

And you went back to your job after you were as recovered as you could be at that time to go back and earn your paycheck so you could pay the rent and make your car payments and stuff. But after you got back at that job, what shifted? Like how did you decide you were going to get into safety?

Charlie:

Well I didn't actually decide I was going to get into safety. When I went back to work at Exxon the first thing they asked me was, can you do your job? Can you go out to ground zero basically and can you do the job? So I went out there and I stood there and looked at him and I says, "I can do the job. However, if there's an emergency or there's a fire and I'm the lead guy on holding a hose" ... You always have a bunch of guys behind you. Guys and gals. I'm sorry if I say guys, but guys and gals behind you. I was afraid I was going to drop the hose and run and I'd leave them stuck there. So I said, "I don't think I can do it." And so they said "Well, we're not sure we have a job, we may have to give you a disability pension." And that's the last thing in the world that I wanted because I was 33 years old at the time and disability pension would not have helped at all because it pays very, very little. And I couldn't afford that and so the union ... I'm a Teamster. The Union stepped in and said well, we're going to make him the Teamsters safety coordinator. Which I think is a hysterical because you know you blow up a refinery and now you find out you're in safety. I always say, I guess they figured I wouldn't blow up another one you know. Obviously I haven't blown up another one. So I was a Teamster and I was the union safety coordinator and I'd be walking around and telling people, "Put your helmet on, put your glasses on." And nobody was paying any attention to me and who can blame them at that time with the attitude that I had? And I always tell people who just go through life for so long blaming everybody for the mistakes you made in life, before it chews you up inside. You need to start accepting responsibility for your life or you might as well end it. And I literally had a gun to my head and I just couldn't pull the trigger. And I went into work this day and I don't know why this day was any different than any other day. There was three guys who I had asked three days in a row to put their helmets on. I said, "Come here and get your helmets on." And one of them turned around and said, "Charlie, give me a break. You never gave a damn, you don't now." And I got mad and I said, "Sit down." And they sat down. That was the first miracle of the day. And the second miracle of the day is that I told them a story about what happened to me and more so what happened to my family. Everybody thinks that if an accident happens the only one that's going to be hurt by it is themselves. They never realize the impact of an accident on a family. It devastated my family. It's just beyond belief how much it did. And when I finished telling the story, it felt like somebody lifted a weight off my shoulders and I could finally get on with my life and stop being a victim. And the three guys stood up and they put their helmets on. The last guy walking away ... I know this sounds dramatic but it's the truth. Last guy walking away, his name was Eddie Zuka ... Hey Eddie. Eddie turned around and he says, "Hey Charlie, you ought to tell everybody that story." And I've been telling it ever since and that's exactly how it started, with me speaking to my own guys in a double wide trailer and in the middle of an Exxon refinery.

Jill:

So that was your first public speaking event.

Charlie:

My first public speaking event.

Jill:

And it was successful from the start with an audience of three.

Charlie:

Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Jill:

What's your largest audience to date? Do you know?

Charlie:

I'd say about 4,000. 4,000. But I did it couple of times. That was for the military. I do a lot of work for the military. I made the fatal mistake of when I first worked for the military, I said to them, "Listen, whenever you guys need me, I'll do it and I'll do it on my nickel, I'm not going to charge anything." And I forgot how big the military was.

Jill:

So they've asked you back a lot?

Charlie:

Yeah. So I got calls from literally all over the world to come and speak and I was like wait a minute wait, I can't do that. I said, but if you're going into harms way I'll be there. So I've had the opportunity to land on the aircraft carrier Nimitz. I've been on our subs, I've been in our tanks, I've been on our Aegis destroyers. I've been all over with the military. And it's one of the biggest honors that I have.

Jill:

Who could've imagined from standing in that trailer with three guys?

Charlie:

It's incredible. I spend a lot of time in the middle east speaking and sometimes I'll be up on a stage in the middle east, in Saudi or maybe Dubai, or Abu Dhabi or one of those places. And I'll be standing up there and I'll be looking out at my audience and the women all have the abaya on, that's the whole outfit. And the men have ... That's called a thoub, an agal, and a ghutra. Anyway.

Jill:

You learned a lot.

Charlie:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I actually have that whole outfit. I hesitate to wear it in the United States. I'd be shot. But I have it. They gave it to me. And I'm looking at my audience ... And I'm looking, I'm saying to myself, how the hell did I get here? The last thing I remember I was docking a ship at the Exxon refinery in New York Harbor and now I'm in Saudi or some other place speaking to thousands of people. Nobody's more shocked than me. It's the truth. Nobody's more shocked than me.

Jill:

After you did that first public speaking event and this weight is lifted from being able to step into your truth and find your power-

Charlie:

Yeah. Because I had lied about what happened before. First thing an Exxon said to me, was that truck running? And I said hell no. But they always knew. They knew because they found the truck with the key in the on position. The truck was the ignition source.

Jill:

So how did you get into the public ... You did that first thing with those guys, but then what was the next step that actually propelled you? How did that happen?

Charlie:

Well, other Exxons heard about me. And they asked me if I'd go speak at the other Exxons so I did. And then my refinery, my Exxon refinery said "Hey Charlie, we can't keep sending you all over the world to speak. You got a job here." And I said, "Hey, I know." So they said "We're going to videotape you." And so they did, they videotaped me and they sent this video around the world and then one day I was in my office and I was looking through a magazine and it says, "If you have a video that you're particularly proud of, send it in and we'll take a look at it." So I sent it in to a producer in Hollywood and within a week I got a call from this producer in Hollywood, he says, "We want to buy your video." I was like, "Oh wait a minute. I don't think I own it. A matter of fact, Exxon owns it, I don't think I can do it. I just wanted to know what you thought." He says "No, we want it." So I said, "I don't know." He says, "Well can you get permission from Exxon?" So I said, "I'll give it a shot."

Charlie:

So I went and I ... I had one good friend at Exxon who was a lawyer. Most times when you ask a lawyer-

Jill:

Including but not limited to.

Charlie:

If you ask a lawyer something they'll say no because it's easier to say no then to say yes. If they say yes then they have to do some work. So I have one good friend that was a lawyer and I said him, "Do you think we can have permission to do this?" And he said, "I think so." He says, "Let me see but we got to get it in writing." I said, "Whatever you got to do." So to this day I think Exxon's sorry they gave it to me in writing. It's in my safe at my house.

Jill:

Nice.

Charlie:

And they gave me permission and I did the video. And so then I decided that I would try to do these as a part-time basis. But how do you find clients? I didn't have a clue as to how-

Jill:

How are you going to do this?

Charlie:

Find clients. And even how to contact ... Who am I going to call? Who do I contact?

Jill:

Because at this point you're literally the accidental safety professional.

Charlie:

Right.

Jill:

Like who are these other people? Is there even a network?

Charlie:

So I'm sitting in my office ... Actually I was back home. And I said, I guess I have to call up companies, but how do you call up a company? Where do you find them? So I actually got the paper, the New York Times, and I went to the want ads section. I think it was the New york Times. And I looked for companies that were hiring and they listed names and phone numbers. So I called them up and I said, "Listen I'm the safety guy at Exxon, is it possible for me to speak to your safety guy?" And they said, "Yeah sure." So that was kind of my in, was the name Exxon. That actually opened a door.

Jill:

Talk about serious cold calling with a newspaper, right?

Charlie:

Yeah. Tell me about it. And so I called them up. In the beginning I got a bunch of no's. My wife actually is the one who runs the business and she said to me, "Just keep on going, keep on going." She said, "Behind the last no there's a yes." And so I did, I kept calling and finally a pharmaceutical company ... I don't even know if they're still in business. Block Pharmaceutical.

Jill:

I don't know.

Charlie:

I don't know either. Block Pharmaceutical hired me to come and speak at their facility. Now I'm still working at Exxon and so I would do this on my days off or I'd use up my vacation time and go speak. So I spoke at Block Pharmaceutical and when I got finished the guy said, "Boy, that was great." I said, "Do you by any chance know of anybody else that might want to do this?" And he says, "Well yeah, the other pharmaceutical companies probably." And they all benchmark. So I said, "Do you happen to have their phone numbers?" And so he gave me his Rolodex which was incredible. And I went through his Rolodex and I got JMJ, McNeil Pharmaceutical. Not JMJ, J&J. McNeil Pharmaceutical. A whole bunch of the pharmacy ... All the big pharmacy companies. And I started cold calling them. And once you get one pharmaceutical company like Johnson & Johnson, you wind up getting all of Johnson & Johnson sites. And then you wind up getting the affiliates. And the word gets out. So finally it got to the point where Exxon was getting calls for me to come and speak.

Jill:

Oh wow. They're calling them. Okay.

Charlie:

Especially when I started speaking at other refineries. So Shell would be calling up Exxon, the head of my refinery.

Jill:

This just speaks to the fact that safety is not proprietary.

Charlie:

Right. So they called up the president ... Not the president, our refinery manager and they were asking for me. And then finally it got to the point where Exxon said to me, "Listen you've got to make a decision. You either got to do this or you got to work here." So I really thought about it and I got married to the girl that I was dating at the time, Janet, who's the best thing that ever happened to me. And she heard me speak and she says, "You need to quit your job at Exxon." I'm 47 years old and I was a supervisor at this point, you know with Exxon. I'm saying, "Are you out of your mind? I've been working here for 27 years, I make a really good salary, I have great benefits."

Jill:

I can kind of see retirement in the future.

Charlie:

Exactly. "I'm not going to quit." And she said, "No. You're good. You got to quit. I'm a teacher in New York city." She says, "I make good money, I got great benefits. You'll go out and you'll speak. If you fall on your face, you'll go get a job at Walmart and be a greeter and we'll use my benefits." I wasn't stupid. I decided, well let me see if I can get a leave of absence from Exxon. And Exxon was kind enough to give me a leave of absence and I took the leave of absence and went out and I started speaking. It just snowballed. When you work for like one pharmaceutical industry you wind up with all pharmaceutical industries calling you. And then if you go from there to a railroad, you wind up working for every railroad. Sure.

Charlie:

Every industry you can possibly think of.

Jill:

The referral network.

Charlie:

Yeah.

Jill:

You went from cold calls to the referral network for your marketing.

Charlie:

Yeah.

Jill:

That's fantastic.

Charlie:

We don't do any real advertising except on the internet you'll find my website. But other than that, we're not really into advertising. It's just word of mouth. And thank God I'm extremely, extremely busy you know. I could work every day of my life if I wanted to.

Jill:

When you were just getting into that and you told your story that first time, does it still come out the same way? Or how did you craft what you do? Like did you work with a coach or is this just ... You seem like a natural storyteller, so I'm interested to hear kind of what was the science, if there was one, behind how you crafted what you do.

Charlie:

I'm not sure it's science, and I don't look at it as a speech. I tell people I don't give speeches. If I had to give a speech I'd be petrified. I look at it as a conversation. Because I can hold a conversation. And what happened was when I first started speaking, my wife Janet would come and listen to me speak and when I get finished ... She's by far my biggest critic. And she says, "Don't say that anymore. Cut that out. Cut this out." So I would. I would cut it out and it apparently got better and better. There's a video now that we've done and it's in 38 different languages, 35. Something like that, it's then the 30s anyway. And it sells all over the world and that's thanks to Janet. She's the brains of the outfit.

Jill:

So she's your speech coach.

Charlie:

Not only speech coach, she ran the company for the longest time. Then she retired and Audrey took over running the company. Audrey March is the person who runs our company today. Thank God my wife was brilliant at running the company and getting the word out there.

Jill:

So the secret sauce is two powerful women?

Charlie:

Yes. Exactly.

Jill:

Excellent. And so when you were first starting out and you were starting to tell your story for the first time, what were those audiences like and how have those ... Like by way of their reception of you. Has the way that they hear your message changed or is it ... Like what you hear from people, what's that like?

Charlie:

Well. The message is the same from when I first did it. It's shortened considerably.

Jill:

You got it tighter.

Charlie:

Yeah. My wife would say, "Take out the fluff, take out all that stuff and get to the bottom line, get to the message."

Jill:

And when people hear you-

Charlie:

Yeah. It started ... I realized that people were paying attention. They were sitting up. People always say to me, "How do you generate that emotion?" And it's funny, it's there every time. And I don't know why, but once I start speaking, within a couple minutes I'm right back there. I'm back at ground zero. I'm back in a hospital. I'm back in a burn unit. I'm on fire. And so it's not that that difficult to generate the emotion. But the other thing is, I look for the guy or the girl ... Woman, I'm sorry. I'll get fired for that. That doesn't want to be at the safety-

Jill:

Audrey and Janet are going to have you.

Charlie:

Yes, yes, exactly. I look for the person that doesn't want to be in the safety meeting, which is a lot of people. They hate safety meetings and they hate it with a passion. I did. I know what it's like. So I look for the person who's sitting there with their arms crossed and like all right, get this over with. And I almost direct my talk at that person. Because I know if I can get them, him, her, to put down their arms and sit up and listen, I've got my audience. I've got my audience.

Jill:

And do you do that every time?

Charlie:

Yes. I always look for somebody who doesn't want to be there or somehow to generate it. But it's not that difficult because as I said once I start I'm lost anyway. I'm just lost anyway.

Jill:

Yeah lost in your story.

Charlie:

Yeah exactly.

Jill:

And transporting yourself back.

Charlie:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. That takes so much energy.

Charlie:

It takes a lot of energy and ... I have therapists and shrinks and everything like that and they keep telling me, you got to stop. Because I have PTSD, I have a service dog. And they'll tell me to stop because every time you do it, it brings back everything you went through and maybe it's time for you to move on. But personally for me, I keep saying to them "No, you don't understand. Me talking about it and the audience, that's my therapy. That's what makes it worthwhile. That's how I'm able to continue doing it. I don't know what I'd do if I stopped."

Jill:

Right. It's your story. Yeah it's your story. You mentioned PTSD and you mentioned your service dog Joey, who's laying at our feet right now.

Charlie:

Hopefully.

Jill:

I think he's somewhere under the table. Do you want to describe Joey for the audience?

Charlie:

Joey is a beautiful black lab and Joey is a full service dog. And I got Joey ... I guess it's almost a year ago. But I'm on the board of directors for an organization called Veterans Helping Hero's. And what we do is we supply dogs for wounded veterans. But dogs cost, believe it or not, a lot of money. Joey is my dog and Joey assists me with PTSD. I have a balance issue. Joey watches that I don't fall over. If I do fall over all I got to do is tell him Joey brace and he locks his legs into place and I can use him as a stool. I can push down and I can get up. And I've had to use him like that too. He knows if I'm having a nightmare at night, which I have, and he'll get up and he'll start licking my face. If that doesn't work, if he can't wake me up he'll jump up on the bed, turn around, and wack me with his tail. That's what he does. But he does all kinds of other things. As soon as I start getting nervous all I got to do is reach under the table and touch Joey and I'm okay.

Jill:

Yeah I saw Joey's magic yesterday when you were speaking. When you finished you kind of have this exhale like I've just been through this and here I am on the other side and you asked for Joey and he came right to you. It's like the energizer button went back on on you like he's right here. That's wonderful.

Charlie:

Everything is good. So as I started to say, I think Joey is a regular assistant dog and Joey cost $20,000. I know that sounds like a lot of money, but it's because it takes a year to train them, then you got to train ... Usually it's a vet. You got to train the vet and it costs a lot of money. So Joey's $20,000. A dog who knows you're going to have a seizure 10 minutes before you have it, he cost $30,000. What he'll do is he'll tackle you, drag you down, lay on top of you so you don't flail around and hurt yourself. So he's $30,000 and a seeing eye dog is $60,000 and we get no money from the government so we have to raise it. So now when I speak I'll donate part of my ... I think you call it an honorarium. I call it a bill. I donate a good piece of it to Veterans Helping Heroes and we supply dogs to the vets that need it.

Jill:

That's fabulous.

Charlie:

I've been doing this for a while now and there's a saying, those that have been given much, much is expected. And so I need to put back a lot. I should be dead. I should be dead. There's no doubt in my mind that I should be dead. Not only from the accident but from ... I led a tough life. I had terrific, terrific parents, don't get me wrong. But I grew up on the streets. My parents would have killed me if they knew the things that I did when I was younger. That changes. That changes.

Jill:

So if people listening are interested in the service dog piece or if they're a veteran or know a veteran that they want to be able to support and direct that way, where do they look? You said it's Hero-

Charlie:

It's Veterans Helping Heroes, or Vets Helping Heroes. Just go online and check vetshelpingheroes.org and you can donate or if you're a vet and you have PTSD or you have a need for a dog, you can apply for one. Unfortunately the need is more than the supply, but we do try to accommodate as many veterans as we possibly can. I'm not a veteran, which is kind of hysterical in a way because I think I was just elected vice president of Veterans Helping Heroes.

Jill:

Wonderful.

Charlie:

Yeah. So I'm not a veteran but I try to ... When Vietnam broke out, Vietnam was not super unpopular in the beginning. And so a whole bunch of my friends wound up going. So I enlisted and believe it or not, I got deferred. I was deferred because Exxon made napalm.

Jill:

And they needed you.

Charlie:

And they needed us. We were considered essential and we made gasoline. That's what I did. I basically made gasoline. So we made gasoline so they needed us so I was deferred. And I wanted to go because my friends went.

Jill:

Sure. So you gave back twice.

Charlie:

So now the reason I do the work for the military at my cost is because I feel like I owe it to them. I have an obligation to put back. People always say I support the troops. They always say I support the troops, I support the troops.

Jill:

And how?

Charlie:

But what the hell does that mean?

Jill:

Exactly.

Charlie:

Standing on the sidelines clapping. Go get them boys. Bull. Get out there and do something. It doesn't have to be money, you don't have to donate a large amount of money. Although, if you have the money, donate it. But spend some time at a VA hospital. Write some letters. Send them some magazines.

Jill:

Listen to a story.

Charlie:

Yeah. There's a million things you can do other than just saying, I support the troops. What the hell is that? Everybody does. I mean come on.

Jill:

Right. I'm thinking on a friend right not who has PTSD that I'm going to want to share your information with.

Charlie:

Yeah, please do.

Jill:

For a service dog.

Charlie:

Please do.

Jill:

Yeah.

Charlie:

Yeah. A lot of people don't realize that a lot of females have PTSD. They're coming back from Iraq left and right. Iraq, Afghanistan, all over the world with PTSD.

Jill:

And many of them suffer from a form of PTSD called military sexual trauma.

Charlie:

Yes. Oh yeah.

Jill:

There's an extreme amount.

Charlie:

That's blatant.

Jill:

And it's not just women, it's men too.

Charlie:

Yeah.

Jill:

But it's a high proportion of female service members.

Charlie:

That and suicide is one of the biggest problems in the military today. 22 veterans a day commit suicide. 22 a day. That's an incredible amount of people. And that's not counting the ones that are active military that commit suicide. It happens every day.

Jill:

And you feel that personally because you were so close to it as a result of what had happened. So you relate to them in that way.

Charlie:

Exactly. Yes.

Jill:

Yeah. Your work has stretched into that as well. So when you finish speaking, audience members come up to you like we saw yesterday. In fact, people followed you across the campus. Everywhere you went people were thanking you and had things to say to you. What do people generally say and what are they learning from you that's changing them?

Charlie:

A lot of people relate incidents that have happened in their lives. And they say that I've apparently helped them to get past some traumas that they've had because of accidents and injuries. A lot of other people say, "You opened my eyes. I never wore a seatbelt before. I never thought about that." As I said before, most people think ... They don't realize what it does to a family. I keep telling people it's not so much about me, it was about my family. I don't care if you forget me, but remember the story. Safety's about going home at the end of the day, kissing your wife, hugging your kids. Or your spouse. I'm sorry. Kissing your spouse, hugging your kids. It's personal. It's not about the company. It's not about money. It's not about OSHA. It's not about any of that. It's about your families. It's personal. Safety is real, real personal. That's the way I look at it. I keep telling companies. I know because I was one of the safety people at Exxon. I was one of five or six safety people we had. I was the lowest guy on the totem pole. Guy or gal, you know.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah.

Charlie:

My best friend was one of my bosses. Denise. I was somewhere under Denise. So it's extremely rewarding because most safety people get abused. I'm serious. When you're out there telling people to put their helmets on and their glasses on or whatever it is-

Jill:

You're the safety cop.

Charlie:

Yeah. You're the cop. I'm not the cop. So I get all the benefits that most safety people don't. I get letters from around the world. And I get phone calls. And people say to me that ... That's what I started to say. They'll tell me about how I might have prevented an accident or something like that. I was speaking at the CIA a couple of weeks ago and I was standing by the wall where the stars are. And they said to me ... This is the biggest compliment for me, biggest compliment I ever got. They said there's one less star up there because of you.

Jill:

Oh wow.

Charlie:

I mean, you don't get much better than-

Jill:

You don't get any better than that. That's fantastic. When I was listening to you speak yesterday you were talking about youth and kids and how you'd like to get this message to younger generations.

Charlie:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah, so is that kind of a focus of something you do? How do you incorporate that into your work?

Charlie:

Well, I've been talking about it a lot. Especially about kids with cell phones. But it's not only kids with cell phones, adults are just as bad. And I've been trying to get the kids involved in that. I've been trying to tell them ... I always say to a kid, or an adult to tell you the truth, when the phone rings, you're in the car and you're driving, or you get a text, ask yourself is this worth dying for? Is it worth dying for? And if it is, answer it. If it's not, don't.

Jill:

Chances are it's not right?

Charlie:

Yeah. Chances are very good it's not. So I tell people when you get in your car, kids that are just starting driving, take the phone, throw it in the backseat. It's a good chance you're not going to climb over the seat to get to the phone. And they all think ... Sometimes I almost get mad when I talk to them. I'll say to them, "What the hell makes you think you're so different than every other kid out there that's died? You got faster reflexes? You're smarter? You can see better? What is it that makes you so damn different?"

Jill:

Yeah. Are you a superhero?

Charlie:

Yeah. You're not. You're just like every other kid. You just lucked out. You just didn't have the accident. You just didn't get creamed. Yet.

Charlie:

Yet. Exactly. I always put that, you haven't gotten there yet.

Jill:

Because we know for every unsafe work practice, we know time's going to run out.

Charlie:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Eventually it's going to catch up to you. You may not get killed in the accident. You may get maimed, which personally I think is even worse. I'd be in rehabilitation hospitals when I was there and I honestly think a lot of times it was worse seeing some of the people ... I always knew that I was probably going to walk out of there. I didn't know what kind of condition I was going to be or what I was going to look like. But I knew I was going to walk out. There are a lot of other people that weren't going to walk out and were going to come out in really, really terrible shape. And that's the ones that I felt terrible about.

Jill:

Charlie, as you're sharing your message across what's now the world actually, over the years have you found any collaborators that you like to work with and what do you do together?

Charlie:

Oh yeah. It's funny, I work with Dr. Scott Geller or his daughter Dr. Krista Geller. And every now and then we'll speak together. And I remember the first time Scott Geller and I spoke together. I think it was the National Safety Council. I don't think we were keynotes at that point, but we had a large-

Jill:

Following.

Charlie:

Following. So we never met and they asked us to speak together on this panel kind of thing. And so we said all right. We both said yes and then we never talked to each other. So we go to the venue, and we get there, and we meet each other, and we're immediately in an argument. Within two seconds we're in an argument. Because Dr. Geller is a professor in Virginia Tech and he's a doctor and I worked on the docks most of my career.

Jill:

The academic and the storyteller.

Charlie:

Exactly. So we started to talk to each other and as I say we got into an argument right away. And at one point I said to him ... He was talking about self efficacy. It's part of his talk. And it's just one of the words he mentioned, self efficacy. And I said to him, "You know, I just came from the United Auto Workers." And I was showing him my scars. And after I got finished, at the end of my talk, one of the guys came up to me and said, "Let me see those scars." Tough guy. So I showed him my scars and he says, "You think that's something?" And he opened his shirt up and he had bullet holes. Bullet marks. He'd got shot in a drive by. And he says, "That's scars." So I turned and looked at Scott, I said, "You talk to him about self efficacy. See how far you get." So Scott and I have worked with each other a lot since then and we I have learned that I had to up my game considerably. And Scott realized that maybe he had to come down a notch.

Jill:

So you were a leveling agent for one another.

Charlie:

Yeah, exactly. We still are. We still speak together and he'll joke about me in the audience because I'll say something or he'll say something, we both smack our heads. Like oh, god.

Jill:

Sounds like professional fun.

Charlie:

Yeah, it is. It is. Scott and I love speaking together and now his daughter Krista Geller is also a doctor and she's brilliant, and she's great at speaking, and she speaks. I've been friends with Krista since she was younger. A lot younger.

Jill:

A kid.

Charlie:

Yeah, when she was a kid. Now she's a beautiful young lady.

Jill:

Yeah, how fabulous is that? That sounds fun. Yeah. So all of these travels all around the world, what are some of the most memorable places you've been? You mentioned the CIA, you mentioned aircraft carriers.

Charlie:

Some of the subs I was on. One of our newest subs is John Warner. And that was interesting because I was with the captain and I went down below in the sub and there was a kid at the helm. A young man at the helm. And I looked at him and I figured this guy's got to be 19 or 20 years old. I have a sports car. I said I wouldn't let him near my car for crying out loud and here he is driving this $2 billion sub. So that was interesting. And most of my work with the military is always interesting because I get to do a lot of great things. Also I've spoke at all our national laboratories. And I remember I was speaking at Los Alamos and of course that's one of the places where they designed our nuclear weapons. And I was there and they had the original ... Not the original, but basically they had these two bombs kind of on display in their museum.

Jill:

Part of their history.

Charlie:

Yeah. Part of their history. So I had my picture taken with the two bombs and I sent them to the guys at Exxon and I said, "You think my last explosion was good, you ought to see what I could do with these babies."

Jill:

Oh my gosh.

Charlie:

That was great. And then my favorite places are China, India, Nepal. I like different. And of course I've been all the normal places, you know, Rome, Paris, and all over Europe. I just got back from Amsterdam, which I loved because the tulips were in bloom.

Jill:

And it's spring and it's beautiful.

Charlie:

So I was there.

Jill:

Yeah. So how does that work when you're in front of these international audiences? Do you sometimes have interpreters? How does that piece work of telling your story?

Charlie:

Yes. A lot of times I'll have simultaneous translators. In Paris I had a simultaneous translator. It's kind of like the UN. You know, they wear the headphones and somebody translates. Other times it's kind of a problem, for me anyway. I was in Qatar. And I was speaking to this massive audience, and besides the people from Qatar, the people that work there are Pakistani and Indians, you know from India. So it had to be translated into three different languages. So I'd speak and of course they had translators and they would then translate and I'd sit down and kind of lean on the stage.

Jill:

Then you'd have to pick up your story.

Charlie:

And then I'm sitting there daydreaming of course. Because I don't know what they're saying. Then they stop and I'm like, uh oh.

Jill:

Where was I?

Charlie:

Where was I? And I got to start again.

Jill:

I've don't that too with pass the microphone down a line of translators and I'm the first speaker and you're like, okay now, what was that?

Charlie:

Yeah. Where did I leave off? Uh oh. And it takes forever to do a talk. And you got to do it. And you got to do it with as much enthusiasm as if it was a talk in the United States and it's the first talk you've done. Because it's a new audience and they deserve your best.

Jill:

So how do you bring that energy every time? Like what do you do to prepare yourself? I mean, do you practice?

Charlie:

No.

Jill:

Right. I wouldn't think that you have-

Charlie:

No. I never practice. Matter of fact I hate watching any of my videos. Although, I've watched some of them that are in different languages because I think it's hysterical to see me speaking Chinese or something. I'm waiting for it to come out in that clicking language you know.

Jill:

Oh, one of the South African languages?

Charlie:

Yeah, the South African language.

Jill:

So yeah, how do you prepare yourself? Like yesterday, what did you do before?

Charlie:

I don't do anything. I'm serious. I try not to do anything because I want it to be live. I don't want to get up there and give a prepared talk. I hate that. That's not me. That's why I call it a conversation rather than a speech. Because if you do a speech you've got to follow certain patterns. A script. So I don't want to do that. I just want to tell my story. And if I flub it I flub it. So I'll figure out what I have to do.

Jill:

Yeah, you're well practiced.

Charlie:

Yeah. I've been doing it for 25 years now.

Jill:

So Charlie, when you're not doing this, and you're not in front of an audience, what do you do in your spare time or for fun or to regenerate?

Charlie:

I go camping. I love to camp. I love the outdoors.

Jill:

Is this like roughing it camping with a tent?

Charlie:

Yes.

Jill:

Really? Okay.

Charlie:

Yeah. I used to do the tent all the time, but now I'm not sure I can still do the tent. I've been doing cabins lately. But I love to camp.

Jill:

Where are your favorite places?

Charlie:

Yosemite. Yosemite is by far my favorite. Matter of fact I do a talk and Yosemite is in the talk. That's when I decided to go out and do this on my own. I was up in Yosemite and I was looking out and I remember looking out at the ... I was up on Glacier Point and I looked out and I said, wow. And I realized three things. That there was a god, and I wasn't it, and I should probably leave Exxon and do this on a full-time basis. So that's what I did. But Yosemite is my favorite. And then Glacier comes next. I've been to all of our national parks and almost all ... I've spent a lot of time in Canada. And I've spent a lot of time up in their ... They're called provincial parks. So I'll go to all the provincial parks when I can. I love to do that.

Jill:

So you spend your time grounding? Like literally with the earth.

Charlie:

You might find this funny. This is even when I worked at Exxon. I grew up a tough kid. I did. However, I had terrific parents. So they would take me to Broadway shows and the ballet and things like that. And I love the ballet. But you got to be a tough guy where I grew up and in Exxon you had to be a tough-

Jill:

You're not admitting to your friends that you're going to the ballet.

Charlie:

No. So I had season tickets to the New York Giants back when. And that's like gold. But every now and then I'd give up my season tickets to the New York Giants to a game. And the guys would say to me, "Why aren't you going to the game?" I says, "Oh, I got a wedding I got to go to." And the real truth was I was going to the ballet. But you couldn't tell them that. I'd never survive. So I still love the ballet. And the theater is one of my real ... I love the theater. I'm not an actor. I've never been up on a stage doing a play. But I just love the theater. My nephew is a big Broadway producer. He's the producer of Wicked.

Jill:

Oh my goodness.

Charlie:

Which is the number one play on Broadway.

Jill:

It certainly is.

Charlie:

Yeah.

Jill:

It's fabulous.

Charlie:

Thank god I got to invest in that because it paid back over 1,000%.

Jill:

So you regenerate with the ballet and Broadway and grounding with the earth.

Charlie:

And camping.

Jill:

Yeah. That's fabulous.

Charlie:

Camping's my favorite thing to do. Just getting out there.

Jill:

So since you're a storyteller, do you follow other storytellers? Is a podcast that you listen to?

Charlie:

Oh yeah. I love podcasts. I love The Moth. So I'll listen to The Moth a lot. My wife keeps encouraging me to go out and do one of them. And I haven't done it yet but I think I will. Because there's a lot of other things I want to talk about besides safety. What I used to say was the worst thing in the world could have happened to me, the accident, turned out to be the best thing in the world that could have happened to me. And I don't mean the money or the travel or anything like that. But your outlook on life. Everything in your life changes. As I said, when you're a tough guy, being a tough guy is very, very limiting. It is. Because you can't do a lot of things. You can't admit you're going to the ballet because you got to be tough. You can't be silly and play with your kids and roll around on the ground laughing because you got to be tough. There's a million things that you can't do because you're a tough guy and it's limiting. Today I know I'm tough, but I do all those crazy things. I could care less who knows that I'm going to the ballet. I could care less that I stand in front of the Piata and cry because it's beautiful. I could care less when I stand up on Yosemite and look out and cry because it's beautiful. I know I'm tough. I don't have to prove it to anybody.

Jill:

You certainly don't and it's that richness which is the richness of life when you know that.

Charlie:

Yeah. When you know you don't have to prove anything and you can just get out there and enjoy your life. I died. I mean, they jump started me. I tell people all the time, dying's a piece of cake. It is. It's living that's a little bit tough. So you might as well get the best out of it that you can. You're not going to be here for whatever you think, you're not going to leave here alive. That's it.

Jill:

That's right. Oh Charlie, thank you so much for sharing your story.

Charlie:

No, thank you. Thank you.

Jill:

And thank you for sharing The Moth. I actually listened to it this morning.

Charlie:

Oh you did?

Jill:

And I listened to a story and this young woman told her story of how she was climbing a mountain. And what she had learned in climbing the mountain that was then representative of the other mountains that she climbed in her life by way of challenges. And I was thinking about you when I was listening to her, and you know you climbed a mountain. And she had this quote that she gave, and I thought about you when she said it, and it says, "Tell the story of the mountains you climbed because your words can become a survival guide in someone else's book." And I thought you have written the survival guide for so many people, for their books in your career.

Charlie:

Thank you. That's very, very kind of you. Very kind of you.

Jill:

Well thank you so much for being our guest today. I really appreciate it. And thank you all so much for joining in and listening today and thank you for the work you all do to make sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing or on YouTube. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's you, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.