Margie—The Woman Beside Me

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m going to write about Margie—my brilliant, beautiful wife of nearly 62 years.

The old saying “Behind every successful man is a woman” is untrue in our case. Margie was never behind me—she has always been right beside me as my partner in life. I wouldn’t be anywhere without Margie. She is the love of my life, my teammate, and my best friend. And she has been the spark for many of the great events of our lives.

The Beginning

I fell in love with Margie in the summer of 1961. I had just graduated from Cornell and was hanging around town for the summer. A friend of mine who we called “Looper” had been dating her, but his father had died and Looper needed to go home to run the family dairy. He asked me if I would take Margie out for a drink once in a while as a favor to him. One day my roommate asked me if I wanted to have a drink with him and one of Margie’s sorority sisters who was getting married soon. My roommate was going to be best man in their wedding. I said, “Okay, I’ll invite Margie McKee to join us. She’s almost married, too.”

Margie was working as a speech therapist and counselor at a camp for kids with severe speech problems. I picked her up at the camp and we drove eight miles back to town. I remember asking, “Why would you want to spend the summer with all of those special needs kids?” She spent the rest of the ride describing her feelings about the children—she was so filled with compassion. She had a real heart for those kids as well as a need to help people. I think I fell in love with Margie on that eight-mile ride.

The Genesis of SLII®

In the fall of 1966, Margie (pregnant with Debbie), Scott, and I arrived at Ohio University. I had landed a job as an assistant to Harry Evarts, dean of the School of Business Administration. Paul Hersey had just arrived on campus as the chairman of the management department, where I began teaching a course at the request of the dean. I found that I loved teaching.

I heard Hersey taught a tremendous course on leadership, so in December I came to see him and said, “Paul, I understand you teach a great leadership course. Could I sit in next semester?”

“Nobody audits my course,” said Hersey. “If you want to take it for credit, you’re welcome.” And he walked away.

I was stunned. I went home and told Margie about the conversation.

“Can you imagine? He won’t let me audit his course. I have a Ph.D. and he doesn’t, and he wants me to take his course for credit?”

Margie said, “That’s all well and good, but is he any good?”

“He’s supposed to be fabulous.”

“Then why don’t you get your ego out of the way and take his course?”

I had to convince the registrar to let me take Hersey’s undergrad course because I already had a Ph.D. So I took the course, wrote all the papers, and found it to be a great experience.

After the course ended, Hersey took me aside and asked me to write a textbook with him, which would become Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources. It is still in print, now in its 10th edition.

If it weren’t for Margie’s suggestion, Paul Hersey and I would not have coauthored that book, which popularized the Situational Leadership®* model we created together. Its concepts were later revised by Margie, me, and the other Founding Associates of our company to become SLII®, our flagship product.  

The Birth of The One Minute Manager

In 1980, Margie and I went to a cocktail party for San Diego authors. Also at the party was Spencer Johnson, who had coauthored a series of children’s books called Value Tales with his wife, Ann Donegan. He was in the process of coauthoring a book titled The One Minute Scolding. Margie hand-carried Spencer over to me and told us she thought we should meet.

Then Margie said something that would change all of our lives: “You two need to write a children’s book for managers. They won’t read anything else.”

The following week, Spencer came to see me speak at a seminar I was giving in town. He sat in the back, laughing, apparently enjoying my presentation. At the end, he came to me and said, “The hell with parenting—let’s write The One Minute Manager®!” And we did.

To date, the book has sold more than fifteen million copies. It wouldn’t have happened without Margie.

The Ken Blanchard Companies® and Beyond

During the ten years Margie spent as president of our company, I was sometimes asked why she was president, not me. I thought it was obvious that she was the one who should be president. That held true: when Margie started her term, we were a five million dollar company. When she left that position, we were a thirty million dollar company. (Margie is the first to say that partnering with her brother, Tom McKee, who joined the company as general manager of operations, was what made the difference.) I was happy to work beside Margie and Tom and cheer them on because I’ve always been a cheerleader!

Margie was always interested in keeping an eye on business trends. She also believed leaders should keep managing the present separate from planning the future. So when she ended her term as company president, she and Blanchard cofounder Eunice Parisi-Carew created a unique, innovative think tank they named Office of the Future (OOF). With help from Margie’s assistant, Lily Guthrie, OOF studied and reported on emerging trends in leadership, technology, and other workplace issues. Margie saw their work and research as both a challenge to Blanchard’s status quo and a stimulus for change that would ensure our company’s continued vitality and success. OOF’s findings and reports were available to clients and other organizations to assist with planning for the future, and to the media for use in advising the public of trends in the workplace.

Today, Margie is as active and interesting as ever. Because she is a lifelong teacher, she now teaches courses on career planning to young people in our company. And because she is a lifelong learner, when the pandemic began she took up a new hobby of watercolor painting. She’s really good!

Thanks, Margie, for being such a great partner. You’re the best!

*Situational Leadership® is a registered trademark of Leadership Studies, Inc., dba The Center for Leadership Studies.  

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