I can still remember the first time we met. Just out of college, it was my first week on the job at APA.
Having not yet had the chance to meet her during either of my two interviews before being hired, I was a little anxious about meeting the company President.
What if she didn’t like me, or worse, what if she didn’t approve of the hire?
Any anxiety I had quickly faded away upon my introduction to Renee Lyle. She was warm, welcoming and immediately made me feel at ease. She made me feel as though the organization was grateful to have me as part of the team, even though I’d just started.
As I’d learn over the next two decades working alongside her, this was just one of many qualities that made her so special.
When the text message came asking “if we could talk” showed up on my phone in early March, while my wife and I celebrated our anniversary on the beach, I knew it must be something important.
It wasn’t like Renee to interrupt someone’s time away from work, unless it was urgent.
After a couple of moments of the usual greetings, her voice began to quiver as she tearfully delivered the news.
The Queen was stepping down from the throne. Renee was retiring.
Normally, such news would be delivered with overwhelming joy. But, at APA, where being part of the team means much more than just doing a job, and where Renee had been a staple of the organization for nearly a quarter-century, there would be tears of sadness shed before there could be tears of joy.
Her reign began with an apprenticeship back in the late 1980’s after she’d graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in education. Instead of going into teaching, Renee joined the family business, which was really beginning to take off, and therefore, was in need of more staff to keep up with the growth.
Over the next several years, she’d serve numerous roles within the organization. She held the titles of Director of Franchise Services, Director of Marketing and Franchise Services and eventually Vice President.
In April 1995, Renee was appointed President of the APA by then President Terry Bell, who stepped down to assume a position on the Board of Directors.
The network of League Operators continued to grow at a healthy clip. APA’s membership started to skyrocket. Under her direction, the organization would truly thrive.
She’d tell you the success could all be attributed to her talented staff, to the hard working League Operators and to the loyal and enthusiastic members. But, it takes great leadership to take all the right ingredients and create something as special as what the APA would become during her tenure.
The organization became a model for success within the billiard and franchising industries. Organizational accolades rolled in. Franchise Business Review would name APA as one of the top franchise models for franchisee satisfaction year after year. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch would name APA as a one of the Top Workplaces in St. Louis on an annual basis. Major sponsors like R.J. Reynolds and Jack Daniels aligned themselves with the APA brand. APA Leagues expanded across the globe all the way to Japan.
Yes, the Queen had ushered in an unprecedented era of prosperity that would continue throughout her reign.
Her impact on me personally was tremendous. She took a young man who was just happy to have secured his first job out of college, and crafted him into the Director of Marketing for her organization. A similar story could undoubtedly be told many times over by APA staff and League Operators.
Renee believed in investing in people, and more times than not, those investments would pay huge dividends. Her belief in people would, in turn, lead to a level of gratitude and loyalty amongst her team that’s rarely seen in this day and age.
And, that’s what will make her farewell so very difficult for so very many.
Later this month, at the APA League Operator Convention in Las Vegas, she’ll take the stage one last time to address the APA network of League Operators and staff. I’m betting there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Make no mistake, Renee leaves behind a strong foundation that will ensure the continued success of APA for years to come.
But, for those of us that served by her side, the Queen’s farewell truly brings about the end of a very special era.