From Homeless to Store Manager: An AT&T Retail Employee Shares His Life-Changing Story
By Matt Lawson
Would you hire this man?
Rock bottom. We all know the expression. Few of us can say we’ve actually been there.
For AT&T store manager George Robey, rock bottom came during 2008 in small-town Maryland. Rock bottom was the place where George found himself homeless. Rock bottom had him sleeping in a car - on the good nights. Rock bottom is where he did things he never would have thought he’d do.
“I was committing crimes to survive in the world,” George remembers. “I made so many mistakes. I had to steal a loaf of bread and milk just to eat… begging for quarters to get a meal or a little gas. I was a kid who just didn’t listen.”
His parents had seen it coming. “Growing up all I heard was ‘you’re going to be dead before you’re 16.’” That’s mostly what George remembers about living at home. Sneaking out, getting in trouble… not coming home at all some nights. He had moments where it looked like things were going to be ok – times that he said he “was trying.” He followed the house rules for a while. He had a girlfriend. Things were better between him and his parents, but it was always temporary. The problems would always begin again, and this time his girlfriend became pregnant. Then the other thing he remembers about living in his parents’ house: his father saying “if you’re not going to do right, be right – you’ve gotta go.”
So there he was, homeless – living out of a beat-up truck – all while his baby was on the way. Rock bottom.
A sign of life
George had scrounged a few coins together and had a little gas in the truck. He was driving along Highway 355 in Gaithersburg when he saw a bright orange sign that just seemed to call out to him.
“I had long hair, scruffy beard – looking as rough as you could possibly imagine,” George says. But he walked into that AT&T store in Gaithersburg Square, asked to speak with the manager, and uttered three words that would change his life: “are you hiring?”
“I couldn’t believe it when he said ‘yes’,” George laughs. “It was amazing to not get judged. It was amazing they even told me they had a job open. I can’t even put it into words. He said I could go online and fill out an application.”
What happened next is a lesson in perseverance. George had no computer… no internet access… no printer. So he went to the library and used a few more of those precious coins to print out an application.
When he returned it to the store, they needed a phone number in order to reach him. “I took my last 20 dollars and bought a GoPhone,” George explains. “When they gave me the number, I wrote it down on the application.”
Two weeks after leaving that store, somewhere out there on the street, George heard a phone ringing. It took him a few seconds to realize it was his. “It had never rung before. They were the only ones who had the number.” George was being called for an interview.
He had a real chance to change his life, but he couldn’t even change his clothes. George went to a local church and asked to borrow a suit. “I know I still looked pretty bad,” he says, “But I told them that if they hire me, I’ll be their #1 sales rep. If anyone outsells me, I’ll quit.”
After 8 years, George is still here.
“I saw a lot of pride there,” says then hiring manager Yassir Querishe. “The persistence – he came in every day for two weeks. He was so committed. People like that deserve a chance. I went with my gut and gave him the job.”
From rock bottom to rock solid
George spent 5 years as a sales rep, then moved through the ranks: assistant store manager, national account executive, and now store manager. He has a happy 9-year-old daughter named Lyric, a fiancée, and he has repaired the relationship with his parents. This fall, George begins college through the AT&T tuition reimbursement program, studying business and psychology.
George hopes that his story will inspire others to always keep fighting. “How many times does a baby fall down trying to walk? They keep getting up. You can fall down, you can make mistakes… as long as you don’t let it beat you.”
And he’s telling that story to anyone who will listen, working in the company’s Aspire mentoring program and taking time out to speak to youth in nearby Baltimore who come from broken homes. “I hope I can give somebody hope. I hope I can give someone the courage to step up to the plate. I was a guy who came from absolutely nothing and put hard work into this company.”
And the man who hired him learned his own lesson. “He taught me never to judge a book by its cover,” says Yassir. “George’s story makes me feel good. He was heading down the wrong path. He just needed a chance to prove himself. I’m so proud of him. To see this positive impact - it was a great experience for me.”
“I’m so humbled by my experience, but the biggest thing is I want people to see how great this company is,” George says proudly. “I’ll never leave AT&T. The brand is completely built into me. There’s nothing that could make me quit. I owe this company everything.”
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