grew up in northern Ohio with a life of privilege.
father was the CEO of The Timken Company
, a Fortune 150 multinational corporation known for steel and ball bearings.
The company had been founded by Kurt’s great-great-grandfather 100 years ago.
followed in his
father’s footsteps to the Phillips Andover Academy
, and later to Harvard Business School
was being groomed to fill his
Dad’s shoes at the company, just as his
father filled his
grandfather’s shoes, and so on.
trained four years at the family company, and then another three years in management at Rockwell.
But the long hours destroyed his
marriage to his
college sweetheart, and when he
got divorced he
started asking the big questions about why he’s here and where he
could make a real impact.
At 30 years old, he spit the silver spoon out of his mouth, listened to an inner voice, and after a major test of his conviction, he’s now a police officer working the graveyard shift in El Monte, California, which is a few highway exits east of East Los Angeles, one of the highest crime cities in the state.
works the graveyard shift because that’s when the hot 911 calls come in, and the drugs are moved, and the transvestite prostitutes work the streets.
It’s when the beer hits the bloodstream, and under the influence of alcohol or coke or meth or greed, people do terrible things to each other.
The graveyard shift is when he
can make an impact.
shift begins at 6:00 p.m. with a briefing from the sargeant, and runs twelve hours and fifteen minutes.
Most of that time, he
is alone in his
patrol car, hunting for “bad guys.” He
had me sign a waiver, and issued me a flashlight and Level 3 body armor, similar to the one he
wore underneath his
Handgun rounds will not pierce the armor, but will still cause blow trauma.
explained where the different gang turfs were divided, and rattled off the addresses of seedy apartment complexes where crimes were commonplace.
taught me how to approach a car of gangbangers and use my spotlight to blind them.
shotgun, which is kept locked to the grill above our headrests.
pointed to a button.
“This is the switch that unlocks it, in case something happens to me out there, and you need a weapon.” It was around then that I stopped thinking what Kurt has done is really cool, and I started to wonder whether the risk was worth it.
Did I really need to witness an El Monte night?
Yes, if I was going to rid my TV-inspired, schoolboy fantasy preconceptions.
Yes, if I was going to understand Kurt
and tell his
While getting dressed in the locker room, Kurt
said, “Everybody needs fuel for their engine.
Making seven figures on Wall Street is cheap wood, it burns up too fast.
I need something that burns well.
That’s real.” By the end of the night, I understood what he
is five-ten, thick, tanned, freckled, with a solid jaw and brown hair swept over the side.
When remembering his
speaks slowly with his
eyes nearly closed, like he’s going back to that old place in his
still has many friends from the world he
left behind, and in a way, he
returns to his
past every day to get away from what he
sees in El Monte.
lives in a spotless luxury condo on the oceanfront at Venice Beach.
There’s a hot tub on his
deck and a restored antique Brunswick pool table in his
living room and upstairs, in the center of the master bedroom, a two-person steam shower.
When Kurt graduated from Pomona College, he spent four years at The Timken Company.
They sent him to France and India, and he
found it fun and interesting, but with his
whole life ahead of him he
didn’t hold it to that high of a standard.
That changed after Harvard Business School
You come out of HBS thinking that you can change the world in an instant, and you’re hungry to find the place you can make that happen.
The years start to add up, and pretty soon it’s natural to wonder, “Is this really the choice I want to make?” The family expected him to train at Rockwell, and come home when he
But Rockwell had Kurt
working 80 hour weeks, and so was his
wife, at Disney corporate.
They rarely got to see each other, and when the marriage fell apart, Kurt
was bitter about what work had wrought.
It seemed like you have to choose, do you want a marriage or a career?
would have preferred a relationship, but it was too late.
had always been interested in law enforcement.
didn’t know anything about it.
He’d never known a police officer.
He’d never seen a trailer park, never hung out in a bad neighborhood.
felt it in his
gut, not his
Business was about growing the bottom line; if it helps people, it does so indirectly.
needed to serve people directly.
At Harvard, Kurt
took marketing with a fairly famous professor named John Quelch.
“I decided to violate the Monkey Law,” Kurt
“And plunge into the jungle, without a plan.
I went into Rockwell and gave them my pink slip and said thanks.”
father tried to be neutral, but it was very hard for him to understand.
He’d invested a lot in Kurt
They were of two generations; Kurt’s Dad never had a choice about whether to fill his
own father’s shoes.
tried to explain that in our generation, it’s important to look around a little.
, though, couldn’t get hired in law enforcement.
went a whole year being rejected.
kept taking the different cities’ physical and mental tests, and polygraph tests, passing them all, and that’s when Kurt’s Dad came in with unexpected support.
was offended that nobody would hire his
“Keep taking the tests,” he
own way through the Rio Honda Police Academy
graduated fourth in his
class, and still – nobody would hire him.
“It was a test of my resolve,” Kurt
“It was not going to be handed to me.”
Some guys that Kurt went to the Academy with were hired by El Monte.
They bugged their Chief to hire Kurt
The Chief sent Kurt
over to the Community Relations Anti-Gang Unit.
This was the prevention arm of their task force, and it tried to get ex gang members jobs and teach them life skills.
They told Kurt
would volunteer for a whole year, he’d have a job on the force at the end.
reached for his
wallet and pulled out a photocopy of a note.
It was written by his
great-grandfather to his
great-great-grandfather, the inventor.
The sons were having trouble getting the auto industry to adopt their father’s tapered bearings.
The note read, “Dear Father, I hate to think we are putting troubles on your shoulders.
We’ll hang in there like grim death.
We’ve got grit if we don’t have sense.”
explained, “I carried this in my wallet, and whenever I despaired, I read it again.
I knew it didn’t make sense that I wanted to be in law enforcement, but I had grit.”
year volunteering, Kurt
revamped a defunct tattoo removal program, and it turned it into one of the most successful in the country.
put in 20 to 40 hours every week.
He became a gang specialist, building an intelligence base about the five gangs in El Monte.
slipped into this chatter easily.
didn’t quote Hegel at these guys, didn’t throw out business school maxims.
They all put Timken Bearings in their boats, but they don’t connect Timken Bearings with Kurt Timken
No sooner did we leave the lot than Kurt
had me running license plates through the on-board computer, hoping to find a GTA, grand theft auto.
and Toyota I saw, I ran their plate hoping for a hit.
It was the lottery.
The more plates I ran, the more likely I’d get a hit.
We did this with zeal.
If we spotted either make, Kurt
would gun his
cruiser and ride up the car’s ass until I could make out the plate.
“You couldn’t do this in Beverly Hills,” Kurt
decided we needed to pick up the dispatcher’s dinner from Denny’s, so that they’d cut us some slack the rest of the night and leave us to hunt bad guys.
On the way, Kurt
barked “known prostitute” and spun a u-turn on Garvey and pulled tight to the curb, where a transvestite was standing under the bus stop sign.
We talked to him/her for awhile.
I recognized her
from the intelligence database Kurt
had assembled in 3-inch binders he
kept in his
held a pen light to her
dull eyes to check her
pupils, which were constricted, indicating heroin.
pulse was racing, indicating meth.
I found a tie-off strap in her
purse, but no needles.