From a pretty good Fast Company article (click on image to access). What would Steve Jobs think of Watson? “Data driven decisions…” I prefer leading our clients with less of ‘give ‘em what we think the misleading data says that they want.’ The riff could be endless.
There is a seeming urgency to the pending 45th reunion of my high school. It’s certainly my own concoction as I realize that we’re more than half-way through the reunion cycle mainly because a 90th is pretty unlikely. In a separate post, I recited the selection process of Jesuit High School where 90+ rising eighth graders (we didn’t have this term then. I think we said, “I’m going into 8th grade.”) were permitted to attend Jesuit as pre-freshmen.
About 15 of us were so selected from Holy Name of Jesus Elementary School based upon performance in an related entrance exam. While considering this admissions process and its implications for my adult, I counted that this year is the fiftieth (I cannot write the number) anniversary of the year that I left Holy Name for Jesuit. So, I’m at the mid-point of today and just before the Russian Revolution. You know, the presidency of Woodrow Wilson; when my grandmother was 9.
I’m sure that I could come-up with 50 Jesuit recollections. I’ll begin with 10.
1. Jesuit High School is a montage of streetcar rides, touch football games at recess and living for dates on the weekend with Mount Carmel girls or any girls. #FarhadGrotto
2. My homerooms were S-3, 12, 2B, 3B, 4B. Of these lots of young and younger boys, who became what is hardly a surprise as I believe that when you know someone in high school, you know that person forever. Are Jack Neville, Mike Farrell and Mike Casteix really gone?!
3. I failed French in my sophomore year. The misdeed that probably pushed me over the edge was that I copied many or too much of John Cooper’s answers in our library exam room only to meet him in summer school. The summer session teacher, Gary Medina, was not fond of me and my streectcar-buddy, Jimmy Colomb. By only a few points, I passed the summer make-up course and JC failed the mark. At the Naval Academy, I earned 5 As and 1 B in 6 classes of university level French. #TheMorelock
4. Our Senior Year Graduation Party was organized, i.e. money collected and tickets sold, at an apartment complex in the French Quarter. At 11am on the morning of, the owner forbid such a party as he saw us packing one of the bathtubs with ice and beer. Fortunately, Mrs. Casteix let us use her home in Gentily that same night. #Pettingill #RoomKeyIntoPool
5. #4 caused me to miss a baseball team practice which put the coach at his wit’s end with me. I was kicked-off the team. #MissedStatePlayoffs #MasperoRandoMisuraca
6. Every time that I think of the narrative of my life and how it could have turned-out, I am grateful for the endorsement of Assistant Principal John Rice, a commander in the Naval Reserve. I had no plans for college until we spoke at graduation. #MunicipalAuditorium #PowerBlueTuxJacket #NotLSUNO
7. In hindsight, how good and patient were most of my teachers. Joe Dover, Jimmy Breaux, Mr. Ruffino, Father Leininger, Mr. Steckel, Mr. Canton and Father Koch.
8. I had to be the most misfit cadet (sic) in the JROTC program. It used to make Colonel Boehm USMC furious if he caught us walking down Carrolton Avenue not wearing our Marine covers (hats). #ButItsNotCoolSir #NavalAcademyAlumPresident
9. Jere Peterson of the Jesuit class of 1969 shepherded me through my first three years at the Naval Academy. He was clever, well-liked and so had the system there misdirected. Stunned at his suicide.
10. How the Lakefront seemed far from Uptown with Jesuit at Mid-City. Actually, my New Orleans world was such a small segment of the city and its population as my 9th Ward cousin in New York likes to remind me. #CameliaGrill #Valencia #PontchatrainBeach
For no other reason, I applaud the move because it is daring, really daring. Not an incremental 3% growth target in an existing marketing; not waiting to see what the store across the street is doing; not afraid to fail as success is certainly not guaranteed; imagine if the concept takes hold!? I’m a fanboy for sure. And been a customer since the early 80s. So often have they been written off or dismissed as…. Doesn’t the world need a dose of bold example? Something to talk about and to ponder. Isn’t a consequence of all things social that the face of the enterprise has to be familiar, trustworthy, available – and not because Don Draper says so?!. Real leadership.
I still think that we are at the steam-powered car phase of the Internet. Thrilled that Apple is making us think differently even if, even I, have no clue why I would want an iWatch.
Maybe spring is in the air?
The intent of the app is to migrate a well received publication to a mobile format so that changes may be readily made and for the convenience of clients on the move. Special thanks to Leslie Walden at Fidelity Investments for the introduction to NCCPPR and to Paige Worsham at NCCPPR for carefully and kindly managing the project.
I retired from IBM in January 2014. Feels good not to have separated with a cardboard box and the security guard or the make-believe classes for career transition. Ugh! Truth is that I accepted the Transition to Retirement program, an 18 month, reduced hours for reduced pay agreement because I felt that hanging-on as an employee in the Sam Palmisano era with his King Lear-like furor for an earnings per share milestone (now discredited after 13 consecutive quarters absent revenue growth and earning the company the moniker of the worst performing of Dow Jones Industrial Average for two consecutive years) would only be taking a number for a stroll along the gangplank.
“What have you ever done for the team?” I was asked this by two levels of management on that Emerging Internet Technologies Team of mine. My role was business development executive. The coup de gras was the directive that I drive to an office to sit in a cubicle to be with others on every Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday. In my past, when times were tough sales types were told to get out of the office and go find some business. Clear was that my position along with my stature was fading fast. So I took less for longer and signed the Transition to Retirement contract.
Apple stock is at $127 today. I bet you that it eclipses IBM’s stock price once that the iWatch is released for sale. This is after 7 for 1 split in June of 2014. Instead of investing in innovation and especially innovative people of which there are plenty at IBM or even acknowledging the enduring trends in social, mobile, cloud and analytics, IBM went for stock buy-backs, repackaging of existing services and customer references and mindless cost-cutting. Funny is how the market seemed to like their themes of Smarter Planet and Watson even though IBM executives had no clue what this meant beyond IT services, renewing mainframe licenses and devouring companies, via many dozens of acquisitions, who had real ideas and real revenue growth. I knew that this jig was up when the CFO for the EPS forced-march retired (the way that the Wizard of Oz in his balloon retired) in January of 2014. Watson knows everything except how to make money and its flop was foreshadowed by the ship-jumping of its research-lab- father when he left for a a hedge fund company within one year of the Jeopardy parlor game.
I got to say it. What did I do?! I told them to buy Apple at $86 or the equivalent of about $12 today. I wrote about this in their blogs. I accompanied senior executives to meetings with important clients where they asked about leveraging Apple technologies. My manager and I even met a neighbor of Steve Jobs’s, a venture capitalist, who agreed that the pending iPhone introduction was intended to be more than a phone. “Apple’s going to be a consumer electronics company,” he said. My boss didn’t hear this remark because he left for a dinner with his brother in law. I spoke to IBM’s largest customers at the Manhattan Briefing Center about the genuine example of Apple. The Simon Sinek video says it all. At these meetings over 6 years, I observed that one compelling reason for these IBM customers to participate in the briefings was the opportunity to walk around the corner to the Apple Store on Park Avenue. Inevitably, the summary segment of the briefing, before all headed to the airport, was conducted amidst the crinkles and pops of clients unpacking their iPad and iPhone purchases so as not to have custom’s duties to pay at their ports of entry.
I reported back from a private CIO conference in New England that no one trusted Android and all wished that IBM would provide them with some kind of reliable enterprise app store. My senior management reaction was “That’s hard to do.” Now they’re bragging about developing 100 apps in partnership with Apple. Oh Big Brother!
I don’t want any more lay-offs. The country needs a vibrant IBM. Apple cannot do it all. I was paid to tell them what made customers curious and excited. That’s what I done for the team.
We will now return to regularly scheduled programming.
For all not in the know, a paragraph of context. In the 1960s, Holy Name of Jesus School (HNJ) in New Orleans was/is a feeder school for Jesuit High School. Run by the nuns of the Mercy Order and adjacent to Loyola University, a Jesuit college, one KPI (please laugh) was the number of students who attended Jesuit High School. Boys and girls attended HNJ through 8th grade; we were segregated into same sex classes, boys in kakhi and the girls in navy blue skirts. We, the boys, even had a kind of ROTC once per week led by a genuine ROTC student from Loyola. Jesuit High accepted 90 students each year into a Pre-Freshman program. Essentially, the 90 acceptees skipped 8th grade at their elementary school to begin classes at Jesuit with the program taking the 90 through a modified college curriculum by the fifth year of high school. I’m not sure that it worked this way in execution. We were divided into homerooms of S-1, S-2 and S-3. I entered in S-3. The memories are vivid of being a 13 year old amidst 18 year olds from across town with their whiskers, smokes, cars and nearly grown-up girl-friends. This milieu was quite the upgrade from wiffle ball games at Holy Name’s little recess from 10:10 to 10:30 each morning. The representation of this change in my life was taking the public transportation, street cars and buses of NOPSI, in a new direction each day. Most everything else, although different in scale, was familiar as we wore kakhi uniforms, attended all-boy classes, lived for sports, ambling along with this educational Stations of the Cross.
The 45th reunion will be in May. It’s that time of life. How do you catch-up with several dozens of people in a series of “Hey, What are you up-to conversations.” While thinking about that, here’s what comes to mind.
S-3:Damaret, Davis, Dazette, Cerise, Cobb, Cousins, Casteix. Ray Coates, Jimmy Breaux, Fabian Mang, Joe Dover and Dick Francis, the coach not the writer. Of course, coaches Maspero, Rando and Misuraca if one followed baseball. Father Koch, Fathers Leininger, Brother Ferlitta and Father Reed. Mark Maderi and Milton DeRanier. I don’t guess that any of them will be there in April. Master Sergeant Chapelle and Colonel Boehm. Farhad Grotto and the girls from Mount Carmel. Morning assembly and ice tea after school at Walgreens. Mr. Pratt the PE teacher. Gene Tarzetti and Father Coco. I realize that I’m away from there and over here because of them all.
Mike Mann and Phelps Gay from Holy Name did not make the Pre-Freshman selection process. How did I?! I’ve never made any list since. The divide of 1A, 1B and 1C from D,E,F and G. Uptown divided from the Lakefront with the unfair Fairgrounds in between. For two years, I walked past De La Salle to catch the Saint Charles street car, the Tulane bus and, sometimes, the Carrollton bus to the corner of Banks & Carrollton. John Rice accompanied me during these 45 years in two ways: the moment that he explained to John Ruth and me that “organizations exist first for administration efficiency, then the needs of their constituents.” I recall that we entered his Assistant Principal’s office to describe how we believed that the school should be run. I was given the other way in 1992 when I received a packet of my Naval Academy files. I learned of the extent to which he inspired other teachers at the eleventh of eleventh hours to vouch for my suitability as a midshipman. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself.
I suppose that college becomes that accepted launching point of our professional lives as I’ve grown used to describing my own as beginning in Annapolis. I didn’t see it this way early on. My career (sic) was launched by NOPSI as I’ve told others often. Being somewhere on time, managing carfare, asking for a transfer introduced something about the adult world that I wasn’t learning driving down Bourbon Street to the Cafe Du Monde at 9pm on weeknights with my mother, her friends and 3 sisters. That was normal, right?! Fun, for sure.
The Vietnam Nam War shepherded me into the Naval Academy. Clear am I that I would not be accepted in today’s competitive process. In between those streetcar rides and promenades about the Yard of the Naval Academy, I became a lot more of what I was to be than I ever figured while a Jesuit Blue Jay. Who else in high school left Latin class to learn to field strip an M-79 grenade launcher while meandering in the halls with hundreds of other boys in enforced silence?! Beware of the Prefect of Discipline along the stairways, especially Pat Screen’s little brother.
My best year at the Naval Academy was my first year much to the wonder of all and the disappointment of some who were quite sure that I wouldn’t be at muster for long. But I had all of these classes at Jesuit: French, Calculus, English and even Naval Science aka Military Science. One of my company officers eventually became Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was careful about who could besmirch his reputation as a promotable leader. Can you imagine his surprise when my denied-by-him request to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival Ball one Saturday evening in Washington, DC as invited by Cindy Hufft (the charming CH) was recanted after a call to the Academy from the office of Congressman F. Edward Hebert, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The then Captain Krulak, as he handed me my now approved chit (form) to attend the Ball, only asked me, “how do you know someone in Congressman Hebert’s office?” “I’m not exactly sure, Sir,” I replied, “but I believe that Miss Hufft’s father worked for Huey Long.” He stared at me incredulously as he invited me out of his office “New Orleans must be quite the place,” he said.
So it remains, I guess, although I have no recent information or experience. I drove about the Lakefront between flights one year shortly after Katrina. I couldn’t find Larry Thomas’s house nor that of Gerry Rotonti’s having spent much time in both. Nothing had changed and everything was different, especially me. Aside from that 4 hour lay-over on Southwest Airline flights, I’ve only returned for a couple of high school reunions. I’ve become an outsider. I felt trapped in time as my Jesuit classmates had moved on to families and careers and epochs beyond tales of history class with Mr. Steckel, Dookie Chase Jr. or the III sitting in front of me or the 8 track sounds of John Fred and the Playboy Band in Sal Piazza’s Oldsmobile Cutless on the way to pick-up Dawn the colonel’s daughter and future Saint cheerleader.
Going back causes me to understand how different it all could have been if not for a word of advice here and a contact there and the intercession of the benevolent hand of Fate. I guess that I’m returning out of curiosity; to prove to myself that it all really did start there; in hopes of finding fun amidst the haze of collective memory; to remind myself that we were all really that young once; in search of some sort of acceptance for not having been more part of it. You never know. I prefer to remember the Saints with Les Kelly, Flea Roberts, Tom Dempsey and Billy Kilmer.
I recall a proper visit to NOLA in the late 1980s, before either of my two sons were born, a Sunday of Mardi Gras season. With my mother and wife, we walked to Magazine and Some Cross Street to view an afternoon parade. I was 36 years old. As is the custom, two of us spectators politely (ha!) fought for a pair of beads thrown from a float. As we each caught and held the same pair of cheap beads, we looked at one another to determine who would be the ultimate recipient. “Hi Beth.” “Hi Christopher.” “How are you?!,” we both said. I hope to the heavens that I let go of my half of the throw. “Fine, married, living here / living in North Carolina,” we said. “You look great.” “You too.” “Bye.” “Take care of yourself.” Beth Hakenjos and I were secret admirers in the 4th grade at Holy Name of Jesus behind Loyola and across from Mercy High School. Hadn’t seen her since 1965. It is quite a place.
Info on Festival: http://firstnightraleigh.com
Link to Apple Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/first-night-raleigh-2015/id585627875
Link to Google Marketplace: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bluepane.firstnight
I didn’t have the $600 for our original uniform issue of Naval Academy uniforms: Dress Blues, Overcoat and Reefer (Peacoat). Instead of being measured for my own, I was escorted by a friendly Italian lady to a room in the Academy Tailor Shop filled with racks of these garments. I tried-on several samples and finally found an issue for me. As she measured me for the necessary alterations, I read in the breast pocket the name of its former owner. The seamstress informed me that these uniforms were owned previously by mids who did not graduate from the Academy and sold-back this gear. When my properly fitted items returned to me, my name replaced theirs. As a result and for some reason, I had a special sense of my Dress Blues and winter coats. A kind of a “who ends up with what?” and “where are they now” curiosity.
After my naval service, I worked for a stint at Bath Iron Works in the persistent winter of Maine. Shipyards and winter weather are harsh on clothing so the ‘inside people’ kept shoes and coats in their offices for the trips to production meetings in the Yard. I concluded that my reefer would be a near perfect Yard coat if only I changed the brass buttons to civilian style. Off went the six brass and my wife sewed-on 6 brown replacements. The reefer withstood its consistent use and the rugged climate, ending-up in the back closet of our home in Raleigh, North Carolina when we relocated to warmer mid-Atlantic in 1985. Say ‘Amen.’
Divorced in 1993, I lost track of many items in that process including the twice modified midshipmen reefer.
My older son, Alexander, is a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, stationed in Naples, Italy. We agreed to meet in London for the past Thanksgiving, saying good-bye to the last of my inherited IBM frequent flyer miles. I meet his train from Gatwick Airport at Victoria Station. Arriving at 1130 pm, he strolls down the platform in his hipster travel gear wearing my fourth classman-issue reefer with the brown buttons.
I put it on in our hotel room, laughing and remembering those innumerable trips down Stribling Walk between classes at the Academy in the Maryland snow complete with our regulation trousers that had no front pockets so that we cannot put our hands in them.
My body clock still on London time after a week in England, looking out of my Durham office window into London-like weather, I consider a drive to NC State University for the Change of Command ceremony of the local Naval ROTC unit. 4pm. Traffic. Not attractive. I persuade myself that I would be better off out of the office. Added benefit is that I would get to see all of the Navy lieutenants in one location. Plus, the incoming commanding officer is a graduate of the Naval Academy, class of 1987, and as VP of the USNA Alumni Association I’d like to begin on his good side.
I arrive as the Star Spangled Banner begins, sit in the back row amidst the young, young officers and younger midshipmen and enjoy the quiet, the trip down memory lane and even a few of the leadership bon mots from the podium.
Staring down a file of heads in the audience. I recognize a face in the VIP section at the front. As I just returned from a trans-Atlantic flight and see plenty of familiar faces at this stage of life, I presumed that I’ve known many and many look alike. This VIP profile resembles Bill Tucker, my Navy, USS Joseph Strauss DDG-16, roommate. Uncanny the resemblance. At the near end of the ceremony, the arriving Commanding Officer in his own remarks of welcome thanks his parents, his family and his dear community and church neighbors, Bill and Martha. It’s them! Bill Tucker and Martha Ratchford. They comprise one of the most remarkable coincidences of my life.
Newport, Rhode Island June 1972. My third summer at the Naval Academy. The training program for that summer is to spend a couple of weeks each with the destroyer Navy in Newport, Rhode Island; the submarine service in Groton, Connecticut; the Marines in Quantico, Virginia; Navy Air in Pensacola, Florida.
In Newport, my Academy friend, Yorke Warden, and I head to the Officer’s Club for a Thursday night mixer of some sort. Not really for midshipmen and there are girls (older) and the drinks are inexpensive. The band plays Dixie. Why, I do not remember. Three people in the crowd stand from their tables to cheer the anthem of the Old South: me, Yorke and a slightly built guy at the adjacent table. Rallying the minority, we sit together to discuss our common bond. I’m from New Orleans and Mr. 3, introduced as Tommy Ratchford, is from Pensacola, Florida.
Tommy is a lot of fun; in Newport to qualify as a Navy legal officer (JAG Corps); and generously invites Yorke and me to have dinner with his family when our training takes us to Pensacola. In between, he helped us to call a list of local girls who are invited to US Coast Guard Academy dances in hopes that we might find a date or two. I remember that Charlie Cannon and I got dates from this list. The parents went along; the girls were sisters and pretty. Very cordial. Fun. Nothing happened. Not what we were looking for.
Yorke and I contact Mrs. Ratchford as we arrive in Pensacola. Invited to a restaurant dinner including her daughter, Martha, and family friends, we have a memorable time. Lots of laughing and friendly discussion. I did not meet Mr. Ratchford and learned that he was the PT Boat Squadron Corpsman who treated John Kennedy after his PT-109 collided with a Japanese destroyer.
I graduate from Annapolis in June 1974. Assigned to a destroyer in San Francisco, I spend 12 months in the Bay Area. In early December of 1975, I am assigned to the Joseph Strauss, DDG 16, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii just as the ship prepared to deploy for 6 months to the South China Sea. My quarters were above one of the two boiler rooms and outfitted with 6 bunks or racks in the space known as the Junior Officer Locker. Hot, crowded and a zoo of constant activity around the clock. In late December, another junior officer reports aboard, Bill Tucker of Pensacola, Florida. He tried to qualify as a pilot and despite his exceptional balance and inner ear equilibrium, he opted-out of the training and was sent to the fleet to join the Strauss as the Main Propulsion Assistant, MPA.
Bill and I hung-out both on the ship and ashore. One evening, I learned that he opted for a ship far from the East Coast Fleet so that he could have some time and distance from a relationship that wasn’t working out. Then or later and not much later, I mentioned to Bill that I knew one family in Pensacola who had been so kind to me during a midshipman visit, the Ratchfords. He stared at me and replied, ‘that’s the family of the girl which didn’t work-out.’ Oh!
Bill and I had many personal and Navy adventures over two years before I transferred from the Strauss to my final assignment in Washington, DC. We played golf in Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Hawaii. We roomed together once that we were allowed to break-out of that ever-warm JO Locker. He drove me around in his Datsun 240Z. We played on the ship’s softball team. We tried to date every bar-girl in every bar in every port from South Korea to Hong Kong to Subic Bay to Taiwan to Yokosuka. We patrolled the beaches of Honolulu on our free days.
The Strauss was in terrible material condition due to its overuse on the gun-line of Vietnam; her engineering plant was based on a complex system of 1200 pounds of steam pressure. Powerful and difficult to maintain. On one cruise, we hobbled overseas, only to break-down in Subic Bay. The repairs required 100+ days in port, much too long for a crew of 300 young men. But our wardroom softball team got so good that we won the Naval Base championship, including a defeat of the traveling Army team of semi-pro players.
Bill and I had one last dose of liberty in Tokyo with Miki Marubayashi and Ako Shimomoto. I departed the Strauss in Tokyo Harbor in February of 1978. As Ship’s Admin Officer, Bill signs my orders.
I suppose that Bill and I exchanged a few letters and not much more. My belief is that we all wanted to put all of that DDG-16, Pearl Harbor, mysteries of Asia well behind us.
Our paths continued to divert. Divorced, living in an 800 sq ft apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina in the winter of 1994, I received a call from Bill. He was thrilled to inform me that he and Martha Ratchford of Pensacola, Florida found one another one again. They planned to marry nearly 20 years after our introduction in the JO Locker aboard the Strauss. Life is strangely wonderful, indeed.
I never heard from nor communicated with Bill and Martha since that telephone call until last night when I looked down the aisle and across the room to see someone who looked like him.
I’m fond of Swedish people and Stockholm. I spent a Thanksgiving there (the most properly served MacDonald’s experience of my life) as well as an unforgettable week in August amidst the Mercedes Fashion Show complete with a up-close sighting of Lady Gaga. I could add to the country’s and city’s reputation for fascinating design, kind people, healthy lifestyle and cultural sense of fair play. If only the dark of night did not arrive at 3:30pm on a November afternoon with the commentary of the populace being, “it gets worse until January!”
Destiny reveals itself in spurts and patches and singular moments. Our fate is spread over time; it’s not a path through time.
I needed work in the early 1990s. I was on a string of impressive positions that ended up as former positions. Note to self for application in the next life is to look at things for what they are and not for what I’d like them to be. Good would be to drop the mantle of “if you will let me help you to do something that you’re not doing, than you’ll become something that you are not.” I believe that the syndrome is rescuing ourselves through others. Then again, it’s how I got a telemarketing gig thanks to a Nobel Prize recipient.
The rapid adoption of all things Internet persuaded me that the the planet’s shift from the physical world to a nearly virtual one would require and enable sales to be conducted in a similar way. I started Perrien Sales Group, Virtual Selling as if people didn’t think little enough of sales and salesman.
It struggled as either I was ahead of the game or too small to be taken seriously as I only received a handful of jobs. The negotiation normally entailed a plea by some small business owner, “the cash-flow next month looks not-so-good. Can you help me to find some customers over the next 30 days?” Budget? “$500.00.” Of course, they typically had neither a prospect list nor relevant marketing materials. I would throw myself onto their ramparts hoping that my sacrifice would result in an on-going stream of related business. The customary outcome was that ours was but a single blind date. Even when a good sales lead was uncovered, my client was too occupied usually to follow-up with the interested party. This is how I developed the point of view that the reasons that most businesses do not have more business is because they don’t want it (won’t do the necessary things to attract the available business).
The one interesting exception was the referral by the Washington office of the German state of Baden Wurttemburg, home to the headquarters of Porsche and Mercedes with Stuttgart as its major city. My Swabian contact suggested, ‘that I meet a Frenchman from Burgundy based in New York who needs help with a Swedish client who is interested in paying for a pharmaceutical market research project in the US.’ I’m your man, I acknowledged. Plus the fee was over 10x that of my usual barren projects.
I spoke by phone with the charming Frenchman and invited to New York City to meet with his pharmaceutical client at the Swedish Consulate. The second time that this happened to me is when I had just begun at IBM and was invited to the supreme hide-away in the woods of General Electric in Croton on Hudson, New York. I was to observe the results of a 6 month How to Use the Internet training program for the top 50 executives at GE. After 15 minutes, the young consultant suffered stage fright and sat down. The presiding senior executive from IBM’s Atlanta Enterprise Education Group asked if I would continue the discussion with the Top 50 which recalled General Custer’s actual last words of “Sergeant, take no prisoners.” I tried and I failed and promised myself to never again throw myself on the pyre of “they’ll love me if I do this desperate deed.”
Back to the Swabians, the French and the Swedes. I hopped aboard the regional Midway flight to LaGuardia Airport on a lovely spring day. Aisle seat with a free breakfast and coffee. Virtual Selling, indeed. The man or woman next to me said, apparently to no one, “there’s- I missed the name that was said – who won the Nobel Prize.” I saw an older woman meander down the aisle and into her seat. Her?!
Flight lands; taxi into Manhattan; I stay with a friend on 48th; wake-up early to be sure that I’m at the Hyatt Hotel adjacent to Grand Central Station in plenty of time to meet Mr. Frenchman and his (soon I’m to discover gorgeous, German) assistant.
As I searched through the lobby’s waiting area for my new colleagues, I saw on a sofa the woman from the flight who was identified as having “won the Nobel Prize.” She was alone, appearing to be waiting as well. I noted this sofa and chairs on every subsequent IBM visit to this Hyatt. Wistful was I when the Hyatt remodeled a few years ago and our meeting spot was renovated away.
I approached her- this is pre-Google so I have an excuse for not knowing – and inquired if she was the woman on the flight from Raleigh “who won the Nobel Prize.” “Yes,” she replied. I probably said, “I was on that flight also.” Amazing what virtual salesman have in common with Nobel Laureates. She was polite in receiving me, meaning that she did not try to catch the eye of the lobby security staff, and invited me to sit with her. She asked about my family and my reason for being in New York. Of course, she introduced herself explaining that she shared the prize with Dr. George Hitchings in 1988. Her name is Gertrude Elion and their work lead to the development of AZT for treating AIDS. After a few minutes, my French and German partners arrived in the lobby. Dr. Elion autographed a business card addressing it to my two sons and I said goodbye.
At my second meeting in the Hyatt lobby that morning, the kind Frenchman asked about my first meeting. I honestly informed him that ’She’s from North Carolina. She won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. We flew up here together.’ Sharp rise in the valuation of my virtual stock ensued.
Focusing on the matter at hand, we agreed on the order of our presentations at the Swedish Consulate. As I recall, my role was to be a small one as I was there to prove that I was an actual entity that could do something related to pharmaceutical market research.
In the era of Pre-Uber, we caught a taxi for the short ride to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. Into the impressive building near the East River (later I learned that there is a tennis court on top) and into the elevator for the entrance to the munificent offices and facilities of the Swedish government. This was a world of light-colored, wooden furniture staffed by tall, engaging, perfect English speaking, attractive and blonde Swedes. Our name tags awaited us and we were led to a massive conference room with a bowling alley of a conference table.
As we awaited the entrance of the Consular, we enjoyed perfect, ink black coffee and Swedish pastries. As I munched and sipped, the room began to fill with additional handsome and blonde people and these carried binders and folders and portfolios and plenty of note-taking items. This is getting serious, I thought to myself. In the end, about 15 sat around the table making polite conversation awaiting Mr. Big’s arrival.
With little fanfare, a secretary opened the door and in he came. All smiles with an apology for being a few minutes late, he shook hands with the Frenchman, greeted his staff and took his seat at the head of the lane.
I wondered how this would go and what role would I play, if any, in the discussion or negotiation or treaty signing. After his remarks, the Kind Frenchman was invited to describe the project’s ambition. After 2 to 3 minutes, I realized that I was to be the heart and soul of the endeavor given my extensive insight and experiences with the pharmaceutical industry in the United States. I tried to remain calm and to appear undaunted by the stares of professional interest from those around the table. Actually, I so wanted to be back in Raleigh talking with a two man software company about a $500 deal to find them a customer of any kind within the next month.
My French colleague concluded his warm-up act by suggesting that I describe my meeting with the Nobel Prize Laureate as my way of taking the floor. I thought, “maybe I’m overcharging those small companies and could increase my customer base if I lowered my prices to $300 or even $250.”
I related that tale of the Midway flight, the chance meeting at the Hyatt Hotel, the autograph and the coincidence of this meeting at the Swedish Consulate, the country which hosts the Nobel ceremonies. That’s All Folks.
Science is fraught with discoveries that are the unintended consequences of purposeful research. My own Eureka moment was provided by the Consular himself. As I told my Nobel tale, he nodded, then he smiled, then he nodded and smiled broadly. I finished and he shared with the table of experts, ‘how interesting. I had the pleasure of escorting Dr. Elion from New York to Stockholm for the ceremony with the King and the receipt of her prize.’ He continued by describing how pleasant of a person that she is and how very important is her work for combating the AIDS virus. I was now known by whom I hung-around with. Who would now dare question the Perrien Sales Group’s capacity to conduct effectively a mere pharmaceutical market research project across the United States of America?! In a virtual sort of way, of course.
Skipping further evaluation of my CV, we moved on to contract details such as start and end dates; the necessary format of the data to be provided and received; and a host of odds and ends that staff minions could handle given my recent exalted status.
The meeting concluded. The kind Frenchman took me to lunch. His German assistant was even nice to me after giving me the ‘you can’t be real’ vibe all morning.
In the end, the project didn’t go far as we tried to learn a lot from our contacts without telling them much about our purpose. I got the check and never saw the Swedish Consulate nor the Frenchman ever again.
Years later, now working with IBM in a physical way, I visited Stockholm regularly. I recommend the Nobel Museum. My favorite part of this beautiful space is the Bistro Nobel. If you will turn the Bistro’s chairs upside down, you’ll see the signatures of numerous Nobel Laureates as they visit the Museum after the Award Ceremony. I’ve never located Dr. Elion’s autograph (I know what it looks like, after all). But I once had a coffee in the Bistro, sitting on one of the simple and now priceless chairs, considering the casual poignancies of life where one may be amazed by what one can find even when one is not searching or researching.