Dec 21

The Lion in Winter

I've worked for two lions in winter. 334578-bigthumbnail 

Both were aging CEOs in the twilight of their careers. Both were both named Jim. And, both told me I should be ashamed of myself (but, for dramatically different reasons.)

The first Jim was president of a global consulting firm in the mid-1980s. He was terminally ill with severe emphysema, yet continued to manage day-to-day operations with charm, wit and dedication.

As the consulting firm's first director of global communications, I had my hands full to say the least. Maybe that's why Jim went out of his way to schedule weekly meetings with me (talk about having a seat at the table!).

Despite his myriad responsibilities (and intense pain), Jim always found time to discuss strategy, read my copy and suggest edits. After one lengthy session, I thanked him for his generosity. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Someday, you'll be in my position. I want you to be just as patient with your young employees as I am with you.” That made a big impression on me.

On another occasion, though, he sighed after reviewing an article I'd written about our Brazilian operations. He put the copy down and asked me if I spoke a second language. I shook my head no. Jim said he was ashamed of me, and added: “Every one of the foreign employees you write about speaks English as a second or third language. You should be ashamed you don't speak a second language. In fact, none of our American employees do. It doesn't matter to me. And, it probably won't matter to your generation but, trust me, foreign nationals will run rings around your kids' generation.” Talk about prescient.

The other Jim was the polar opposite. He reveled in intrigue, office politics and negativity. And, he was the antithesis of a mentor. Once, when four or five senior executives were sitting around a conference table, Jim folded his arms and sniffed, “You should all be ashamed.” When one of us asked why, he said, “Because none of you attended an Ivy League school. You lack the intellectual rigor that only an Ivy League education can provide.” We collectively shook our heads in amazement and disgust.

I didn't buy into his ersatz logic, then or now. It isn't where someone goes to college that determines success but, rather, how one performs at work. That's why we recruit from schools such as Marist, Northeastern and the College of Charleston. We don't want people who, like the second Jim, are elitists and think they're better than everyone else.  We want can-do, hard-working, team-oriented people.

When autumn turns to winter for this blogger, I intend to be the second coming of the first Jim.