February 25, 2008
Strange things I do
Originally published April 16 2003
After breakfast with the CEO today, he held a question and answer session. He does that every time he visits one of the production sites he governs and he has rules for this exchange. He brings out a baseball and asks if today is anyone's birthday. If today isn't someone's birthday, he goes for the next upcoming birthday and tosses that person the ball. You'd better catch it.
If you catch the ball, you get (ARE REQUIRED) to ask the CEO the most important question on your mind about the company. If you DROP THE BALL, he reaches under the table, picks up a beach ball with a map of the globe on it, and tosses THAT ball to you. Catch it, and you get (ARE REQUIRED) to ask him two questions. Drop the beach ball and you get to ask THREE questions.
This was a "communications session," which is a really good idea, although it can be most intimidating in that format. This guy is the MOTHER OF ALL BOSSES where I work, and he is the MOTHER OF ALL BOSSES around the globe in his company empire. He is not a person you wish to piss off for no good reason.
After the CEO answers YOUR question, you are required to announce the name of another person in the room and toss the baseball to him or her. I had five good questions written down on paper before I entered the room this morning. I've been to one of these sessions before and I know that if you don't get the ball early, someone else will ask your "good" question and you will be stuck, sitting there with a thumb up your ass, when the ball comes your way. I took precautions to assure that I WOULD NOT be caught with a thumb up my ass in front of the CEO of my company.
I had a deal with my friend and fellow coordinator, Leo, that if the ball came to me, I would call him next, and if it came to him, he would do the same for me. You really want to get this shit over with before all the good questions are asked. Plus, we can both toss and catch.
Leo got the ball first. He asked his question and got about a 10-minute reply from the CEO. It was a good question. Then, he said, "Okay, ROB!," and tossed the ball to me. I caught it.
I may write a blog entry about the question I asked and the answer I got, because it involves Iraq and oil prices. My company is heavily invested in Oil and Gas as one of it's core businesses. The CEO is an old wildcat oilman. He spoke about 20 minutes on my topic and I was very comforted by what he had to say.
I own a lot of stock in my company.
Then, it was my turn to toss the baseball to someone else. I stood up. I don't know what came over me, because almost everybody in the room (a few imports from cross-country may have been out of the loop, but the CEO and everyone else there knew that I was in the room with my ex-wife-- they had seated her as far away from me as possible) but I saw her, looking away from me, but still at a perfect throwing angle.
I said, "Jennifer!" She turned my way, surprised, and I gave her a nice, easy, underhanded toss that she caught. "Good catch," I said, and sat down. She gave me the strangest look from those beautiful blue eyes of hers, then turned and asked the CEO her question.
After the meeting was over, I went outside to smoke a cigarette and she walked up to me. She looked puzzled.
"Why did you do that?" she asked.
"Do what?" I responded, while she lit a cigarette of her own.
"Throw the ball to me and make it easy to catch," she said.
"You were easy to throw to where you were sitting. Plus, I know that everybody likes to get their questions in early before somebody else steals them. Call it Professional Courtesy."
"Rob, you did it because that's YOU. You ALWAYS try to do the last thing anybody expects you to do. That was your way of telling the whole room to kiss your ass, wasn't it? I should have known you would throw me the ball. That was SO YOU! (Did I mention that I wanted everybody in the room to KNOW that I could handle being there with my ex-wife? Did I mention that I threw the ball the HER because that was the LAST THING anybody expected me to do? Sorry. I should have mentioned that.))
"By the way, I need you on a team I'm forming to track steam usage and costs in the plant. I would never have been tasked with this job if I hadn't listened to you talk about it for years. That's how I know what I know. But I don't know what YOU know. If it makes you uncomfortable, you can say no, but I really need your knowledge on this team."
Oh, the things I should have said! Oh, the things I THOUGHT ABOUT saying! But I didn't do any of that. This was about work. I said, "If it's about steam, you know I'm in. Other than Zeigler, who else in the plant knows diddly-squat about it? And I taught him most of what HE knows."
We ate lunch together. I enjoyed that. It was really nice to talk to her again, in complete civility, even if it was all strictly business. I have as much passion for my work as she does for hers. We've always had that in common.
But I remain an ex-husband to her. I am a "resource" and a "subject matter expert," for this project, and that's it. But I'll be exactly that if she needs me to do that job. She knows where to go to find the right people to make herself look good, but I wouldn't turn down the assignment if it came from someone else.
I'll do it. That's my job.
But somebody in my comments nailed the situation just right. I don't hate her. I still love her. And I will for a long, long time.
All content © Rob Smith