“Is Robert M. in the room?” The 80-person audience looks around; a few second-year students roll their eyes and prepare themselves for a lengthy diatribe. “Well, I wish he were here,” continues the CEO, “because I’d like to defend my company against people who share his opinion. Let me read you the letter I received from him.” The CEO proceeds to read the letter Robert sent to the company two weeks prior. My letter kindly, respectfully, and firmly asks (paraphrase):
“Why are you giving a speech along with this other organization, when your two mission statements are the polar opposites? Your company does ‘this’ to the environment, while that organization promotes ‘that’ to the environment.”
The CEO continues to read my letter to the audience, word for word. Eventually his message changes gears and he discusses his company and its place in the economy. Unfortunately, I'm not attending the speech, which makes the situation worse. Now, instead of understanding that the CEO enjoyed the letter and used it as a platform from which to give an otherwise pedestrian 30-minute speech (which ended up lasting over an hour), the tightly-wound, sycophantic, second-year students begin to feel incensed. Minding my own business at home, I get a phone call from an irate MBA second-year, ex-Marine drill sergeant reprimanding me for my inappropriate letter and lack of judgment. To be fair, he was correct. It was not appropriate to send a letter to an upcoming guest speaker. But on the flip side, isn’t activism a big part of college? Perhaps not in the obsequious world of B-school – but that’s beside the point…
After hearing Ex-Marine’s one-sided tale of horror, I feel awful. I’ve let down my school, my classmates, and even my classmate’s chances of finding a job in said company. I proceed to write a big apology letter to the students in attendance, and a separate letter to the CEO himself. I go way overboard. That’s just my style.
About three days later, after the furor dies down and school gossip has shifted to more mundane topics, I get a phone call from the CEO. “Man, I hope I didn’t get you in trouble. I thought your letter was great. It gave me a good chance to talk about my company, and to confront one of the biggest political issues we currently face… How about lunch next month? Call my secretary to set it up.”
Uh, okay. I’ll call your secretary and set up a lunch with you. And as March 2nd approaches, secretary calls me to confirm lunch. We have lunch. Lunch is great. Good times, good talks, good conversations about our two lives, the future of his company, and the future of Houston. CEO is particularly passionate about the state of education in Houston. An hour passes; CEO invites my wife and me to his private party a few weeks later. Sure. No problem. Thanks for meeting with me. Have a nice day.