A Man Among Women


Sam's prognosis of Bob's experiences with each company ended up being right on target. Within a couple of weeks he had visited each company and received offers. The medical company was the only one he took seriously; he liked the people, he liked the culture and their offer was competitive, no worse than a break even over his current compensation with the expectation of rapid improvement.

He called Sam and arranged a couple of days of leave to visit the home office. He had studied the material Sam has provided and had visited their sales locations in a number of cities. Sam had sent him additional material on the people who would interview with to include specific, "hot buttons".

So it was that he flew into the Sun Belt city on Sunday evening; Sam met him at the airport and drove him back to his hotel. The two men shared dinner as Sam gave Bob the final run down on the interview process.

A little after 9:00 AM on Monday morning, Sam escorted him into the chairman's office, and made the introductions. Bob knew she was in her middle sixties but she was still a strikingly attractive woman. He ended up spending the next three hours with her. Toward the end, they were exchanging humorous war stories from their respective military service. Bob found her to be one of the most impressive people he had ever met. They clicked.

"Bob, we're going to go to lunch with several of my direct reports, some of whom will spend time with you this afternoon. I'm guilty of a bit of subterfuge here; I'm thinking of hiring you for a consulting gig, or so I've let on. If things work out well, we'll get down to the details---just you and me---tomorrow. Work with me on this one, okay?"

"You've got it."

The four women who joined them for lunch, all in their forties, were every bit as stunning and sharp as their boss was. He knew he was being checked out and evaluated on several levels. The probing became more intense as the afternoon interviews progressed. Be yourself, Bob and let the chips fall. The following day he would interview with several of the Area Managers who were flying in for a conference. There were four Area Managers---all women---with Regions, Districts, Sectors, and smaller units under them. At the end of the day he rejoined the founder and Sam.

"You did very well, Bob, they were all impressed. This evening you're going to join me for dinner and meet the four area managers. They are all responsible for the key P&L centers of the corporation. One or more of the folks you met with today may join us and Sam will be joining us also. I'm going to turn you back over to Sam so that you can go freshen up. We'll see you again in a couple of hours."

Sam and Bob chatted on the way back to his hotel. "Bob, while they were all very impressed, remember, they're seeing you as a consultant who comes and then goes---not one of them. That was our dear founder's idea to make you acceptable before they discover that you're one of them, so to speak. Tonight a dinner, the four area managers will be checking you out like hawks; keep your guard up."

The four women in question were closer to Bob in age. All were stunning and there wasn't a fool in the bunch. He listened and occasionally asked thoughtful questions. He intentionally changed seats a couple of times so that he could spend one on one time with each of them. He was an outsider and a man but none of them missed the way the chairman interacted with him. They found themselves liking him but weren't ready to turn their backs on him just yet.

The next morning he had breakfast early at the hotel with Sam. "How am I doing coach?"

"Even better than I expected. Today you're going to have brief one on ones with the four of them followed by lunch---a long lunch---with the chairman and then we'll get you out of here."

During the several hours of interviews he was tested, tested on his business acumen, tested on his knowledge of this company and tested as a man. A couple of them flirted; he neither bit nor got uncomfortable. He knew he was being evaluated for a job not a fuck, although any of the four women would have been extremely interesting pursuits. They were stunningly attractive, articulate, vivacious, charming and bright. Then it was time for lunch.

"What keeps you up at night as it regards this company?" He asked pointedly, taking charge of his final interview.

"I'll gladly share that with you, but I'd be interested in knowing what you think keeps me up at night."

And so Bob told her. Their customer base was boomer women; they were getting older. There market center was in malls and department stores; people were moving away from those traditional shopping venues to big box stores, drug chains, catalogue sales and the internet. While they had no competition at their price point, they were being nicked at from above and below and seriously needed to consider horizontal integration into an economy line and a super premium offering. Men snuck in and used their wives' skin care products---but would never buy them for themselves. Why not a men's line of products? Their marketing dollars were too concentrated on their existing customer base who had used their products for years, liked them and weren't likely to be spurred into buying them by a slick ad campaign since they already were committed customers.

Their daughters, on the other hand saw the companies fare as, old fashioned' or 'what my mom uses'. The labor costs associated with their store based merchandizing were high and most of their existing customers who bought in those stores didn't need the amount of service they were offered to keep buying. There was no exclusivity---every department store had their products and the company paid the stores for the right to be there. Why not turn it around? Customers came to a particular store often because the company's products were available there---and invariably bought something else. The company's line was the draw; make it hard to get and a competitive draw. Develop a limited economy line for the drug chains and big boxes while also developing a super premium and expensive line to challenge the higher price point. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

"Well, you hit all of the things that keep me up at night and a couple I hadn't even thought of. Would you consider putting this into a marketing plan, get it down on paper, so we can see where we need to move?"

"I already have. It's bare bones, it needs to be fleshed out and given life but the essence is there. I have a copy here. It's yours if you'd like it."

"Aren't you afraid I'll steal your ideas?" The chairman said with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Hardly! That would be unethical and that's not the way you do business."

The chairman spent quite a while reviewing Bob's marketing plan. It was a roadmap for reorganization and far more detailed than Bob had indicated. Brilliant, humble...damn!

"I'll be right back; make yourself comfortable." The chairman said, returning fifteen minutes later with Sam in tow.

"Okay, Bob, it's crunch time. I had planned to bring you in as a , 'Special Assistant to the Chairman', a quasi-consultant, give you a few months to get your sea legs and then plug you in to Mary's job as Area Manager in Dallas. Mary's due for promotion; she's pretty damned sharp. Now I want to spin something a little different in your direction."

The chairman continued. "You still need to get out and meet everyone, at least all of the managers. You've demonstrated that you understand this company and its markets better than many of our managers---and every real consultant we've ever hired. You have uncanny analytical skills. We've spent millions on consultants and not gotten anything as valuable as you just handed me. Let's go with the canard of, 'consultant' reporting to me for a month or so. First month you hit the road. Second month you put together a staff, from inside and outside, put together a working group, expand it to a task force and then take your 'bones' and turn them into a executable plan---detailed. At that time, I intend to promote you to Senior Vice President of, oh, how about Strategic Development---reporting to me and sitting on the executive committee. Clear it with me first, but plan to bring people up here from the field that impress you. You also should consider outside resources. Are you still with me?"

Had he not been a combat trained officer, his head would have been spinning. This was unfolding beyond anything Bob had expected.

"Not to digress, but I've got a good friend, one of my MBA professors who is getting ready to take a sabbatical. I think he would be very useful. Dr. Fuller is his name; he's written a couple of well received books on this type of business reorg." Bob said.

"You know Fuller? Well of course you do. I'd be tickled. I've read his most recent book. We're of the same mind. Make it happen. By the way, when can you start?"

"I have terminal leave coming and my boss is very understanding. He's selected my successor and my command would technically be up in two weeks anyway. We can move up the change-of-command a few days."

"Who do you report to, anyway?"

"On paper I report to the Division commander, a two star general but in real life I 'work' for the Division Executive Officer, a full colonel."

"Oh, and now I suppose you'd like to know how we're going to compensate you for your efforts? Here's what I'm thinking and Sam is with me on this. Pardon the pen and ink changes, we'll get it retyped before you sign it. Our benefits are extremely competitive and this would include stock options, car and all the crap that usually goes with a job at this level. There's the bottom line, before profit sharing, 401K matching and stock options. Oh, and by the way, as sweet as ma'am is, my name is Virginia and my friend and most people call me Ginnie."

The amount before Bob's eyes was four times the starting offers the other companies had made for an entry level manager. It went up substantially after three months. He was not going to be entry level; he was going to be at the center of change---an agent of change. It was all he could do to keep from saying, yes!

"Ginnie, my inclination is to say yes, on the spot. Your offer is both flattering and generous. I can think of no reason why I would refuse it. This is a huge task before us. I'd ask your indulgence to let me sleep on it and be sure in my mind and my heart that I won't disappoint you."

"Ah, you said us! That's what I needed to hear. So be it. Sam will expect your call before noon tomorrow. Now, as much as I have thoroughly enjoyed this, I actually have other work to do and irritating stock holders to meet with. Get out of here guys!" Ginnie said, giving Bob an almost motherly hug before he left. Sam drove Bob back to the airport.

"What have you gotten me into evil, HR person!" Bob quipped as they drove to the airport.

"Look Bob, no one has wowed the old lady like you did in my memory. And believe it or not, there wasn't a single negative comment from the other eight or so women you interviewed with---and even female hires don't achieve that level of perfection. She's convinced that you're the real deal---as I was from the first time I met you. I didn't oversell you, you sold yourself. Get ready for a wild ride. You are going to say yes, aren't you?"

"In all probability. Look, if you don't hear from me by noon tomorrow, it's a yes. Is that fair enough?"

Bob got his release from active duty within two weeks and started his new job a couple of days later while still technically on terminal leave.

He spent the next few weeks under cover of his, "consulting contract" traveling around the country meeting with each of the four area managers or VPs. Each would have brought all of her region and, in some cases, district managers in for a staff meeting which he attended. It was at one of the meetings, in Dallas, Texas, that he heard a familiar voice call to him from across the office.


He almost didn't recognize her. "Lieutenant? Megan? Small world!"

She almost ran across the office to give him a big hug to the fascination of the other female executives present. They broke the embrace and he looked at her closely. Yep, she fit here with all of these other stunningly attractive---and smart---women.

"Well, Lieutenant, you certainly do clean up pretty well. I had no idea you were working here."

"Captain, I..."

"It's Bob, Megan just Bob. I'm out of the Army and you certainly have been for a while."

The two old friends chatted for a few minutes and then split up to attend to other things. Megan was a recently promoted region manager; her boss, who was a VP, motioned her over to her office and closed the door behind them.

"Where do you know Bob from, Megan?"

"He was my commander on the other side of the world in a very depressing little country when I was flying medivac in the Army."

"Did you and he..."

"Oh heavens no! Not that I wouldn't have in a heart beat. But he wouldn't have. With all due respect, he was the greatest boss I ever had---probably ever will have. I wouldn't be who I am today without him. Hell, I probably wouldn't be alive today. Have we got a few minutes?"

"Sure, sit down, let's chat. Tell me about Bob."

"Mary, in a lifetime, you meet a few people that change your life, that really make an impact on what you become and who you are. It could be a favorite teacher or professor, a business mentor, whatever. A few years ago, we all recognized that the world changed. A bunch of bright eyed and busy tailed kids, mostly women, who were still caught up in the novelty of being shit hot Army Aviators got sent to a very bad place to accomplish a very important mission---saving lives. None of us ever expected to see combat or be shot at---or see kids not much younger than we were half dead or worse. All of our youthful over confidence evaporated."

"We didn't have anything approaching unit integrity; we were just a disorganized, screwed up gaggle. Our original commander from stateside, a woman, I'm sorry to say, couldn't handle the stress and ended up being relieved of command almost immediately. And then one day, that tall drink of water slipped into our camp and did what he had been sent there to do---he took command. We were terrified of him at first. He'd been in combat before, flying covert missions in another combat operation. He was no nonsense. He expected us to act like officers and look like officers. He instituted a crash training regimen that was tougher than anything we had ever done before. He made us re-qualify with our weapons, do physical training every day, practice hand to hand combat and fly training missions in every spare moment. He relieved some people and promoted others. A little over six weeks later, we deployed with the main assault force and set up a primitive field base near the border."

"No hot showers, no flush toilets, no PX and other than a company of Marines out on the perimeter, not a hell of a lot of security. We dug fighting holes---he never liked the term fox hole---and learned how to defend our perimeter. There was a field hospital about fifty miles to our rear, just across the border. And very quickly, we got called into action to do our job---evacuating wounded soldiers and Marines. We got shot at some times; several were wounded. One pilot and two crew members were killed. And it didn't matter what time of the day or night we went out or came back, there was, 'the Captain', to see us off, to check on us when we came back or right there next to us in that helicopter. And when the really bad missions came along, when the weather was crap and it was dark and there were bad guys shooting, he was right there, sitting in the left seat, leading from the front like great commanders tend to do. And late at night when a couple of young pilots would get lost and scared returning from the hospital, he was there on the radio, always calm but always in command, bringing his babies home to safety. When a chopper went down, you always knew 'the Captain' would come looking for you and take you home---and he always did. And, man or woman, when you came back from that mission that left you devastated because your guy didn't make it---you didn't get to him in time, you didn't get him to the hospital soon enough---'the Captain' was there with the right words and a hug when you desperately needed it."

"He flew with me one night before I became an Aircraft Commander. I assumed he'd take the controls and make the extraction. It was night, we were taking fire and he had done it a hundred times. I didn't think I could do the mission; he told me I could and would. He found the strength I had deep inside and helped me yank it to the surface. He trusted me more than I trusted me---and he was right, I did it right---that's one we saved. I told him afterwards how scared I had been. He told me he was just as scared, but I'm not sure I ever believed it---we never saw a hint of it."

"Look, Mary, I know you don't know much about the Army, but he was awarded a Silver Star, one of many awards he received. It's the nation's third highest award for valor under fire. It's probably the highest award that's been given in the last thirty years that wasn't given posthumously—and he could have won a dozen of them. He was always cool, calm and collected. He was always measured; he never raised his voice or lost his temper. He always knew what to do; he always had a plan and it invariably was the right plan. He turned us into soldiers and officers and damned fine Army Aviators. He made us proud of ourselves."

"Two more anecdotes, and then I know we need to get started with the meeting. He flew with me one night when we didn't get there in time. The kid died in the back of the chopper. Bob turned the aircraft over to me and climbed over the seat to try to get pressure on a bleeder when the medic and the crew chief had run out of hands. He just wouldn't let go of that kid. The medic said, 'he's gone sir; we did everything we could.' All Bob said was, 'it wasn't enough, was it, Smitty?' He climbed back over the seat, strapped in and said, 'I've got the controls' and we flew in silence to the hospital. He was covered in that kid's blood. We dropped his body off and returned to our base. He'd usually stay and chat with the crew and help them do their post flight. He just walked off to the command tent without saying a word. After we finished up, I walked over to the tent; he was sitting there in his field chair, slumped down, looking off into space, still covered in blood."

"I didn't know what to say. I could see that his eyes were red. 'Is everything okay, sir?' I said pathetically. I'll never forget his words. 'He wasn't the first that we---I---didn't get to in time, Lieutenant. He won't be the last, but it never get's any easier. I can rationalize that we did everything humanly possible---everything that is expected of us---but it wasn't enough. When I write that letter to his parents or his wife and tell them how hard he fought to live and tell them how sorry I am that he didn't and how I wish we'd saved him, it provides some closure but your never forget their faces.' 'Sir, I thought the unit commanders wrote those letters.' I said. He replied. 'They do, but so do I; I feel like I owe it to their memory. This one will be number twelve. I'm not sure how many more of those letters I have in me.' An hour later he strolled into the mess tent for midnight mess in a clean uniform, chatted with the returning crews and was, 'the Captain' again."

"The last mission I flew with him was thirty days after he was supposed to have already gone home. He fought with higher HQ to get his Executive Officer, a female, to succeed him. He'd finally won the battle and would leave country in three or four days. He took the controls just before we started our approach; we were taking sporadic fire. `I guess I ought to do one more of these before I go home.' He said, and then a couple of minutes later changed his mind and gave me the aircraft. `Hell, Megan, you need the practice more than I do.' It was a hairy extraction. We were taking too much fire on our first attempt and had to go to plan `B'. I flew; he talked me down and then back out again while handling the radios and directing our attack escort. It wasn't until we got back to altitude that I saw the blood dripping off the bottom of his crew seat. I almost flipped out."

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