A few months after I finished college, I got a job with a reputable firm and started working in the big city. After two weeks of training and not knowing anything about anything, my manager Jon, called me to his office and said that we have just signed a big contract to do some work in New York City.
“You are going to love this! They are on Park Avenue and in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the City. We will stay at a nearby hotel and just walk there. Have you ever been to New York?”
“I transited through JFK when I first came to the US, but have never spent any time in the City.” I was so excited! This was going to be great. I figured that Jon was going to do all the work and I just tag along, learn what to do and enjoy the night life and the restaurants! Well, that dream didn’t last for too long!
On the first day of the project at the client, Jon introduced me to the project sponsor, a hotshot VP and his team of managers and engineers. They assigned a nice, middle-age Indian guy to follow me around and learn from me! Imagine that, a blind leading a blind! His name was Gopal Khar! As soon as he gave me his business card, all I could think of was, “I hope this guy doesn’t know any Iranians, or not planning to visit Iran anytime soon! He is not going to like the jokes about his name!”
Jon and I set up some interviews with key guys on the top floor and had everything ready for the following day. That night Jon took me to the famous Italian restaurant Angelo’s where the mob bosses used to hang out. After a big dinner and a few gin and tonics, Jon was ready to break the news to me.
“I am from a small town in Kansas. I married my high school sweetheart and then I was drafted to Vietnam. When I came back, I was a different person. I had an injury and couldn’t have children. We tried to work it out, but it was impossible. I gave her the house and left with my suitcase. I moved to the big city, got an education and became an international consultant. I lived in New York, London and Hong Kong. I met an airline stewardess. We dated for a while and then got married. We spent weekends together in exotic places. We bought a condo together in Acapulco. But we grew apart. We got a divorce. She got the condo and I moved on. Six months ago I met this great woman. She has a ten-year-old daughter. We got married. I promised her that I would be a good father to her daughter. I promised that I would not travel anymore. So, you see, I am going back to the West Coast tomorrow morning, but if you need any help, I will be available on the phone anytime you want. You can do this, I am sure!”
All of a sudden, my whole world collapsed around me. I didn’t know what to say, but couldn’t show any signs of panic. I just smiled and said, “Don’t worry Jon. The client is very friendly and you have a good reputation here. Your family comes first. I’ll call you every day to let you know what is happening.”
Back at the hotel, I sat by the window and watched the cabbies on Lexington Avenue. My whole life flashed in front of me. “How am I going to do this? I don’t know anything about Corporate America, and now I am supposed to tell the people twice my age how to run their business.” I was full of self-doubt and negative feelings. I cursed the Shah, Khomeini and everybody else that I could think of that had put me and many other young people like me in this kind of a situation; the hostage crisis, the long war, the daily negative news about Iran, the constant anti-US rants by Khomeini and the chants of “Death to America.”
“Why can’t I be from a place like Nepal or Belgium that nobody knows about? So what, if I screw up. They will fire us and then I lose my job and if I can’t find anything else, I will have to go back to Iran, grow a beard, pray five times a day and marry a chick in Chador!” With those thoughts, I fell asleep.
The next day, Gopal and I took the elevator to the top floor and started our interviews with the executives. Gopal sat quietly and took notes. They told me about their problems, challenges and requirements. After a while, everything began to make sense. A picture was emerging and I was feeling more and more comfortable about what I needed to do. I called Jon that evening and gave him the positive news. He was happy and gave me a few pointers.
On Thursday morning we had set up an interview with the number two man at the client. He was the head of Mergers and Acquisitions and was managing billions of dollars of assets. His name was Ivan and he had immigrated to the US from the Soviet block in the early 70’s. Gopal seemed very nervous about the meeting. He tried to bail out of the interview, but felt bad about abandoning me. On the elevator ride to the top floor he gave me the details.
“His name is Ivan, but everyone calls him Ivan, The Horrible! Everyone tries to stay out of his way. And he definitely doesn’t like consultants! Last year, he verbally abused a consultant so bad that the poor girl broke down and quit on the spot.”
I was very curious to meet this Ivan creature! We gave our business cards to his secretary and watched as she passed them on to him behind the glass door office. He briefly glanced at Gopal and I, threw the cards on the big mahogany table, and then got on the phone. We sat outside his office and waited and waited as he was making calls after calls. By now, I had figured out his mind game, but I was not going to sit there and let him play that game on me.
I quietly whispered to Gopal, “He seems very busy today. I am going to re-schedule the meeting for next week. I have a flight to catch in the early afternoon.” Gopal almost had a heart attack! “We can’t do that. Nobody cancels a meeting with Mr. Ivan!”
I completely ignored Gopal and walked towards the receptionist and said, “The gentleman seems very busy. I would like to re-schedule for next week. I’ll call you later today and set it up.” She did not anticipate that from me. She quickly got up, knocked on the door and went inside and gave Ivan the news. She then came out and said that he would see us in a minute.
As we were sitting on the lower chairs on the opposite side of the big mahogany table, he looked at Gopal. “Why are we hiring consultants from the West Coast? You guys can’t find anybody from around here?” Before Gopal could open his mouth and pee all over himself I jumped in and explained our long standing relationship and our knowledge of his company and then quickly shifted gear to the interview and my questions.
I was going through my questions and taking notes as he was talking and not looking at me! I then asked him how he goes about making his decisions and the reports that he frequently uses. Without turning around, he grabbed a one-inch binder from the bookcase behind him and threw it in my direction. “Here is what I use!” He said.
The binder was coming at me at full speed! As it was passing by my left ear, and without taking a look or losing my concentration, I grabbed the binder and gently put it on the table! You see, as kids, my friends and I were good at catching flies and put them in empty jars as they were buzzing around us. I had spent hours with my friends catching flying objects such as flies, oranges and pomegranates, so catching the flying binder was not a big deal!
Gopal’s face had turned white! He hadn’t seen anything like this before. I continued with the interview as if nothing had happened. He had taken his best shot at me but was defeated at his own game! His tone changed dramatically after that and he became very cooperative.
Gopal was quiet as we got on the elevator and headed back to our floor. I quickly grabbed my stuff and headed to the Airport. As I was making my cross country journey, a lot was happening on both coasts! Gopal went to his manager’s office and gave him a blow-by-blow account of what had happened. Then they both went to the hotshot VP’s office and repeated the whole thing. The VP called Jon and brought him up to speed. And Jon went to the Managing Partner’s office and told him about my encounter with Ivan, The Horrible!
The next morning Jon was waiting for me at my cubicle. “I heard about your meeting with Ivan. Are you Ok? I hope that you are not going to quit over this.”
I just laughed, “He is no big deal. I have caught bigger flies than him!”