Not long ago the BIG boss from New York came for a visit to our satellite office in India. It was a brief visit of two days, part of his quarterly global trek to hit all the company's Asian back office sites. He was penciled in for a dizzy schedule of jet lag and meetings.
I don't know this guy very well. At this company, you aren't supposed to know the boss very well. He's quite a few years younger than me even if he is quite a few dollars more to the positive. Maybe early 30s, I'm guessing, and a multi-millionaire to boot. Not bad according to the standards of success in America.
The night I met him he was just coming in the office door having been taken out by a driver for a late meal. It was about 2:30am which is part of a regular outsourced office day on this side of the world. The CEO looked flushed and breathless as I extended my hand. For all the world, he appeared to be a man caught with both hands in the cookie jar rather than the vital bloodline of a giant company. I asked if anything was wrong.
The CEO told me that he had asked his driver if he could just get out and walk for a few minutes. Having been stuck on a plane for days, he wanted a stretch. Missing his daily jog, perhaps. On this night, it just so happened that his idea of a breath of fresh air attracted a gang of Indian street dogs, always hungry and wondering why a lone pale guy was speed walking through their territory. They barked and he ran. The louder the dogs howled, the more distance the CEO tried to gain. He was unsuccessful, surrounded and helpless until the driver, who was near at hand, shooed the dogs away.
I could picture this well-suited American captain of industry on the bleak, humid road with the street dogs following fast, then pinning him in the center of a circle. It wasn't that he was a weak prey or smelled of food. "They knew," he said.
I nodded but asked inside, "What did they know?"
Hearing him recover his uneven breath, seeing his too wide eyes, I realized had become a witness to waning fear. It was evident the young millionaire had scanned his mental MBA training manual and came up short on what he should have done instead of what he did do. He knew how to make a dollar, many dollars but he was clearly as uncertain of himself as a driver whose brand new car takes a big, scary skid. The CEO lived to tell the tale and that was a victory, but there was something more in his face. Doubt. Should have's. He stared beyond me as he spoke, fascinated and occupied, as if the trial of peril he had just endured was a short film rolling again and again in his head.
From the outside, the man was a king of his professional hill. The practiced poise, the succinct words and the correct business judgment calls were all there but so was the flash of another more awkward and much younger man. I kept thinking that the full fledged, envied adult before me had just retro-ed to a time when he wasn't so sure or so rich. A time when peer pressure squeezed him a little too hard. I wanted to ask about this, but of course, I didn't. He was still reminding with body language that he was once, and could still be, vulnerable to things that money and power didn't insulate him from.
With all due speed, relying on his status as a world citizen and an important one at that, he visibly pulled himself together. His high color and slightly off kilter clothes were the only leftover signs that he had been, moments before, running for his life. Within one minute he had fully reclaimed his outward stature as boss-in-control, although I was just about the only one left in the office to notice.
The rest of our shared words were unimportant. My parting thoughts weren't about a man of wealth or fame who had done good early and was probably set for life. I thought about the guy who ran away. The rest of the work night passed quickly and at home, I had an excellent breakfast which I shared in good spirits with my husband and companions, two Indian street dogs.