Rich and I got in a fight on email, in 1996: I had two responsibilities in my job, and one of them was to collect information from secretaries once a month. I sent a form email to all of them, requesting they tell me which Starbucks stores were attached to which Starbucks district managers, and then I consolidated that information in a Word file and sent it to someone in Payroll, to divy out the bonuses.
Lisa, in California, never replied to my emails. There was the follow-up email #1 and then the inevitable follow-up email #2, where I’d need to get stern.
The pattern repeated itself until one day, I ratcheted it up a notch and copied her boss, Rich.
Rich fired back right away, with all the brevity of a VP including mis-spellings and incorrect capitalizations, and the comment “if you want to chew someone out on email, don’t copy their boss.” (He put my boss on the Cc.)
I complained about Rich and called him a dick to my co-workers. A few months later, his secretary (Lisa) moved up from California with Rich’s boss, John. John was three levels above my boss, and now I had to serve as a lesser secretary to Lisa, who never replied to my emails.
Lisa and I hit it off. We started going out to lunch in Chinatown; she had a convertible. She was alone and I was alone but we knew we would never get together, and that was fine. We had Lonely in common.
Then, Rich moved to Seattle. He was to become our new VP, and occupy the office just outside my cube.
He was thin, tall, wore glasses, smiled a lot, and bounced his right leg in meetings, when he talked. The right leg bouncing was a metronome. He set the tone. It was fast.
Rich had pictures of his kids by his computer and was there well before 7 every morning, his hair still wet from the shower, always at his desk still when I left, at 5.
One Monday my boss said Rich wants to see you in his office, which was unusual, so I stiffened my posture and confronted him there, in his doorway.
I had advanced from secretary to communications specialist by this time, and learned from Rich that one of our stores in Manhattan was trying to organize a labor union. Could I help with their communications plan? Rich was flying to NYC at 1 PM that same day, and asked if I could join him. It was about 10:30 AM.
I didn’t travel for Starbucks and I didn’t know exactly what I’d do to help with the union-situation in Manhattan, but I leapt into action, called Dawn, and got a cab.
When we got to the office in Midtown the next morning I walked in behind Rich, met the HR director who looked stressed-out and rattled, and asked if he would hold on sending any further communications to the stores, until after I had reviewed everything that had been sent, to date.
There was a combination of Legal, HR, and Operations people there from Seattle and New York. They were mostly VPs, and we learned that our CEO was also going to drop by, along with the executive HR leader who was being asked to rework a trip he had planned to Europe.
I felt like the only “doer.” So I led a roles and responsibilities discussion. It seemed the right place to start: who’s responsible for what? Rich, and the other VPs looked back at me politely as I wrote on the whiteboard. My technique was crude, but I was enthusiastic.
The next two days are a blur in that conference room. I took notes and listened as everyone worked through it. Things change when you’re in the same room as the CEO, I learned.
On our last meeting there, Rich asked our CEO if I could catch a ride with him on his jet, back to Seattle.
He agreed and told me to contact his assistant. They were leaving the next day in the afternoon, and Carol told me where they would be. She said, just be there when they come out of the building and don’t be late. They won’t wait for you.
A couple weeks later, Rich spoke proudly of me in front of my department, and I got a round of applause.
Now, he lives around the corner from us in the same neighborhood. He helped me figure out how to start my generator last fall, and offered to help us catch a mole in our back yard. He and his wife brought us cookies on Christmas.
People are rarely made better by what they write on email.