Over the years, many people have told me that I should write a book due to the unbelievable number of anecdotes emanating from thousands of meetings and interviews. Every business book you have ever read on ‘Dressing for Success’ starts out screaming at the reader that one only has 3 seconds to make a good first impression. Unfortunately, far too many people base their so-called great instincts on first impressions. Over the years, the one thing that is clear to me, is that they are usually totally wrong.
Growing up in England with an extremely well-connected and elegant grandmother, I was constantly being chastened about my behavior, and told that a model child should be ‘Seen and Not Heard’, “Speak you are spoken to’ , ‘Say ‘yes, please, no, I beg your pardon’, and respectful of elders. This was repeated AD NASEUM, and was learned the hard way. Being high energy, precocious, and inquisitive were not welcomed. The smallest squeak, and I was dragged out of whatever restaurant, party or private home, and delivered home, to consider my actions. Other words of wisdom included the very interesting moniker, ‘always treat everyone you meet politely and equally. You never know when the man you believe is the gardener is the Lord of the Manor, and the upper-class twit with the attitude and holier-than-thou airs, is in fact the butler.
The other one I loved was ‘Treat your servants with kindness and the utmost of respect as they know all your darkest, deepest secrets”. As painful as was this learning experience, as useful it has become as an adult.
Several years ago, I was in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and met an older couple in their mid to late seventies. They allowed me to sit with them, and after speaking with them for some time, they kindly invited me to tea. They were the epitome of charming, but more importantly, they were totally smitten with one another even after 50 years of marriage. They kept sneaking little touches and glances at one another, the rub of a hand or arm, and the look in their eyes. ..it was like being with 2 love struck teenagers. They were absolutely charming.
Both of them were wearing clothes that were old and frayed. In the course of the afternoon , they lost 19 pounds on the races, and decided to leave before the last race and the rush for the car parks. They insisted that I look them up upon my next trip to London and join them for tea.
Later on, I ran into some of my friends and was quizzed about my relationship with them. I said that I had only just met them, but had enjoyed a thoroughly delightful afternoon in their company. Once the laughter had subsided, one of my friends asked if I had any idea who they were other than a ‘sweet older couple’ . I replied that I had their names but little else. I was then informed that they reside in an enormous castle with artworks on the walls which most museum curators would die for.
There was no attitude, no pretention….they were totally unassuming and self effacing. I enjoyed every second I spent with them, the gift of their gentleness and love makes me smile as I write. To continue in the theme….
I finally got to learn first hand the expression ‘flabbergasted’ or ‘dumbstruck’ when in the company of another acquaintance.
We were on a trip together, and this individual regularly struck up conversations with total strangers in restaurants, shops, bars, always talking about himself and his amazing ‘lifestyle’ . A bubbly personality who is larger than life, and has an incredible ability to create a buzz about himself.
People flock like flies to honey. Entertaining stories about international trips to exotic locales, island retreats, New York, Palm Beach, private jets, eating in some of the ‘hottest’ restaurants and clubs in the world. Total strangers flock to be part of the ‘action’ total strangers pick up the tab in bars and restaurants. Invitations are extended for even more fabulous parties. It is extraordinary how highly successful business people and politicians are drawn in as if by a magnet, unable to stop themselves.
It is as if they all are hoping that some of this exotic lifestyle and success will rub off. By being in the presence of such an amazing individual, it will somehow render them more desirable. The harsh reality of this individual, is that they are virtually bankrupt. A rented car, a rented apartment, no savings, credit cards maxed out.
This example relates equally to both sexes, the fast talking merchant banker in the $5000 suits and $120,000 car talking about his multi- million dollar deals. Lies in a room in a private club in one city, in a shack in the poor part of another city. Wears the most amazing designer clothes….all purchased in Vintage stores for a fraction of the retail price. The girls swoon over him, see instant husband material, and can visualize their glamorous lifestyles with him jetting around the planet to their even more glamorous homes.
No-one pays the nerdy, pimply computer kid any attention. He is ignored when he tries to shop, be it for clothes, a car, or in a restaurant. The service staff automatically assume he is broke, and they would rather serve someone who has the means. How wrong they are. He is worth over $100 million and is under 30. …and he won’t forget.There are many urban legends about people like him buying a business only to be able to fire the people who treated him poorly.
I recently interviewed a young Asian fellow for a technical computer position. Upon shaking his hand and feeling the strength in it, I looked up at his arms and shoulders, then inquired which Martial Arts he studied. He looked at me strangely, and inquired if because he was Asian I was singling him out. I looked at him quizzically and offered an answer that was totally unexpected. It was that due to the strength of his handshake and the musculature of his arms and shoulders, it was clear to me that he did. He then looked at me, smiled, and inquired if in fact I had also studied Martial Arts. I told him yes, I had, that I had looked at Jiu Jitsu, Karate and Kendo. We ended up having a very interesting conversation about Martial Arts and Southeast Asia. It turned out that he had only been to Asia for 3 days in his life, and spoke virtually no Vietnamese, where I had spent considerable time there, and had a much deeper knowledge and understanding of various Asian cultures.
The last person in the world with which he expected to have a conversation like this one, was with a white female.
He thanked me at the end of our meeting for what was one of the most interesting 2 hours of his life. For many years, I have been visiting Palm Beach, Florida, during the winter, and realized after many years that one of the things I like the most is the lack of ‘attitude’ with the service staff in the shops and restaurants. As they are serving some of the wealthiest people in the US, there is no way to know whether the person in the torn jeans is poor or worth millions, so they err on the side of politeness. It is wonderful.
Perhaps it is time for most businesses to take a lesson from this tiny town. All of us have experienced the wrath of the ‘clip-board’ gate-keeper from hell, been given a table next to the toilet, or left standing for ages when we are in a rush, so that the staff can finish their personal telephone call to their best friend. I have taken to walking out of establishments that allow this type of behavior. Over time, it has been interesting to note what percentage of them disappear.
The longest standing restaurants and shops are the ones who recognize their customers and treat them accordingly. As the person who pays their bills.
Keep reading….there will be more on this subject……….