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San Antonio, Texas, four years later
After the producer's assistant attached a small black microphone to the lapel of Riana's burgundy suit, he gave her a thumbs-up and disappeared into the dark shadows surrounding the brightly lit set. Riana stared at the television camera that was positioned directly in front of the sofa where she was sitting and took a deep breath, eager to get the interview started. She crossed her hands and placed them in her lap, making sure that her silver watch, her Tiffany charm bracelet and the diamond-and-ruby ring on her right hand were angled toward the camera.
Her mind clicked through the short list of talking points that she wanted to address, hoping that Sheri Sherman, the host of Community Business Focus, would not hog the interview, as she was known to do. Sheri was a gregarious, energetic television personality who conducted extensive research on the major players in the local business community and loved to pass along her knowledge in a chatty, informal style. It was well known that her guests had to seize control of the interview from the beginning. However, an appearance on Sheri's half-hour show could be more valuable than a sixty-second prime-time commercial, and every businessperson in San Antonio coveted an invitation to sit down and talk with her.
"Let's do it," Sheri called out to the floor director as she swept onto the set and sat down in the fake Louis xv armchair next to the sofa. She was dressed in a bold red pantsuit with black satin lapels. The ruby and silver beads around her neck were oversized, dramatic and genuine; as were the rings she was wearing on each finger. With a flip of her long thin braids, sheturned to Riana and blessed her with a wide grin. "You ready, girlfriend?"
"Absolutely," Riana replied, licking her lips and praying that she didn't have lipstick on her teeth. Too late now, she told herself as the director counted down from five and then leveled a pointed finger in Sheri's direction.
"Hello, everyone," Sheri began. "Welcome to Community Business Focus, where you get to meet the up-and-coming business leaders of our city. My guest today is Riana Cole, CEO of Executive Suites, Inc., an executive search firm based here in San Antonio." Sheri shifted slightly and turned her attention to Riana, flashing another TV-perfect smile. "I'm so happy to have you here with me today, Riana."
"My pleasure," Riana replied in her most professional tone.
"How about a little background. You're a native of San Antonio, aren't you?"
"Correct. Born and raised right here, though I did leave to attend the University of Texas at Austin, and after getting my undergraduate and my master's degree in Economics there, I came back home. I love this city and wouldn't think of living anywhere else."
"I know what you mean. You still have family here?"
"Only a sister. My parents retired and moved to San Marcos in the Hill Country a few years ago, but they come back to the city quite often. It's hard to leave San Antonio completely."
"So true, so true. But San Marcos is just up the road. I know it means a lot to have family nearby." She widened her grin and slid her tongue over her shiny white teeth, as if making sure she didn't have lipstick on them. "Now, I understand that your company, Executive Suites, Inc., was responsible for getting Jerry Holmes, our new Director of Visitors and Tourism, to come to San Antonio last year. Our city has always been considered a great draw for tourists, but he is doing a fabulous job of marketing San Antonio to the world. So many international events are coming our way now. We're lucky to have him here."
"That's right," Riana agreed. "My company was tapped by the city to provide turnkey recruitment services for that search. It took some doing, but we were able to convince Mr. Holmes to leave Denver and come to our fair city. We also work with major corporations who are seeking highly qualified personnel."
Sheri nodded. "So, you're a headhunter?" Laughter followed. "Isn't that another word for what you do?"
"That's exactly what we do," Riana stated with a smile, launching into her first talking point. "When a hard-to-fill position opens up within an organization, a public entity or a corporation, and the job calls for a specially trained person, human resource managers turn to me. I have a worldwide database of candidates and the ability to find the right person for the job in record time. Executive Suites, Inc., can save CEOs and human resource managers a great deal of time and expense."
"How did you get started?" Sheri asked.
"Four years ago, I was stunned when my boss at the financial firm where I had been working for quite some time suddenly informed me that the VP position he had promised was not going to come through. In fact, they let me go."
"Uh-oh," Sheri interjected sympathetically. "I know that hits home with a lot of my viewers. I've even found myself holding the dreaded pink slip more than once. You know the media industry is a tough business ."
"I'm sure it is," Riana stated, cutting off her host, eager to get her story told. "So, after I left the finance industry, I drew unemployment and looked for work. But every time I reached the interview stage for a position I really wanted, I was told that I was overqualified. I looked for six months. It was a discouraging, exhausting process, and it finally wore me down. I just gave up."
"I know what you're saying," Sheri added with a short laugh. "Looking for work is work! Stressful, too."
"Exactly," Riana agreed. "So, I decided to start my own executive recruitment firm to match professionals, who are too often considered overqualified for the jobs they want, with the right employer. After doing my research, I applied for and was granted an SBA loan and then I purchased a franchise from Executive Suites, Inc.a national recruitment firm with offices in ten major cities. I hired an assistant and prayed I would be successful. Three months later the business took off when I snagged two corporate accounts. It's been booming ever since."
"Wonderful! And so inspiring. And I must say you look successful, my sister. That suit is too sharp!"
"Thanks. Appearances do count, you know? If you dress the part and act like you've arrived, you're halfway there," Riana added with a confident tilt of her head.
"So true. Good advice. You took what could have been a defeat and made it work for you! Exactly what our viewers need to hear. So, I understand your company is now one of the top-grossing recruitment firms in the state."
"Yes, it's an exciting time for me."
"How many recruiters do you have on staff?" Sheri wanted to know.
"Ten, and I have plans to expand into other markets very soon."
"Can you tell us where?"
"I hope Houston first, then Waco, Amarillo, perhaps."
While the camera continued to roll, Sheri leaned toward Riana, tapping her gold pen on the notepad on her lap. "What about your personal life, Riana? Anything you'd like to share with my viewers? Are you married, divorced, single? A working mom? My audience is always interested in hearing about the personal lives of busy career women like yourself."
Riana gave her host a timid smile and lifted both hands, palms up. "I'm afraid I don't have much to say on that subject. I'm single, not in a serious relationship and not really looking for one. Running my company takes all of my time and energy. I don't see myself pursuing any romantic interests anytime soon."
"Well, good luck. I'm sure you'll be successful." Sheri turned from Riana to address the camera. "Now, folks, I have to take a quick commercial break. Make that money, you know? But when we come back, Riana is going to give you tips on how to draft an effective résumé and tell you what you need to know before you go out on that next job interview."
An hour later Riana was behind the wheel of her champagne-colored Lexus and headed back to her office, a seven-room suite on the twenty-third floor of the Crockett Building in the heart of downtown San Antonio. From her windows high above the city, she could see the famous Alamo, the bustling River Walk and the outline of Mission Concepcion, one of the oldest Spanish missions still around. Traffic was extremely heavy, as it always was during the summer months, when tourists crowded the downtown area in search of a glimpse of Texas history and a fun time in the fiesta-happy city.
When Riana pulled into her private parking spot in the garage adjoining her building, she remained in her car, taking a moment to reflect on her interview. She was relieved that her appearance on Sheri's show was over and felt satisfied with the way it had gone. Riana got plenty of airtime in order to get her story out. Things were definitely on a roll!
Looking forward to the rest of her day, Riana got out of her car, took the elevator up to the twenty-third floor and pushed through the double glass doors of Executive Suites, Inc.
"Saw you on TV this morning," said Tanisha, Riana's efficient office manager, a dedicated sister who had been with Riana since the office first opened. A petite, fair-skinned young woman with a gentle voice and a steel trap for a mind, she took her job seriously, earning total respect from the staff. With Tanisha in charge, Riana never had to worry about any of her employees slacking off or taking advantage of the fact that Riana was often out and about, networking to bring in more leads. "Good job," Tanisha continued. "The phones have been ringing like crazy."
"Really?" Riana commented, accepting the stack of pink message slips that Donna, the receptionist, handed to her. Riana glanced through them, amazed at how quickly she was getting results from her appearance on Sheri's show. Now, she better understood why those in business in San Antonio worked so hard to keep Sheri happy.
"The school district, two banks, your sister, Britt, and someone from the Allen Group called," Donna prompted, referring to the pink slips in Riana's hand. "Very important to call George Allen back today. His assistant said that he wants information about your services, and that he has a rush job. The man wants to talk to you ASAP."
"Right," Riana agreed, recognizing the name. George Allen was president of the Allen Group, well-known as a major builder of exclusive gated communities, skyscrapers, industrial complexes and huge shopping malls. His name and photo turned up regularly in newspapers and magazines whenever he broke ground on one of his trendsetting projects or donated a chunk of cash to a charitable organization. He was one of the ten wealthiest men in Texas, and his activities were tracked by national publications.
Riana stuffed the messages into the side pocket of her attaché case and headed down the hallway toward her office. Pausing at her door, she turned around and called back to Donna, "I'm gonna give Britt a quick callback first, and then please get George Allen on the phone right away."
"And I want to hear what he has to say," Tanisha interjected, crossing her fingers at Riana before disappearing back inside her office.
Seated at her desk, Riana punched the speed dial to her sister's house, knowing it was best to call Britt back first, before her kids returned home from swimming lessons, the library, a Scout meeting or wherever they'd been shipped off to for the morning. Britt was a stay-at-home mom with five children under the age of twelve who lived in the suburbs with her husband, John, a mild-mannered veterinarian. Even though school was out for the summer, Britt didn't let her children sleep late and watch television all day. She made sure they followed as rigorous a routine of activities during the summer months as they did when school was in session.
"Hi, Britt," Riana greeted, distressed to hear her youngest niece, Wendy, wailing in the background. "What's up?"
"Do you really want to know?" Britt said on the edge of a sigh.
No, not really, Riana thought as she listened to Britt's rundown of her hectic morning. Typical suburban-mom stuff. Nothing Riana could relate to, but she held her tongue and let Britt vent for a few minutes, her monologue interrupted by attempts to shush Wendy. It was difficult not to hurry Britt off the phone, but Riana knew her sister needed the release of talking about her troubles with someone. Today, it was Riana.
"Anyway, the real reason I called " Britt finally got to the point.
"Yeah, right," Riana prompted, eager to get off the phone and call George Allen back. "I only have a few minutes. An important call to make." Tapping her pen impatiently on her blotter, she waited.
"I know. You're always so busy. Anyway, I saw your interview with Sheri Sherman this morning," Britt started, voice dropping a few octaves.
"Oh? Good. What'd you think?" Riana asked, pleased that Britt, who took little interest in Riana's business, had been watching.
"I'm worried about you," Britt tossed out, her tone a bit accusatory. "Don't you realize how dangerous it was for you to say what you did?"
"What are you talking about?" Riana asked, sitting up straighter, puzzled. Dangerous? What was bothering Britt, who overreacted to everything?
"I'm talking about your comment. About not having time for a personal life," Britt clarified. "You just told the world that you're not interested in men. It sounded so strange, almost as if you were, you know gay or something. Why did you have to do that?"
"Oh, my God! Britt. How can you say that? You know that's not what I meant."
"That's how it came off."
"I simply said that I don't have any interest in pursuing a serious romantic relationship," Riana defended herself. "It's the truth. So what?"
"Well, you'll never get married if you keep broadcasting the fact that you're too involved in your work to give a man the time of day. I don't understand you, I really don't."
Stiffening her spine, Riana kept all emotion from her voice as she told her sister, "I'm not concerned about what people think. If I never get married, that's fine with me, Britt. I'm perfectly content with my life as it is and I have no desire to complicate it by bringing a man into the picture."
Britt's remarks stung Riana. After hanging up the phone, she sat quietly, unable to believe what Britt had said.