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THERE'S MORE TO LIFE THAN THE CORNER OFFICEThe Secret to Total Life Prosperity
By Lamar Smith Tammy Kling
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Lamar Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI boarded the five o'clock flight to Boston and waited in a long line of travelers herding to the back of the plane. I had missed out on the upgrade to first class, and when I passed through the cabin, I saw the guy who had been just ahead of me on the upgrade list who had taken the last seat. He had a cup of roasted nuts on his tray.
How could this day get any worse?
I found my assigned seat by the lavatory, crammed in at the window. An older man in a crumpled shirt and khakis was sitting in it.
"I'm 27A," I said impatiently, pointing to my boarding pass. I shoved my bag into the overhead bin and waited.
The man smiled. "I'm sorry," he said, sliding out of the row. He stood in the aisle and let me pass. "I'm exhausted. I was hoping to get some sleep on this flight."
I settled into my seat and stared out the window. The man sat down in the more desirable aisle seat. By the time the airplane backed away from the gate and took off, I realized that if I hadn't been in such a rush, I could have just sat down in his seat and traded with him. Figures, I thought. Nothing's gone right today.
The business trip had started with a rude rental car employee. Cars were sold out, and I ended up with a compact instead of the Premium Class I normally rented. I had an argument with the woman at the counter even though I had flashed my Gold rental car card. Nothing worked. When I arrived at my meeting, the CEO wasn't there. The lightweight associate who substituted for him was an idiot and wouldn't even sign my nondisclosure agreement because he couldn't see the accretion, the magic of investment banking. So instead of enjoying the planned celebration dinner with new clients at Jardinière, I was headed home earlyempty-handed and not sure what I was going to tell my boss, John Carter. All of it had been a colossal waste of time.
A flight attendant stopped in the aisle. She had long auburn hair that fell to her shoulders. "Can I get you anything?" she asked.
I glanced at the gold name badge on her vest. "Yes, Brittany," I said. "I'd like a vodka tonic. One lime."
"Sure thing." The old man was asleep now, and she leaned over him and placed a napkin on my tray.
In minutes she was back with the tonic, a little bottle of vodka, and a bag of pretzels. I noticed a gold cross dangled from her neck. "Anything else?"
Cracking the seal on the vodka, "I'm fine, now."
"That's a beautiful suit you're wearing," she said.
"Thank you. It's an Oxford custom."
"Really? I knew it was something expensive. Are you traveling on business?"
"Yes. I'm an investment banker. I've got over a million miles on this airline."
The man in the aisle seat opened his eyes and asked for a Coke.
"Certainly," she said.
I took a sip of vodka, felt it stinging my throat. "Brittany, could I ask for one more thing?" I pulled a business card from my suit jacket and handed it to her. She studied the gold letters engraved on the front. Investment banker. "Give me a call sometime," I said. "I'll take you to dinner."
She tucked the card into her pocket and smiled. When she walked away, the man in my row chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
"She had a big diamond on her left hand," he said, grinning.
"I'm aware of that."
"You noticed? And you still asked her out?"
"Princess cut, with two baguettes."
"You rolled the dice anyway. Gotta hand you that much."
"That only makes it more interesting."
He took a sip of his Coke. "Okay, I see. You like the chase."
"Isn't that a big part of life? The chase?"
The man smiled, settled back in his seat. "I used to think that way."
I bet it was a long time ago, I thought.
I pulled out my laptop and reviewed the notes from the meeting. Maybe I could resurrect the thing next month. Give the client some time, and then make another visit but this time loaded with the big guns. I'd e-mail the nondisclosure again when I got back to the office and give the client more information about the value we are proposing. All I need to do is get past the gatekeepers, to the real decision maker.
"Are you headed to home, or away from home?" asked aisle guy.
"I live in Boston," I replied.
I downed the last of the vodka, straight from the miniature bottle. His small talk was beginning to annoy me. "Cambridge, near MIT. You?"
"I live in a little town called Marblehead," he said. "Were you on business? I assume you were by the way you're dressed."
Wow, this old guy was a rocket scientist. What was it that tipped you off? I wanted to say.
"I'm an investment banker. I was in San Francisco for a meeting with the CEO of Legacy Technology Corporation, but at the last minute he decided not to sit in. He sent in an empty suit instead. Now I get to ride in the back of the bus because I have an assistant who can't get the upgrade thing right." I wished for another vodka tonic. "These seats are murder on your back."
"I understand," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Al."
I shook it quickly. "Patrick Mitchell."
"So you're in banking. Why did you decide on that particular field?"
I paused, then stared out the window. "To do a lot of deals and make a lot of money. Isn't that why we all do what we do?"
I ordered another drink from the next flight attendant who passed by; she came back with two bottles of vodka for the price of one.
"No, not really," the man replied.
"I don't think most people work just to make a lot of money. I believe there are other considerations that drive people, particularly as time goes by."
You've gotta be kidding me. Is he for real?
"C'mon, unless you work for a nonprofit or are some sort of activist, that's why people work. To make money. It's how the game of life is played."
"Intriguing," he said.
"You don't agree?"
"Well, I didn't say that. But tell me this, what's the purpose of all the money you make? What will you do with it?"
I decided to change the subject. His questions were wearing me out. "So I suppose you're retired?"
"No," he laughed. "Not exactly."
I looked out the window where the clouds were swirling in a mysterious shade of pink. I leaned back, closed my eyes. This guy was old and clearly not a player in my world.
I realized I had been dozing when the pilot made an announcement. We'd be landing in 30 minutes. I thought back to the times Hannah, my soon-to-be ex-wife, would insist on meeting me at Logan. No matter how late the flight arrived, she was always there, waiting at the curb. One cold night she even showed up in her bathrobe and slippers, half-asleep behind the wheel. When I looked back across the row, aisle guy was sleeping. I tugged on his sleeve. He opened his eyes and focused slowly as if he'd forgotten where he was.
"I need to go to the bathroom," I said.
He stood and let me pass by. When I got back, he was still standing in the aisle. "You have a business card?" he asked.
"I'm not sure I have any left," I said, patting my pockets. I remembered what a consultant had once told our team. Business cards are gold. Share them wisely. I didn't like to hand them out to just anyone. After a while I gave up and pulled a card from the breast pocket of my suit. The older flight attendant stopped at our aisle, touching aisle guy's elbow. "That was so considerate of you to give up your first class seat for that soldier," she said.
"No problem," he told her. "It's going to be a long road ahead for him."
I listened to their conversation but couldn't believe what I was hearing. This guy is insane, I thought. He had a first class seat on a six-hour red-eye and he gave it up?
I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, but before I knew it, we were on the ground, unloading. I grabbed my briefcase and headed to the front of the plane, and when I passed through the first class cabin, I saw a man in a military uniform still sitting there, waiting. Most of one leg was missing, the pant leg tucked under. At the jet bridge, a porter with a wheelchair waited.
Outside at the curb, I spotted aisle guy again, this time standing with a limousine driver beside a black Lincoln. I did a double take. The driver wore a dark suit, and he hoisted the man's bag into the trunk of the car. Al walked back inside the airport, and I approached the limo and looked at the driver, then the car. "You picking up Al?"
"Yes," he said. "You know Mr. Crafton? I'm his personal driver."
"Mr. Crafton, uh, yes," I lied. I didn't really know him, but something about the name seemed familiar. I rolled it over in my mind.
"Al Crafton! You've got to be kidding me. That's Al Crafton, the chairman of Castle Investment Corporation? The Al Crafton on the cover of Business Life magazine?"
"Yes. You implied you knew him."
My hand shook, and I switched my briefcase from one fist to the other. "I sat next to him on the plane, and we talked, but I didn't really place him. He seemed so, so ..."
"Well, his clothes were wrinkled and everything, and I just assumed ..."
"He was traveling on personal business," the driver said. "He was helping the son of a friend of his who is now deceased. The son is having some problems, and I believe Al was with the family all day and had no time to change." The driver smiled. "He had to get back for an important board meeting tomorrow."
I nodded, dumbfounded at my stupidity. Why hadn't I gotten his business card?
"I've worked for him for 10 years," the driver said proudly.
I stood there, stunned. The man on the plane seemed like every other old man. The executives and important people sat in first class. That was where deals were made, why guys like me tried to get upgrades. Literally millions of dollars of business deals had their seeds planted over scotch in first class on flights crisscrossing the country. I looked back toward the glass windows in the terminal and tried to recall every word we'd spoken, and I realized I couldn't have screwed it up more.
"Some things are not as they seem," the driver said.
Chapter TwoThe 10 days since San Francisco had been a blur. The one exception to the hectic demands at work had been a phone conversation with Hannah. We talked about everything but the legalities, though the divorce lurked in the darkness.
"We should talk about the papers," I said finally.
"There's no rush," she replied. "Is there?"
I slept better that night than I had in weeks.
I strolled into the office the next day to find 152 e-mails in my inbox. The calls began rolling in the minute I hit the door. It wasn't until noon that I had a lull. My assistant Stacy was just outside my door in her cubicle handling a stream of endless calls, e-mails, and, at one point, an angry client.
"He wants to talk to you," she said.
"I'm not here."
"Didn't you understand? I am not here. Can't you see I've got a million things going today?"
There were client calls to return, two deals to resurrect, and an analysis due tomorrow. I was top guy in my department, and it was because I had nothing tying me down. No kids, no wife, not even a cat. There were four bankers in my group, and two were married. The third was a divorced woman with kids who kept her out of the office more than she was in. I looked at the little reminder sign above my desk.
The first runner-up is the top loser.
"Isn't that the truth!" I said out loud.
Stacy appeared in the doorway. "The luncheon at the Harbor Club is today," she said. "Just a reminder."
"Got it," I said, waving her off.
The Harbor Club was an elite location. Leaders from Boston's top firms would hear from a Washington insider about the priorities of the upcoming session of Congress. There would be several of my firm's most influential executives gathered in the most exclusive location in the city. You had to be a member to get in or be invited by one, and my firm had a business membership for the executive committee. I'd been invited by John Carter, my boss and also a rising star at the firm, to sit in on the luncheon and learn. I think he intended it to be a pat on the back.
The night after my return flight from San Francisco, I hadn't slept more than a few hours. I drove home from the airport, opened my laptop, and poured myself a stiff drink. As I sat in the comfort of my home office, I Googled Al Crafton and tried to think about creative ways to contact him.
I even considered sending an e-mail, but I could not find his address. I text messaged Stacy before the sun came up and asked her to arrange a meeting and to research Crafton to find everything she could about the deals he was involved in. Crafton's company was valued at a market cap of $5 billion, and it had a run rate of over $4 billion in annual revenues. Castle Investments had sustained a high, double-digit growth rate for over a decade by balancing organic growth and some well-planned acquisitions. Crafton's nickname on Wall Street was "Al Craftsman" because of his skill.
Al Crafton had been featured in a recent article in a business magazine as one of America's 50 most influential businesspeople, mainly for his role in executing a series of strategic mergers in the financial services industry. Some had even credited him with helping politicians draw up and pass the law that made it possible for banking, investment, and insurance services to be offered by one firm, which changed the industry! He was a trailblazer, for sure.
Crafton was a respected business leader, admired for his entrepreneurial finesse, and he also headed up some nonprofit thing to help starving people or something. Another article said that he had first entered business when he was still in high school, selling books door to oor. Stacy appeared at my desk, chewing the end of a pencil. "Excuse me, sir. But your car service is downstairs, ready to take you to the Harbor Club."
"That's lead paint, you're chewing on."
She slid the pencil behind her ear. "And Mr. Carter has been asking for your weekly activity report."
"When's the deadline?"
"Five o'clock. Yesterday."
"I'll get it done. I'll be with him today at the lunch at the Harbor Club."
"You know how he is. As soon as he gets back to the office, he'll be reviewing those reports, first thing."
"Okay," I grumbled.
"Is there anything else you need me to do?" she asked.
"Yes. Call Al Crafton's office when I'm gone and try to arrange a brief meeting. Carter would be blown away if he knew I was meeting with Crafton. He'd forget all about the report."
"I already called twice, sir. I didn't get past the receptionist."
"Call three times."
I watched as she left my office. Stacy was pretty and professional, but personalitywise, she was about as vanilla as they come with just a little edge. Mainly, she put up with me. I hadn't put the moves on her, and I didn't really know why. I'd been distracted by a blonde I had met on a business flight several months ago, and most of the weekends were taken up that way.
John Carter had been the head of our department for three years. He was a tough executive vice president in his midforties with two kids, a wife, and a reputation for firing people from time to time just for grins. But Carter and I got along just fine. We were good for each other. I was his star and I was learning from him. He had a flair for making deal negotiations seem easy, and he could have a client seeing his point of view within minutes. But when you crossed him or didn't do your job right, watch out. I actually saw him fire a high-performing employee for showing up 15 minutes late for a client dinner. The guy had been at his kids' soccer match and got hung up in traffic, but Carter didn't care.
I had been on the blunt end of his rage only once when I had to listen to 10 solid minutes of digital-quality swearing on my voice mail. If I could arrange a meeting with Al Crafton, I'd move up the food chain a link or two.
I grabbed my suit jacket and flew down the hall to the elevator. The ride to the Harbor Club was 10 minutes, and I spent the entire time on my BlackBerry answering e-mails. When I stepped out of the car, I lingered at the curb in awe of the club. The building was covered in glass, like a tower of mirrors. You could see reflections from every angle.
I stepped inside the building and took the elevator to the penthouse level. Inside the lobby of the club the walls were trimmed in dark burgundy fabric. Gold-framed paintings of Old English scenes with hunting dogs lined the reception area, and further down the hall, small groups of older men in expensive suits gathered in private rooms. I saw Carter standing outside a room with our firm's name on a framed card by the door.
"Morning, Patrick," he said nodding.
"Good morning, John."
Some associates called him "Sir," but I avoided using that word most of the time. I didn't see much difference between the two of us and wanted him to know it.
I shook hands with the other men he was standing with, recognizing them as senior executives. I was by far the youngest. Someone tapped my shoulder.
Excerpted from THERE'S MORE TO LIFE THAN THE CORNER OFFICE by Lamar Smith Tammy Kling Copyright © 2009 by Lamar Smith. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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