The only reason I knew her name was because she sent out an email to “All NYC Staff.” Subject line: Going to Lunch 12 to 1:30 p.m. Message Body: “With Barack (The President).” Otherwise, I’d never heard A.W.’s name before I worked with her. That email forever implanted her name in my memory because of the “going to lunch” jokes that followed.
I work for a large, multinational corporation, and our NYC office alone has hundreds upon hundreds of staff, many of whom work here only because of their connections. No need to brag. Someone probably has you trumped, even if you know Barack personally. They know Barack and Bush W. and Clinton and all the first ladies.
I remember when the email went out, and now when I tell people I’m working for A.W., I get a blank stare until I jog their memory about the “going to lunch” email.
My first day on the project with her I went up to her office pen and paper in hand ready for whatever she gave me. I’d done some background reading and felt ready to hit the ground running. I came into her office. She politely greeted me and said, “Ready to get started.” It’s not a question. ”Absolutely,” I responded with pep. She started talking at me the way she talks to everyone—without-taking-a-breath or pausing to see if she’s registering.
“Okay, the first thing we need to do is tie up the loose ends with Dylan Ratigan. Please also put Larry Summers on a to-do list. We’ll need to arrange a meeting with him. They are going to Boston, so we’ll arrange those meetings, and some with Harvard. We really need them to get the presentation in its final form. This is all going to be exciting. You stick with me, and I’ll introduce you to people. I want to meet with you every morning. Okay, that’s all for now.” She whirled around and started typing furiously on her computer.
In that moment I was taken aback. I got up and left her office feeling uncertain about what I was supposed to do. It didn’t sound like I’d been given any assignments, and I didn’t know any more on the abovementioned list than any random person off the street. So, what was going on?
The next morning I stayed at my desk waiting for a call to come up to her office for our morning meetings. I waited and waited and waited. The whole day went by. I found her assistant and let him know that she’d ask that I meet with her every morning, but I didn’t know what time or what the best way to go about this was, and I’d already missed meeting with her on day two. He said he’d looked into the matter. He got back to me promptly and emailed saying, “She wants to see you every day 9:30 to 10 a.m. She’s not big on email. You will find it difficult to communicate with her that way.”
The next morning, I was outside her door promptly at 9:30 a.m. It was dark and locked. I waited a bit, but eventually went back down the elevator bank, over to the other elevator bank and descended to my lowly office. I went back and forth up and down the elevators every 10 minutes for an hour and then several more times throughout the morning. She never showed up that morning, and I gave up. I did have other work to do on other projects.
That afternoon, I received an email from her. Subject line: “Come to my office.”
I quickly scurried up to her office, pen and paper dutifully in hand. I was surprised to find there were several people sitting around her desk, all participating in a conference call. I immediately wondered if I’d misread the email and came up too soon. Clearly, I had interrupted something. She motioned for me to come over to her desk and look at a PowerPoint on her computer screen. She was mouthing words to me, none of which I understood. Every once in a while she’d say something out loud, and I figured that she was walk talking to whomever was on the phone and not to me about the PowerPoint. I was desperately trying to find out who these people were in her office—colleagues? clients? And who was on the phone? And what was this PowerPoint? The call ended. Everyone got up to leave. One girl turned to me and said, “This is our favorite project.” I couldn’t tell if she was serious or sarcastic, so I just smiled. I also had no idea if I was included in that “we” or not.
A.W. told me that I needed to become intimately familiar with that PowerPoint, and then she whirled around and started typing on her computer as if I was not there. I left in what was becoming confusion.
By this time I learned to get in touch with her assistant to find out when to come up, and when I did, my plan was to ask a couple of questions through her rant or at least at the very end. I felt a little more in control.
That morning she started in, “Okay, did we ever get Dylan Ratigan nailed down?” but before I could answer (as if I had an answer since I had no idea what she was talking about), she quickly followed with “Now, don’t let me forget to call Larry,” and she stood up from behind her desk. I watched her. She came around her desk and said, “I just don’t know what’s going on with Boston.” And she left her office. She had a new tactic to bar me from questions—leaving her office. And the meeting was over. I walked out of her office, and she’s rounded the corner quickly walking down the hall onto the next thing. So far, I’ve been given nothing to do, and yet it seems like there’s a lot to do.
At the end of the week, my direct manager told me that she’s let him know I was doing a great job and to keep it up. I confess to him that I hadn’t actually done anything and I’m worried because I’m so lost. “Not to worry, you’ll pick up her style.”
The next week comes around, and in her flurry of prattling on, she asked me to confirm a meeting with Steve at Company X in D.C. She neglected to give me Steve’s last name, but I figured I would first look online to see if I could do detective work and figure it out. Alas, I do. There are actually two Steve’s at Company X, but one gentleman’s title clearly makes sense for the context of this project. I called. He was out. I got his cell phone number. I’m quite proud of myself for doing this all with so little direction, not that she would have notice. I sent an email letting her know that I reached out to Steve to confirm the meeting. No response. Perfect.
I go in to her office the next morning. First thing A.W said, “Oh, did I say Steve? I didn’t mean Steve. I meant Joe Smith.” I was so annoyed. Not only did she talk in half sentences, I realize I can’t trust the half information I am given. How was I going to fix this? First things first, reach out to Joe and confirm the meeting. Done. Next, deal with uninviting Steve. Then a fortunate thing happened. Steve called while I was away from my desk and left a message something along the lines of, “I would love to meet with A.W. and your client. It would be an honor. Unfortunately, I will be traveling. I highly recommend you reaching out to Joe Smith.” And my tracks were covered.
Another day, which is worth noting, as A.W. was going through her half-sentence to-do ramble about getting stuff done she turned to me with a pause and said, “I’m going to dinner with Eliot.” “Okay,” I think. I try to make this connect to the project at hand, but the name doesn’t connect. I looked at her with a complete non-expression. She leaned forward and said, “Eliot Spitzer.” I would have liked to quip back, “Does his wife know?” But of course she very quickly turned her body and prattled on about things that needed taking care of to tie up our project work and like always, I had no room to say anything.
A.W. keeps me on my toes. She’s nice and things seem to happen around her. But it’s hard to know if she knows what’s going on. She certainly can’t be bothered to tell anyone else if she does. Now after a couple of months, I am more confident that I actually know generally where she’s leaning. She’s also very, very well connected. So often, she just picks up the phone, says hello to her old pal Sue Naegle, Meg Whitman or Hillary, and next thing I know, I’m following up to make sure something happens.
One day we were in a board meeting, and I was shocked to see her talk in complete, thorough sentences. Many of which were almost long-winded. She’s well connected and has a lot going on upstairs. Unfortunately for those of us downstairs, we weren’t all born with mind-reading skills.