Progress matters, but people matter more
If you were in the lobby of the InterContinental hotel in Boston last Friday night, you would have seen me. Maybe you were distracted by the throngs of well-dressed business folks or the Boston College homecoming crowd. I was wearing a black hoodie, jeans, and sneakers. My hair swept across my brow with a bobby pin. I had no makeup on. I was sitting with my knees over the arm of a leather chair, perched by the door to the garage.
My companion was a super-cute, drooling 5-month-old who was fussy when his parents left to go see Florence and the Machine, but was enthralled by the lobby nine floors below when we exited the elevator.
The InterCon used the be one of the only places to go after a Board meeting, or for a business breakfast back before the Seaport exploded and was humbly branded as the Innovation District (or as we used to say, the “Inno-D”). For almost a decade I could be found in Miele or at RumBa with clients, direct reports, CEOs, and friends recounting the destruction of the day, or trying to make nice after a particularly tough experience. The InterCon was where I went to lick my start-up wounds, and attempt to heal those I inflicted—intentionally or accidentally.
On this particular Friday night, I was sitting just outside the bar with someone else’s baby wearing a men’s sweatshirt instead of Brooks Brothers. I had a puke rag over my shoulder instead of a leather purse. My phone was upstairs. I actually smelled like baby puke. No joke.
And everyone who walked by me smiled.
A lovely man asked me how old the baby was and then shared he had a 7-week-old at home. Couples holding hands smiled at each other after smiling at the baby. Parents and their children passed by to head out to the water and ogled at my companion. A man in business casual with a lanyard around his neck paced while on a call and every time he passed us, he told me my job was better than his.
No phone rang. Nobody wanted to talk to me. Nobody needed anything from me. I didn’t think about work, but about my work relationships. I recalled how I ate a Miele once with a CEO who just ordered whatever he wanted without consulting the menu. I recalled how I once took an entire Customer Support Team out to RhumBa and then sent them all home in cabs. One was so hungover the next day he did not show up for work, and he is now one of my dearest friends.
My companion, the baby, was silently taking it all in and eventually fell asleep on my shoulder. I imagine he will be a city-kid when he grows up.
Eventually we returned to the hotel room, I put him in this crib, and began to binge on Netflix.
I was grateful for the experience. How lucky am I? My 15-year-old son was hanging out with his rowing team in Brookline while I listened to the thumping music from the ballroom and foraging for chocolate, checking in periodically on a cute-as-hell baby.
The mother of my drooling lobby companion drove several hours with her husband to celebrate their anniversary in the city. Her employer is a client of mine. She is in sales, I am the CFO. I terminated the employment of two of her long-term colleagues. I rearranged her pricing sheet. I asked her to attend a weekly sales call where I reviewed each client and asked for an update. It was not an easy year for her, or for the company. The engagement is challenging because people are important, their feelings are important, and the work they do is important.
I am still their CFO. I am grateful that the Board entrusts me with their company.
I am even prouder that my colleague entrusts me with her baby.
This is the best part of being a CFO.