Stay corporate humble. You never know who might be calling the shots next… including yourself.
Context: New to company. Young female. Traditional old boys environment. JSE Listed. 2007.
I had been so excited to be appointed a member of a new department in one of the most admired companies in the country. Our mission was clear: to find new ways to attract customers and build loyalty. We had massive budgets for entertainment and access to the best social spaces. The city was our oyster. What a time to be alive!
The new unit should have been managed under the Marketing department but in order to get quicker connection to the market, it was seconded to Trade next to Sales. The Sales function was a very traditional team, veterans of the business who believed in hard work. To them, our department was a big joke; an excuse to blow hard earned budget and party. They were insulted to even be associated with us. To me it felt more like envy. Either way it was difficult to work alongside them.
For two years our most exciting ideas always took off with much difficulty — sabotaged by our Sales representative, Joey. He had long standing relationships with the outlets we wanted to use and had advised them not to work with us. We were blocked in most places. For a few of the restaurants however, our ideas were too good to overlook and so they opened their doors to us eventually.
None of the senior managers were willing to reprimand a Sales rep over a Marketer. Their advice to us was to ‘handle our business directly’. The age old battle between Marketing and Sales was affecting my ability to deliver. And so I confronted Joey about his antics. He completely dismissed me and retorted that maybe I should get a real job. This annoyed me further as the pilot project was at this stage seen as a success across the business. Everywhere except in our area. Still we continued to push our ideas through and Joey continued reminding us of where we were on the food chain. Aluta continua…
A year later I got the opportunity to move into the central marketing department at head office. One of my first tasks was to put a strong team together. Human Resources (HR) helped me pull in various resumes from candidates internally and externally. I was still very junior however my General Manager trusted me with the recruitment process. I had never hired anyone in my life. Fortunately, HR sat in on each interview. I studied all the resumes carefully — a mixed bag. Not all of them felt like a natural fit but I vouched to remain objective and open.
Imagine my surprise (excitement and unexpected shock) when Joey walked into the interview room! His profile said ‘Johannes Kriel’ so I had no idea it was good old oppressive Joey! He seemed extremely nervous, sweating profusely, and fidgety. He did not recognize me at first. He stuttered through the first 5 minutes, constantly turning purple cheeks as he answered questions. The HR lady was very lenient with him, gave him a second and a third chance to compose himself. She had been less kind to previous candidates.This provoked my well contained anger. I could feel ‘vindictive me’ wanting to just out at him with difficult questions I knew he would not be able to answer, but I stuck to the script. He was struggling without my help.
I finally raised my voice to ask a question and then the most unexpected thing happened. Joey, who had ignored my presence in the room for other prejudices he carried, looked up from his discomfort and gave me a death stare. He froze. It finally hit me, he now recognised me (yes, 15min into the interview). His expressions changed from nerves, to confusion and finally to pride. He suddenly excused himself from the interview, claiming that he was too nervous to continue. He then said he also suspected that this was not the right role for him. Then before any of us could say anything, he stood up to and left.
EGO vs. SHADOW
I was both relieved and angry that he left before answering any of my questions. The reality is, my ego was mad as hell that he did not ANSWER TO ME! I finally had the chance to make him feel small and my chance was gone. What kind of justice was that!?! The other half of me was relieved because I could not compromise my professional integrity. For the first time in my life my ego was about to supremely show my humble self up. I was not in control of my emotions. I thought I was, but come on!! Never before has the universe ever delivered my enemy on a silver platter.
“…my ego was mad as hell that he did not ANSWER TO ME!”
This was a blow to my ‘hollier than thou’ persona. What did it mean? Am I the kind of person to keep someone back in their career because they treated me badly? I keep wondering if the tables would have turned if he actually walked into that interview and was impressive! Would I have hired him? What I took away from this moment really was to just be kind (nice might be too difficult) to most people, because you never know who might be your next boss. A selfish take away I know — give me a break.
And by the way… I only realised later in life that I did get my justice: the fact that Joey overlooked and incredible opportunity for him at the time, simply because he could not stomach answering a single question to me. That’s it, that’s the moment I should have realised.