Career Development for Fools and Foolers
Posted by Amy Wilson on March 30, 2009
Here is a story of vision, execution and relationship building that catapulted a career from obscurity to success. The career belonged to my husband and it all happened on April Fool’s Day.
Actually, it started before that. We had been working at Arthur Andersen as freshly squeezed college graduates. The crew consisted of me, 6 perfectly coiffed young men from top schools, and Paul. Paul arrived on the, albeit casual, client scene in high tops, a flannel top, and an earring. He also looked like he was 15 years old. The managers told us he was an “assistant” and we took that to mean “ignore him” and “forget to invite him to lunch.” (I will never live that down.)
Over the next few months, Paul grew on us. He was kind of funny! He liked basketball! So, when he came to us with an April Fool’s plan, we listened. We even laughed and agreed. It was an elaborate plan, leveraging the nuances of our particular project (inventorying assets at Stanford University), the current sensitivities of the climate (the loss of a master key – not by us, mind you – had just cost the University a bundle of money) and the tricky position of our manager (having to manage a brood of 23 year old yahoos). Paul’s plan required that, over the course of the day, each of the inventoriers (us) get their Stanford contact to call our manager in disgust, complaining of missing keys and irresponsible behavior. What fun – a group joke on our manager! We were IN!
But a week before, every single person wussed out. Except Paul. He was still going to do it! So we rallied around him. We went to lunch and talked over the plan. We knew the precise times of when it was all going to go down. That day, we were bonded together in anticipation!
I was the only one in the office at the time (as I had the *higher* position of scheduler rather than inventorier). Silence. And then, I heard a notebook slam on Paul’s desk. I hurried over (still filled with anticipation). “What happened? How did it go?” I asked eagerly. Obviously, not well, based on the look on his face. “He’s pissed. He sent me home.” Oh my.
Just then another inventorier returned. The 3 of us headed outside for a pow-wow. “That’s not fair!” we cried. “It was just a joke!” “Did you tell him that we were all part of it?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Paul said “I’m kicked off the project and he said I might get fired.” With a grave face, Paul left.
The rest of the crew returned. We were all stunned! What’s going on? Our manager was out of the office. And so we started to plan. What would we say? How would we save Paul? “If Paul goes, we all go!” I found my manager’s manager and pleaded the situation. She said she would look into it.
Our manager called an emergency meeting that afternoon. We were all sweating buckets. Could we save Paul? Could we save ourselves?
We filed into the conference room, took our seats and listened as our manager laid into us. “Arthur Andersen is a prestigious and respectable firm. This sort of behavior is unacceptable. The missing key situation is not a joke …” We were speechless. My burning eyes bore into his skull, making clear my distaste for his reaction.
And then, in walked Paul.
Paul and our manager hugged, shook hands, and started laughing. “April Fool’s!” they exclaimed.
Yes, that’s right, folks, the biggest turnaround, in-your-face, jokes-on-you-suckers I will ever (hopefully) experience!
A week back when Paul saw the writing on the wall – the high wuss factor of his compatriots – he went to our manager and laid out the new plan. Our manager was giddy with the thought and signed up immediately. From that point on, he played us. Oh, he played us good.
The crew remained mad at Paul for a total of 4 hours. After that, we couldn’t help but laugh and re-tell the story from different perspectives over and over again. Paul and our manager developed a close, mentoring relationship. Paul was promoted a few months later and by the following year, was promoted to senior associate along with the rest of the original Stanford crew. Paul had found his niche – not only was he intelligent and capable, but he also brought a much appreciated light-heartedness to the office setting.
I won’t go into the details, but April 1, 1996 (when Kentucky beat Syracuse in the NCAA championship game) is our non-wedding anniversary. And, for the last 13 years I have lived in fear of what his next April Fool’s plan could be …