Anika was both a mentor and sponsor.
We worked together on several key projects; she was the contracting client and I as the vendor partner. Anika was enough older than me that she had greater maturity in the small p politics of the business world; she included me in the initial stages of project planning and helped to polish my writing and my leadership skills.
When a leadership position arose at another company that she worked with, Anika sponsored me. Based on her recommendation, I don’t think they even interviewed anyone else.
Shortly I was installed as the General Manager of a branch office that had been losing money for four years. I was brought in to turn it around and given one year to meet the challenge.
This was a tremendous opportunity and a huge vote of confidence on her part.
When she learned that the most senior consultant had resigned before I was even in place, because he did not want to work for someone younger (never mind a woman), Anita contacted me to discuss the situation.
“On your first day, meet with him before anyone else. Ask him what he would do if he was in your position and then incorporate some of his ideas as you share your vision with him. Then challenge him to stay and work with you to make it happen.”
As it turned out, that was terrific advice.
She also warned me about another person who was a potential adversary; Ivan was a consultant from the Montreal Head Office who had been spending quite a lot of time in the Toronto Office. She imagined that he expected to be chosen for the General Manager position and would be unhappy that he was not.
A Montreal-based Vice President came to the Toronto Office to introduce me on my first day. We arrived together and he led the way to my corner office. We were both surprised to find Ivan working at my desk – pretty cheeky given I was expected.
The Vice President vanished, leaving me standing in the doorway facing Ivan. He did not even get up,
“Have a seat, I will be finished in a few minutes,” he said waving toward the side chair.
This turned out to be a critical and defining moment for me. Speaking loudly and distinctly, I said,
“No, I won’t wait. You will get out of my office right now and I will stand right here until you do.”
Ivan looked up, hesitated, then picked up his briefcase, calculator, pad, pens, coffee cup and jacket. He did not speak or look at me as he squeezed past me and out the door. And he kept on going down the hall and right out onto the street.
As you can imagine, my heart was pumping. I sat down behind the desk to collect myself. My legs were wobbly and my hand shook a little as I picked up a pen to make some notes.
It didn’t take long before a cup of coffee appeared at my elbow and the Vice President was sitting across from me. All he said was “Well done” before inviting me to tour the office and meet my team.
We started with the Senior Consultant, Myron (who had resigned and was currently working his notice). As I shook his hand, I said, “I am very much looking forward to working with you. Could we meet this afternoon?” I was encouraged by his smile and nod.
As we went from office to office (before the days of open concept workspaces), I could sense a lot of apprehension; I could also see that I might just be the youngest member of the team.
Having done his duty, the Vice President wished me well and rushed off to catch a plane back to Montreal.
Myron met me in the hall and asked if we could meet now instead of waiting till the afternoon. We stopped in the kitchen to get fresh coffee and settled across the small meeting table in my office. “I am so impressed with the way you handled Ivan,” he said. “He doesn’t report to anyone. He has keys and he comes and goes from this office whenever he pleases. We cannot stand him and until today, there was nothing we could do about it.”
I picked up the phone and asked my assistant Catherine to come in. When she arrived, I asked her to arrange for a locksmith to come and change all the door locks today; if you have to pay extra to get it done today, do it. Confident that was underway, I turned to Myron and asked, “What would it take to persuade you to stay?”
He smiled and replied,
“You can allow me to withdraw my resignation and let’s not mention it again. I can see why you were chosen to lead this office and I will do everything I can to help you succeed.”
We spent the rest of the day discussing his observations and suggestions for moving the operation forward in a profitable manner. He provided his considered perspective on each member of the team, including who needed to be promoted and who should be promoted elsewhere.
I didn’t follow all of his suggestions but where I could, I did. And together we turned that operation around in short order. We are both proud of this accomplishment.
I am grateful to Anika. Without her sponsorship, I would not have known about the opportunity never mind been hired. Without her guidance concerning Myron, I would have let him leave. Without her forewarning about Ivan, that situation could have gone very differently.
Over the next few years, I often consulted Anika and continued to learn from her wise counsel.