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While we’re on the subject of me embarrassing myself in front of people I admire….

In the summer of 1997, while I was working at Lucent Technologies, we hosted a conference for the industry analysts – a multi-day event for anyone who was writing about the technology or telecommunications industries.  During this conference, the leaders of Lucent addressed the analysts, following which the analysts would go back to their offices to write their opinions of Lucent and its future outlook, and ultimately investors would make decisions based on what the analysts wrote.   

At that time, Lucent was a huge company with over $28 billion in revenue and over 100,000 employees.  So I felt fortunate to be one of the people able to attend the session during which Henry Schacht, Lucent’s CEO at the time, addressed the group.  During his talk, Schacht posed a question to the group of analysts:  “What do you think is Lucent Technologies’ greatest asset?”

I sat and listened as people called out answers only to hear Henry Schacht say, “No.”  Suggestions were made, such as “Your technology!” or “Bell Labs!” (the R&D arm of the company, from which many amazing inventions have come) to which Schacht replied, “No.”   Wanting to get to the right answer, analysts started to be more strategic:  “Your customers!”  “Your global presence!”  “The breadth of your product portfolio!”  Again, “No” and “No” and “No.”  This went on for almost ten minutes, which is a really long time when people are trying to come up with the answer to a question.

Finally, as suggestions were called out with decreasing frequency, Schacht put all of us out of our misery.  “I’ll tell you what Lucent’s most important asset is,” he said, “our people.”  I wasn’t the only one in the room who hadn’t seen that coming.  As I listened to Schacht talk about the innovation and creative thinking, the customer focus and determination, and the teamwork and integrity of the employees of Lucent Technologies, I realized that I was beaming.  I agreed with him; in the few months that I had worked at the company I was continually impressed by my coworkers, how committed they were to our company’s success and how good they were at their jobs.

Most importantly, I was impressed with Henry Schacht for his recognition that the people of Lucent Technologies weren’t just critical to the business, they were the business.  All too often I had seen a corporate executive lose sight of the fact that his or her company was not made up of projects, technologies or buildings – but of people – people who will be successful, or not, based on how they are led.  But Henry Schacht knew better, and I instantly became his biggest fan.

A few months later, I was running a customer meeting in our corporate headquarters.   The meeting was being held in the Board Room on the legendary “fifth floor” of that building – the floor where all of the C-level executives lived.  Shortly before the customers arrived I realized I needed to see someone in the Public Relations department on the third floor, so I hustled to the elevator.  Who is standing there but…Henry Schacht!  There was a ding, a door opened, and before I knew it the two of us where in the elevator, together and alone.

What a great opportunity!  Here was someone who truly motivated me, who made me want to be a leader in our business.  Just the two of us, riding together, on our way down.  I could let him know that his presentation at the analysts’ conference was really inspiring.  Or I could say that I am so happy I came to work at Lucent because of the great things we were doing in the marketplace.  Or I could say that I would be sorry to see him go, since he had recently announced his departure. 

So many things were running through my head.  Which did I decide to go with?  None of them.  In a rare moment of speechlessness, I couldn’t think of anything to say.  I just looked at him and smiled and said nothing.  I am sure that even the smile was a little bit off and somewhat strange, because all the while I was smiling, the wheels in my head were frantically spinning trying to come up with something pithy and smart to say.  Please stop here and try to picture that…it was sort of a wide-eyed grimace.

Suddenly, there was a ding.  Mr. Schacht, ever the gentleman, held the door and said “After you.”  That was when I realized we had just ridden from the fifth floor to the first floor.  Whoops.  So I said, “Oh, thanks, but I have to go up to the third floor.”  I wish I could describe the look of confusion and mild fear on his face as he realized that I had just ridden all of the way down with him even though I wasn’t going to the first floor.

There you have it:  Jen Crews making a lasting impression as a CEO-stalker.  Great.  Just great.


About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.


© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.