To Honor A Memory

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If my mom were here to celebrate her birthday, she would be eighty-six years old today.  It seems a bit surreal to think that she has been gone for eight years.  In our eulogies, both my sister and I acknowledged that she was a complicated woman, and arguably a complicated mom.  That was said and is written,  within a far broader context of how deeply she loved us and how much we loved her.   Not a day goes by…

I spoke to my parents everyday.  And when work kept me from my 9AM call, my assistant would call her to tell her I would call later.   It was a simple thing to do;  it made her feel good.  Honestly,  I remember sometimes it felt like a requirement instead of a joy.  She knew I spoke with my dad everyday until he no longer could (often acknowledged with the half-serious comment “you always loved your father better”) and I knew that if I ever curtailed those calls she would be deeply hurt.  Ironically, I still look at the clock at 9AM and feel the incompleteness that comes with a conversation that no longer occurs.

Why do I write something about mom on her birthday?  Because I want her memory to remain as alive to my children as it is to me.  Because I want those who know me to know that she was a remarkable, vibrant, artistic, beautiful woman.  Because some passages take a very long time to find one’s way through, and it’s possible that some  never really end.  Because my beloved niece still wears her grandmother’s gold whistle around her neck.  And because when my sister laughs so hard she ‘strips her gears’ (as my dad used to say), it evokes a delight in my heart that reaches far back to another place and time.  Dad and Deb laughing so hard they’d eventually start to hiccup and mom’s laugh bringing her to tears as she would hug her stomach with a delicious pain.   I was good for a laugh.  Don’t get me wrong – I was also good at causing my share of frustration too.

I re-printed her obituary from the New York Times last year and I will do so again this year.  Perhaps wherever she is, she will know how much she is missed,  how much she is loved and how today each falling leaf seems to echo her name.

“….Dee was the loving mother of daughters Deborah…and Mimi… .  She was the proud grandmother of Matthew…, Aaron…, Tess…, Seth…, Spencer… and Paul…, and generous mother-in-law of Roger … and Andy… .  She was the devoted wife and indispensable partner of the late Jack W. Jerome.  Dee was born and spent her early childhood in Vienna, making her one of that shrinking cohort who experienced and survived the monstrous storm of Nazi violence.  Her father and mother, Michael and Miriam Intrator, took the family out of Austria shortly after the Anschluss, making their way first to Belgium and then through occupied France.  The family made its way to Portugal, where on August 16, 1941, they found passage among the 765 other refugees on the Spanish freighter Navemar – one of the last voyages of escapees from Europe.  Dee’s children and grandchildren bear in their hearts eternal, existential gratitude for her family’s valor and persistence.  Her intelligence, humor and immense energy were a gift to us all.  Our family is particularly gladdened that Dee lived long enough to know of the safe return earlier this month of her eldest grandson Matthew, from Iraq, where for the past year he has served in harm’s way the country that gave his grandmother safe haven.”

My dad died shortly before Matt left for Iraq.  Mom waited for all of her grandchildren to be home and safe.  I refer to that time as the year I didn’t breathe, for all I knew was that I drew breath when I knew Matt was breathing – and we weren’t in touch enough for me to know with certainty that he was ok.  There are some things I’m just not prepared to write about – my heart censors my fingers.  As it should be.  The point is not to return to that time, but to remember that today’s mom’s birthday.  And she would have been feted and celebrated.  As it should be.  So for mom – your birthday is etched in my heart.  I miss you.

 

The Color Of Money Can Make You Green

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times today by Greg Smith titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs”.  After an impressive career with this professional services powerhouse, Mr. Smith found that the values he embraced, touted and evangelized for the firm now rang hollow.  He speaks about the erosion of a culture that embraced the priorities of maintaining client trust, reflecting a “spirit of humility” and teamwork.  Those were the big draws for Mr. Smith when considering his professional options.  I don’t want to sound naive – Goldman, as any other firm of its kind, will always reward rainmakers with additional compensation and bonuses, and though it may downplay the ever-present eat-what-you-kill undercurrent that permeates much of the professional service zeitgeist, it is certainly a widely accepted approach.  All professional service firms do it to some degree.

What has happened at Goldman is also not unique.  I think it is indicative of the cultural shift that occurs when firms move farther and farther away from the tenets that made them great.  Organizations that were seen as formidable now seek to become formidable-on-steroids.  Firms that aspired to greatness – and achieved it – through the principles of trust, team effort, shared focus, may no longer be practicing such fundamentals of good business.  These are still the words that are espoused, but the authentic practice is devalued – and certainly no longer rewarded.  The most foreboding harbinger of all is that some who excel at making money, used to be content with increasing monetary rewards.  Now they are expecting to be provided positions of leadership as part of some perceived additional entitlement.  I have been in the world of professional services for more than twenty five years (true, I started when I was three :-)), and it is undeniable that Mr. Smith’s observations reflect a train that is racing out of the station.  Firms like these will always compete with each other based on their financial results; perhaps in the past they compromised less on the collective ethos upon which such success was founded.

I do believe there is good news for those of us who forlornly watch the Kool-Aid we drank becoming increasingly rancid.  I think firms will return to their basic values over time.  Firm will become indistinguishable from each other for awhile, distinctions only made my profits and global reach.  Each organizations’ Web page will speak to the brilliance of its teams, state-of-the-art-technology, ability to respond to client needs in real time any where in the world.  Ultimately though clients will demand the return to an organizational philosophy that is evidenced in action as well as word.  Clients will drive the pendulum back to the values of trust, quality and collegiality, for the color of money will be making them green (with figurative nausea).  Profits per partner may go down – and they arguably should if it means a return to humility, shared effort and collaborative success.  Perhaps this is the dark night of the soul for firms like Goldman.  Perhaps it is the only way they will again experience the dawn. (more…)