It Ain’t Always Carnaval

When the music stopped during the never-ending corporate version of musical chairs, he found himself with the glorious (or was it to be inglorious?) title of Executive Vice President Marketing and Strategy, Americas. A mouthful. Sounds better than it was.

From Canada to Chile, as he liked to say, he learned about the international side of the business, cultural differences, people and working style differences. In fact, Canada was a dream. Despite the business and profitability constraints, the Canadian operation was top of the game.

South America was another matter.

The Americas was run by a South American ex-pat who was smart and hard working but a micro manager with an occasional reluctance to pull the trigger. In other words, tough to work for.

But, all in all, the experience was terrific. Where else but in Latin America are the following expressions a life principle?

It’s better to apologize than ask permission.

A red traffic light is merely a suggestion.

All things are possible (said while rubbing the thumb, index and middle fingers).

But then, and even more so now, security while traveling was an important issue. On one of the first trips, for example, he was met by a driver/security person just outside of immigration who chastised him for putting his passport into the breast pocket of his jacket. He was informed that he wouldn’t get out of the building without having his pocket picked.

Big deal he thought. A friend had his wallet picked on the streets of Paris.

He heard about a French colleague mugged during daylight in Sao Paulo. Another had his computer ripped out of his hands in Mexico City. Most of his South American associates lived in gated communities but, unlike the US, the gatekeepers had machine guns.

So what, he thought, I grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NYC and the world is a tough place. “Don’t rain on my ‘salad days,’”[1] was his motto.

Then one fine day he got a wake up call.

The Swedish partners decided to concentrate on expanding the business in Latin America and wanted to have a conference to discuss brand development issues in the continent.  The marketing folks wanted the meeting to be held in Bogota, Columbia. He wasn’t pleased but, whatever… never been there, how bad could it be?

To go there he needed a visa and had to go through Corporate to get things arranged. That’s where the story begins…

He comes into his office one day and Mary, his assistant, says, “You can’t go to Bogota because Leo won’t let you go.”

The scene shifts to Leo McGillicudy – the nicest and most decent person he had ever met at the company. Head of security and a former former FBI agent, Leo was a friend and someone he respected and admired.

“What the hell?” he said to Mary. “I’ll call him,” knowing full well if Leo said no, it was no.

He: “’Hi Leo. How’s the family?” (Pause) “Great…listen Leo, what’s this about my not being able to go to Bogota?”

Leo: “Are you nuts? Do you read the papers? It isn’t safe and I can’t let you go.”

He: “ Come on, it’s my job, how bad can it be?”

Leo: “Are you listening? The last thing I need at this point in my life is to go to Bogota and save your sorry ass.”

He: “What am I am suppose to tell my boss…”

Leo: “Whatever you want. You aren’t going.”

He: “But he’s from Latin America and I’m new on his staff…what’s he going to think when I tell him I’m not going?”

Leo: “I don’t give a s**t. Tell him I said he can’t go either.”

The meeting was held in Aruba.


[1] Refers to a person’s heyday when somebody was at the peak of his/her abilities

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