The preparations were going more smoothly than Louise had expected, for such a last-minute hasty decision to have this party for the new CEO. Work was busy enough without the VP of sales deciding to kiss up to the new boss with a party – a surprise party, no less. Louise hoped the CEO liked surprises, but generally they didn’t.
“That’s your outfit?”
Louise looked up. “Y-yes. Is there something wrong with it?” She looked herself over to see if anything was askew. It wasn’t.
“You were supposed to dress in the image of the company’s products.”
Louise hesitated. “Well, I thought this outfit looked simple and efficient, like our products. People like efficient things that work.”
The VP sighed. “Sell the sizzle, not the steak. But no matter; too late to change now.” He wheeled around and went to buttonhole another attendee.
Louise slumped in her chair and wished she could be back at her desk. There was a trade show to plan for, a new Product Requirements Document to review, and a million small but important tasks. Couldn’t she just work? Why did she have play pretend-salesperson?
The room quieted and Louise looked up – something was about to happen. The lights dimmed and the door from the hallway opened, revealing the VP and the CEO. Fluorescents flickered back on to enthusiastic, if ragged, shouts of surprise. Louise mumbled her own surprise and sank back.
Despite the VP’s efforts to make it ‘special’, events followed the usual birthday party routine. There was a cake with candles, along with the usual lame jokes about the number of candles. Cake-cutting fell to a couple of women – Louise reflected that while some women might make it through the glass ceiling, they somehow never escaped the kitchen.
After a bit, the party began to wind down and Louise started to contemplate escaping back to her desk. A few people had left already; one didn’t want to be the first to leave but once the dam broke it was safer. Then there was a voice behind her.
“I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Bob Cohn.” Louise turned around to face the new CEO. “Hi! I’m Louise Henriksen. I’m – I’m in product management.”
“Wonderful!” Bob said. “That role has far more to do with our success than fancy Powerpoints or sales meetings. If you guys don’t get the product right in the first place, there’s not much that sales can do to fix it.”
Louise didn’t say anything, just nodded. “Yes. I agree. If you don’t plant the right crop the harvest won’t matter much.”
It was Bob’s turn to nod. “Interesting analogy. If you have time, I’d like to meet with you and really learn more about what we have in the product pipeline. The executive-level staff presentations are far too sanitized.”