Colin is a Vice President at Sub Rosa. He is pretty much what one would expect from a Vice President at a private equity firm. Ivy league (he went to my alma mater but graduated two years earlier than I did and I didn't really know him well there). Top business school. Bulge Bracket Investment Banking experience. One of the "beautiful people." All the bells and whistles.
It was quite a while after I joined the firm before I started spending very much time in the Midtown offices. I was afraid at first that this might breed resentment among my colleagues. In this I was wrong. Guarded suspicion? Perhaps. Resentment? No.
My office in the Midtown space blew me away when I first saw it. I had a wonderful view of midtown and the Chrysler building and what struck me as an overly large office with a leather topped work desk (Armin is big on leather topped desks) visitor chairs, a standing roll-top secretary desk by the window and a sofa. When I first started spending a lot of time there I used to write at the secretary roll-top desk, until I found out it was an authentic 18th century antique. Now I can't even touch the thing. It just feels wrong.
I had met Colin a few times before I "moved in" to the offices in Manhattan, but I had never seen his office. When I knocked on his door to ask him if he had or knew of anyone who had any experience for a particular industry he was on the phone but waved me in anyhow.
As one is prone to do when entering an office for the first time, I glanced around to see what secrets the office held. I'm not sure I found any but the far wall was literally covered in dozens of framed certificates, diplomas, letters, announcements and such. I had thought Colin only to be in his early thirties but the sheer scope of these mementos made me think again. Was this actually his office?
I walked to the nearest framed letter, which looked to be a rather recent edition, and started reading:
Dear Coleen Soandso:
It is my pleasure to inform you that you are being considered for inclusion into the 2006/2007 Manchester Who's Who Among Executive and Professional Woman "Honors Edition" of the registry.
The 2006/2007 edition of the registry will include biographies of our country's most accomplished women. Recognition of this kind is an honor shared by thousands of executive and professional women throughout America, each year. Inclusion is considered by many as the single highest mark of achievement.
Upon final confirmation, you will be listed among thousands of accomplished women in the Manchester Who's Who Registry.
Colin hung up. I pointed at the letter with what must have been an amused look on my face.
"Congratulations," I said. He laughed.
"Oh that? Yeah."
"Executive and professional women?"
"Happens all the time. My name confuses them."
"'Colin' confuses them?"
"Well, that's not actually my name. It's Colen. I use Colin just because I got tired of correcting people."
"Do you always frame these kinds of things?"
"You haven't looked at the wall yet, have you?" I started to browse among the other framed pieces. A letter from a Nigerian attorney, "I am most hopeful and pleased to present you with a nomination for a diplomatic post with the Nigerian Department of the Exterior." Of course, a modest processing fee would be required. A diploma from someplace called the "State University of Springfield." The name of the state in which the University was organized was not listed. Next to that was a certificate from "Paranormal University." Then, a commission to the Texas Navy, complete with embossed seal. The list went on and on, each framed memento sillier than the last.
"When I was in undergrad," he started to explain, "it became somehow funny for my friends to sign me up for any crazy offer or service that they found. Of course, in college one comes across a great number of these. I've been in the panty of the month club, the preferred customer list for battery powered assisted living scooters, the hair club for men..." With this last I looked more carefully at his head. If he was wearing a hairpiece it was a good one.
"If the initial offer was either free, required no credit card or was under $50 and funny enough, you could be pretty sure my friends would sign me up. I am on so many mailing lists that here I am, a decade later, and I still get 20-30 offers a week," he sounded almost wistful.
"When I started interviewing for investment banking I saw all these managing directors with their tombstones and bragging walls. Sometimes these guys have tombstones for deals that have gone so south as to be embarrassing, but they keep them. How'd you like to be a senior member of the lead underwriter for the last WorldCom offering? Yet that tombstone is a bragging piece right too. It says 'We got rich on a deal that fleeced everyone else, aren't we sharp?' The whole thing seemed pretentious and stupid to me. So I made my own version."
We talked for a while about the industry I was interested in and when I was finished he reached into his inbox and pulled out a piece of junk mail. "Apparently, I've been nominated for the Manchester Who's Who for overachieving women again. This time I have two ells in my name."