11: Roses Along the Executive Path

11: Roses Along the Executive Path

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Roses Along the Executive Path

Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own power you cannot be successful or happy.

~Norman Vincent Peale

The sudden blast of the telephone interrupted the quiet in the office on the Friday afternoon before Christmas in 1970. From anyone else, the call would not have roused further thought, but my mind rippled with curiosity at Bruno’s request. Why did he want to see me? During the fifteen years I had worked at the small tool-distributing company, he had never shown the least inclination to socialize.

Bruno already rated as an important customer when I started typing invoices. If it had been up to him, I would have remained a billing clerk forever because he refused to recognize my move to the order desk. Back then, of course, the gender gap for job equality hadn’t even begun to close. Even if progress had been made, however, Bruno probably would not have been affected. Along with an Old-World accent, he seemed to hold a medieval concept of women.

In spite of my best Dale Carnegie manner, Bruno always asked to speak with “one of the boys.” Usually a man stayed in the office who could satisfy the requirement, so I didn’t push to handle his calls.

As my inside sales coverage expanded, however, “the boys” devoted more time to outside calls. One day, all three men were out, so I asked Bruno if I could help. “Have one of the boys call me back,” he said. My sense of personal pride went flat, but my professional sense said that a customer was entitled to a display of idiosyncrasy.

Eventually, though, it wasn’t in the interest of good business to keep Bruno waiting. “I don’t expect any of the boys back this afternoon, Bruno,” I said. “If you want to give me the order, someone can look it over and get back with you if there’s a problem.”

That incident didn’t revolutionize my relationship with Bruno, but it was a beginning. His preference definitely remained for manto-man negotiations, but I was promoted to a second-rate order clerk. If he wanted information, though, it was essential that he speak with one of the boys.

Our business association might never have progressed beyond that point had it not been for the discrepancy in the order he gave me that allowed me to make points with Bruno. He grumbled when I said the part number and description didn’t match, but offered a weak “thank you” after checking his records to find I was correct. An error in shipping can play havoc with the routine on an automobile assembly line.

Bruno gained confidence in me after that. Still, from force of habit, he announced one day that he needed some information and wished to talk to one of the boys. Before I could transfer the call, however, he amended his request. “Maybe you know,” he said. “You seem to know a lot — for a woman.”

Later on, business growth dictated some personnel changes in our company. I passed down the job of billing clerk to devote most of my time to customer relations. Also, the volume of incoming calls required a back-up person for the phone. Although a man was selected for the job, Bruno preferred speaking with me. “I’ll wait,” he’d say if I was on another line. Or, “Have her call me back.”

In a few years, my duties as vice president forced me to minimize customer contact, but not with Bruno. For me, he represented achievement of my personal goals as a businesswoman.

The whole panorama of events flashed before my mind on that Friday afternoon in 1970 when Bruno’s telephone call turned social. At last, I was going to meet the man who played such an important role in my career, and I could hardly wait.

I was in the warehouse when Bruno arrived on Saturday morning. “Mrs. Bailey?” he asked.

We shook hands and then went into my office to talk. The exchange of words unrelated to business required great effort on his part, but a warmth flowed between us that needed no verbal expression.

After a while, acting more like a self-conscious fifth-grader than the tough businessman he was, Bruno pulled a little package from his pocket.

“A Christmas present,” he said.

His choice of gift was affecting. He had come to regard me as a partner in business, but the little bottle of perfume said he also considered me female — that my womanhood was as significant as my executive ability. What more could a woman want? I’d already been earning a salary equal to that of the key men for quite a few years.

~Esther M. Bailey

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