I went into the meeting with a high level of both enthusiasm and business vigor. I knew I was competing against other marketing consultants for the business. I was used to that. Did not bother me one bit. I was confident not only in my skills but my ability to sell them. If this meeting were not with someone this well known, "famous" even, I might have been less enamored, more willing to walk away. I did everything except walk away.
The meeting was with the mother-manager (momager) of a world renowned R&B singer. When I drove up to the studio I steadied myself for whatever was to come. I was determined not to leave without the contract to design their new website. That was in a nutshell the opportunity. We had a firm meeting time. Her people had called my people and the time was set. I arrived in plenty enough time to park and look around some before going in. What I noticed right away is how ordinary the environment seemed, not posh whatsoever. The people-employees I encountered seemed so young and quite frankly had a punch-the-clock persona about them. Really, they were all running around like lost mice, scared, anxious, uncertain. My gut took notice.
After waiting in a sparsely decorated lobby for what seemed like forever, I was whisked into a conference room adorned with walls of every possible music award imaginable. Here I sat. And sat, and sat. Finally, some movement. The meeting start time nearly 90 minutes past due. A young man enters and sits down next to me in the conference room. He is dressed in a sweatsuit. I ask him who he was here to see and before he could answer another young employee pops her head in and simply says, "Ms. "X" will see you now." My head nearly exploded. This young sweatpants wearing dude was her personal trainer. His time with her took priority over mine. At that instant I decided to leave. The business opportunity for me was valued at about $50,000. In this moment I could care less if it was $5,000,000.
I was even more determined to leave without giving an explanation. My inside guts could not be calmed. Just as I gathered my things, yet another young employee appeared and asked me to follow him. For reasons I can't fully explain, I followed. For the next thirty minutes I half-heartedly toured the more posh parts of the studio including several really impressive recording studios. We entered the last room through a big door. Behind that door was momager. Her space looked like a penthouse apartment.
In less than five minutes I learned that I was primarily there because I graduated from Harvard Business School. She was impressed by that. I also learned, largely from overhearing several of the calls she continued to take that there was a lot of interest in her, more to the point, her son's business. There was much Hollywood style manipulation happening through those phone encounters. It was easy to see she was eager and interested in protecting her business interests but I questioned her ability to be completely savvy about it. I noticed how she was being pulled, out-talked, and out-smarted by money makers on that phone line. She tried to hold on, to stand tall, to remain firm but it seemed from where I sat a losing battle. "None of my business" I told myself. Besides I was still seething from being kept waiting for no apparent reason. Still I couldn't help but feel sorry for the situation she seemed to be in, ensnared by bigger hunters.
Between one of these business calls, she turns to me and in her best terse voice says, "If you repeat anything you have heard in this office to anyone, you will never work in this town again. Do you understand fully what I mean?!"
I had heard her. I knew then that I could never again sit across from her at a desk. I knew that I could never respect her or her business enough to succeed. I knew I was not going to allow any woman to talk to me like that whether in business or not. After a moment of playing my response over in my head I spoke. "Ms. "X" I do understand. I understand fully. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. I have nothing to offer you." And with that I left. I was escorted out by a young employee. Before I could reach her door her phone rang.
A few weeks later I saw her number pop up on my cell. It went unanswered. In our lives we all must develop our inner list of non-negotiables. Those things about ourselves we will not compromise. When you know, you know.