A Brief Account | A Fortune 500 CEO, Two Kittens and “Asking”
“A Brief Account” is a series of personal stories about interesting personalities with whom I have worked. This is the first in the series.
In the early 1990s, I had joined the Texas staff of a national conservation organization. After several challenging years working at The University of Texas at Austin, I was hungry for change. But happily, my new nonprofit adventure involved some of my favorite prior donors.
A beloved mentor of mine was the head of one of Austin’s first Fortune 500 companies. He and his wife had taken an interest in an historic block of homes, the Bremond Block in downtown Austin. They renovated one of the Victorian homes, and raised a family there. Eventually, the house was converted to the CEO’s office, and the couple moved their home to the suburbs.
It was there on San Antonio Street that I used to visit. The CEO and I worked on our various nonprofit projects, I would ask for advice about work and life, and I would catch up with him about the goings-on in the Austin business community, where he stood at the hub.
After a few months working with the conservation organization, the director and I scheduled a meeting with the CEO. We hoped he would support our activities to protect significant Texas wildlife habitat. Texas is a large state, and it has many different ecological regions. We had our work cut out for us.
I remember that day, I dressed in a lovely all-linen outfit: a flowing periwinkle colored skirt, and an off-white linen blouse. It was one of my favorite outfits.
We arrived and the three of us sat in the “library” of the historic building and office. On the conference table stood an imposing stack of unopened mail, and a couple of rolled-up posters bound with rubber bands.
I was not aware until the visit that day, that mice were a problem in the historic block we were visiting. In fact, the CEO has acquired two kittens to serve as “mousers” for the house. They careened about the hardwood floors while we talked business, making me suppress a smile or two as they playfully chased one another as our nonprofit’s executive director and I prepared to ask for a $100,000 contribution.
I kept quiet and allowed the executive director to lead the discussion that day, prepared to provide information only as needed. I had known the CEO for years; he was my “guardian angel” and I suspect we got in to meet that day because of it. As the conversation continued, our conservation projects were outlined in detail. But in the midst of this, the two kittens had discovered my flowing linen skirt underneath the table. Their tiny claws slipped easily into the loosely woven linen fabric. They began climbing my skirt as if it were a small mountain.
Now, this was a serious meeting and the appointment had been hard to obtain. I tried quietly to “shoo” the kitchens off my linen skirt, left and right under the table. They continued slowly climbing. I knew I had to suppress my effort to shoo them away and not ruin the atmosphere of the meeting. But soon, the kittens reached my lap, and then they jumped gleefully onto the conference table. Ta da! At that point, I burst out laughing.
Without a blink, the CEO grabbed one of the rolled-up posters in his pile of mail and “whacked” at the kittens, not hitting them but definitely scaring them off with a “pop” and a “pop” as he hit the table top. They literally flew off the table and scurried into the adjacent reception area. Somehow, I suspected this action had been required before. A kitten-tolerant office to be sure!
I will never forget this memorable “asking” experience, nor my friend the imposing CEO with his two tiny mischievous kittens. The lesson of this story is similar to others I have shared on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog: keep a cool head … and sometimes you can and should laugh at the situation in which you find yourself.