M.O.M. Mary O’Malley. You changed my life. In 1999 I was a cocky young employee working at Prudential in a really amazing rotational program. I got lucky. I had some of the best bosses and peers I’ve ever had, even to this day. I sought out and was lucky enough to score this opportunity to be the Project Manager for Prudential’s 125th anniversary. The project gave me a level of responsibility and access I didn’t deserve. The CEO of Prudential knew my name (so did his family), would seek me out to say hi. I sat with all the key executives as they talked about their tenures at Prudential and we documented them for a wonderful book (one that made me fall in love with the human aspect of storytelling.) I built websites. I helped create company service programs and awards. I met Jay Leno, Ray Charles, and was supposed to meet Lauryn Hill (but she flaked and I learned all about her flakiness first-hand, children be d*mned.) I had a lifetime of professional experiences in one amazing year.
I share all the good fortune because, of all those experiences … the single most valuable was getting the opportunity to work for Mary O’Malley. She changed my life. Today, right now, is her retirement party. I can’t make it because in my old age, I’ve got a herniated disc in my lower back that makes walking, sleeping, anything, painful to the point of tears. It’s a good thing I’m not there, because I’d be gushing and tearing up regardless of the pain.
Mary was strong. Mary was powerful. Mary was charismatic. Mary was fair. Mary was worldly. Mary was funny and cutting as hell. Mary was so many amazing things. The consummate bad@ss. She was one of the best, if not the best boss, I ever had.
She also taught me my biggest lesson about work and responsibility. An analogy I still use and have passed on to several people, many many people actually, after she gave it to me. When I left working for Mary I left fairly abruptly. I was enticed by the dotcom boom. Had a few opportunities to leave the company. And I gave Mary 2 weeks notice. She took it gracefully. She heard me tell my story about why. She smiled all the way through it. She offered coaching and contacts. For all my stumbling and lack of courtesy she made up for it on the other side.
And then she looked across her big old stunning, wooden desk, with me sitting on the other side and asked if she could share one more thing. Boom.
She told me that she believed in me, but that my actions had let her down. Not me, my actions. She said the notice I had given would certainly disrupt a very major project for the company. And she dropped the analogy. “Suneet, when you go grocery shopping there are two types of people. There’s the kind of person who, while walking down the aisle, sees something they want, and takes their cart over to that object, takes it off the shelf, and puts it in their cart. And then, there’s the kind of person who sees what they want, and walks over to get it, leaving their cart unattended and strewn about the aisle, blocking everyone else’s path. Everyone else be d*mned, because that person was going to get what they wanted. Your actions … today, make you the latter. But I have no doubt that you want to be the former, and that you will be going forward.”
Mary’s been someone I’ve turned to informally over time. She came to speak at Duke when I was hosting a conference. She made time for Priya KC Bhatt when she joined Prudential recently. Mary, I’ve worked like hell to take my shopping cart with me everywhere I go. Rarely a moment goes by where I have let someone down where I don’t think about your words. And even more powerfully, rarely a moment goes by when someone who’s worked for me has misstepped in some way, where I make sure I let them know …it’s not them, it’s the action.
Happy Retirement, M.O.M. You changed my life.