Lanier's Chairman was the dynamic Gene Milner, a natural leader and salesman. Ethel, his equally dynamic executive assistant, was a member of EWI, Executive Women International. It was an important influence in her life, therefore an important influence in Mr. Milner's life. Ethel kept Mr. Milner's train running on time always and kept him out of trouble at minimum 51% of the time.
Lanier hosted a black tie reception at the 1981 EWI annual convention in Calgary. I flew as the only fellow passenger with Mr. Milner on the Lanier corporate jet. A great relief to be invited, as I was otherwise looking at 3 or 4 stops from Atlanta were I to fly commercial.
Mr. Milner had work to do on our flight, as did I. Yet he was one of those leaders who took an interest in everyone, no matter how low on the totem pole. He abruptly stopped what he was doing and asked, "Well Peter, what do you think will be interesting about Calgary?"
A million thoughts and possible answers raced through my head.
1. Will the 2nd of two hotels where our group is lodged be as questionable as my EWI contact said it might be?
2. Will the rental tuxedos I arranged for 30 or so execs flying in from around the US fit?
3. Will the EWI audience like singer Jimmy Damon flying in from Chicago, a budget no name Sinatra sound alike who could belt out a mean tune but was still a no name except in Chicago?
4. Will I have to remember my high school French in Calgary?
OK, #'s 3 & 4 are a joke. #s 1 & 2 were definitely on my mind.
Instead I replied, "Mr. Milner, I do not know what to expect from Calgary, but I look forward to meeting my Mom's best childhood friend Betty, an EWI member attending from Salt Lake City."
Without attempting to further paraphrase dialogue, the conversation continued in a direction I did not expect. Mr. Milner inquired and I answered about my Mom and what little I knew about her friend - primarily that Mom, herself a world class hoot, described Betty as a hoot. That must make the woman one heck of a hoot.
We arrived in Calgary and proceeded to our hotel. Mr. Milner then went to what had to be Lanier's small sales or distributor office. Knowing him they would not know to expect his visit. He liked to operate on the fly, albeit strategically, and surprise folks to see if they were hard at work.
I proceeded to the banquet hall and met with catering staff. I phoned the tux rental place. I strolled to the 2nd hotel, indeed as scary as described. I braced myself for severe scolding by the 50% of executives who were yet to arrive and would lodge there. I no doubt unpacked a few cases of these. I never traveled anywhere without a few cases of these.
Fast forward 36 hours to Reception Day. We shan't get into details about my scolding re the seedy 2nd hotel and tuxedos that fit poorly. Suffice it to say I received and tolerated the mass scolding I expected.
The banquet hall, meals, beverage service, Jimmy Damon, local musicians, and rental sound system were as good as I could have hoped for, far better than I dreaded they might be.
Please understand this is not a knock on 1981 Calgary. This is a knock on ignorant 24 year old me who thought Calgary would and could offer nothing more than a stampede.
The reception hour arrived, and my job was to make the magic begin. Fortunately magic was not my burden for long, as Mr. Milner took the stage, soon followed by executive assistant Ethel. They were both charismatic and dazzled the audience, many members of which had already helped themselves to more than one serving at the open bars.
Mom's friend Betty and I immediately sought each other out. We danced and chatted, only to be interrupted when Mr. Milner sought her out for a dance. I doubt they spoke about me. He likely inquired about what dictation and word processing products her Salt Lake executive staff used and walked away with an order.
When they parted Betty wanted to dance and chat some more. She was indeed a hoot. And attractive. My attractive Mom didn't hang around with no chumps, yet I admired and respected this woman in only a maternal way. Or a maternal friend way. Whatever. Suffice it to say I did not channel Oedipus that night.
The evening wore on to the point I needed to get back to magic making duties, more specifically my duty to bring the magic to an end. Betty confided, "Nonsense. There are people here I need to see, and they can wait. If you get into trouble I'll bail you out with that Gene Milner."
I had the feeling that lady could slay any dragon I may ever report to. I have reported to lizards who thought they were dragons, and I wished Betty was around to slay them. Or just step on them.
Knowing time was indeed short, Betty proceeded to introduce me around to her exec friends like I was some kind of VIP instead of the grunt I was. Her overt attention impressed Ethel to no end, which was almost better than impressing Mr. Milner. If Ethel could keep him out of trouble maybe she could keep me out of trouble with him. She would certainly have her chances in years to follow.
The point of all this, if you still believe there is a point, is the first two EWI members I met 37 years ago were two of the most dynamic and charismatic people I have ever met anywhere. Either could slay a dragon, and I expect each slew many in decades since.
EWI was originally Executive Secretaries, Inc. Not sure if they ever went by ESI. I will not attempt political correctness here, which is a good thing because I am not gifted in that department. Secretary went on to be called Executive Assistant. In truth, many times one should be called Executive Who Keeps Other Executives Out of Severe Trouble.
EWI evolution hardly ends there. In 1977 they formally adopted the name Executive Women International to better reflect their membership.
Today EWI represents just plain Executive Women as well as Executive Assistants. There is little if any distinction between the two.
When I think of Executive Women I know I think of ...
Debbie Storey, AT&T Executive VP & Author.
Bonny Putney, Goddess of All Things Water.
Susan DeWyngaert, Senior Pastor & Head of Staff.
Susan Bravman, Food Network Advertising VP & Sales Legend.
Judy Watson, Freelance Business Writer Extraordinaire.
Betty Hudson, National Geographic Executive VP & Communications Titan.
Leola Lauderbach Stoddard, my grandmother, a school principal & postmaster. Postmistress in those days. Her word, not mine.
Vilate Currie White, my other grandmother, a 1950s TV show host & electric utility honcho.
Mary Louise White Stoddard, my mother, a housewife, Piedmont Hospital pink lady, volunteer honcho at Peachtree Presbyterian Church & Salvation Army bellringer. Pity the fool who calls her anything other than an Executive. She raised my 2 brothers and me. Warren Buffett & Bill Gates pale by comparison.
One can only imagine what more these women might achieve with the benefit of an EWI scholarship.
Ever expanding, EWI seeks to open new chapters in North America.
If there is no chapter near you one need not worry. EWI offers Professional Development Webinars available wherever you are.
Take a closer look at EWI today to join or find a chapter near you.
EWI - Executive Women International