On Monday a big group of Eisenhower Fellowships staff and Fellows met with Mayor Nutter. The main goal was to introduce him to the program, enlist his support, and offer ours.
I've known Michael (as I cant help but think of him) for something like 20 years. I was a Democratic Committeeperson in his Ward in Overbrook when I was in my 20s. He was extremely helpful to our community group as we successfully stopped a private golf club from being paved over, and I helped him deliver votes for President Clinton. In the four years I worked with him, I gained enormous respect for those in public service including politicians through his example. He was tireless, attending breakfasts and evening events almost every day. He was smart, thoughtful, hardworking and completely authentic an impressive guy overall. And his ethics were unimpeachable.
On Monday, I received an official letter from the Mayor congratulating me on my Fellowship, with a nice personal note: Congratulations It would be great to see you sometime soon! Clearly, he had no idea I'd be showing up to see him that day! Ive only run into Michael a few times since we worked together, and he always remembers me, which is astonishing given how many people he must know. So it was fun when he came in, went around the room meeting everyone and gave me a smile, a hug, and a kiss. Sitting down he said something about not having seen me in a while, and I made a joke about the note. At the end of the meeting (more on that in a second), he came over and made a point of showing me Im in his Blackberry with the wrong name and number, but youre still in here! It was really nice.
The meeting itself was enlightening. The Mayor was happy to help and suggested a number of ways we could contribute so our mission was accomplished. For me the interesting part was his discourse on the realities he deals with. He was incredibly candid. The experience was 180 degrees from dinner with President Fox. We got a real feel for how difficult it is to manage a city today the % of budget in the 7 areas that no one wants cuts, the challenge of dealing with constant emergencies (that day it was a rumor of another flashmob), the unreasonable constraints the public wraps around government employees (e.g. all travel is assumed to be a boondoggle), I came away with a deeper appreciation of the mess were in and a deeper respect for the Mayor. Im doubtful that true success is possible, but Im glad hes sitting in that chair trying hard.
Finally, as at every Eisenhower event, I met more great fellows, including Sister Mary Scullion and Gail Harrity. I cant imagine how many cool people there will be at next weeks Opening Seminar, when Ill meet this years International Fellows and enjoy a day and a half of leadership development. Im looking forward to both!
President Fox was in town to speak to the Wharton Hispanic American MBA Association (WHAMBAA). They had a reception with him, then he joined a group of about 30 business leaders for dinner. The group was interesting for me because it was so different from those I usually interact with, mainly they were from traditional industries. Everyone had name tags with just their name and organization, e.g. Lucinda Holt ClickEquations. We all hung around, chatted, drank and enjoyed beautiful little hors doeuvres while we waited. My first faux pas of the evening was asking Brother McGiniss of La Salle University what his role there was. Hes the President Doh! Everyone here is the President.
My second awkward moment was meeting President and Mrs. Fox. I was about 2/3rds of the way in line, so I thought that I knew what to expect, but I wasnt ready when he took by hand and leaned in to kiss me. Both cheeks, European style. Then I wasnt ready again when Mrs. Fox, who is about 5 tall, did the same thing. Oh well, at least I used the correct salutation with each of them and knew which (of the very very many) utensils to use.
There were about 30 people in attendance, at three tables of 10. I lucked out and was seated at the main table with President and Mrs. Fox. I have no idea why. There were men who ran huge water treatment and engineering firms on either side of me, the founder of a huge money management firm in Chicago, Managing Partners from two major law firms, and two others (who didnt make much of an impact on me, I guess!) filled out the table. I enjoyed talking before and after dinner with the engineer. Amazingly, we grew up just a few blocks from each other in a crummy neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Living in a world of technology and venture capital Im used to being a small minority as a woman and that wasnt any different despite the industry diversity. The only other women were Mrs. Fox and Anne Gordon from Dubilier & Co., past Managing Director of The Philadelphia Inquirer (and Eisenhower alum).
Dinner was, candidly, much less interesting than I expected. While the other two tables talked raucously, we listened to the Presidents story about his flight delay (the universal topic, travel stories), which was very funny and he told it very well. Then he asked each of us in turn what we do and used whatever we said or asked to riff for a while. Im not deeply familiar with the politics of Latin America, but the conversation didnt get very deep. I was longing for someone to really engage him, but that clearly wasnt what we were to do, so we didnt. I would have loved to have had a real discussion about the paradigm of large government and NGO projects I think its totally broken and he clearly believes in it. The perspectives from that group would have been fascinating but we were there to bask in the presence, suck up, and be hit up (quietly and tastefully) for donations to Fox Centro.
The whole experience was tremendously educational for me. And now Im just a single small degree of separation from Fidel Castro and the Pope! I wonder if theyre on LinkedIn.
I've started and/or run too many venture capital-backed software companies, plus one ill-fated food startup.