When Life Give You Lemons…-Zig Zag Principle #11

June 11th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Building networks of relationships does not happen overnight, and it takes attentiveness and hard work.  I’ve seen people who set out with a very clear goal to build a network as quickly as possible.  They see their goal, and they see others as a way to reach the goal.  And they often bulldoze straight ahead, leaving expendable bodies in their wake.  Some of the greatest relationships I’ve been fortunate to enjoy have come at the end of zigzagging that took place over months and even years—and could never have been envisioned if I had sat down and tried to map out who I needed to know and where knowing them would get me. 

As part of my MBA program while I was still working at Novell, I had the opportunity to go on a trip through Asia to study various businesses in Japan, Korea, and China.  When I returned, Mitsubishi had just signed a contract with Novell for some strategic engineering work.  As it happened, I was the only one in our department who had ever been to Japan.  So, even though I did not speak the language, I got assigned to be the strategic engineer for Mitsubishi. 

During this time the president of Mitsubishi’s PC Division, Dr. Peter Horne, traveled from Japan to Utah several times to meet with Novell’s CEO, Ray Noorda.  My job was to pick him up at the Salt Lake City airport and drive him to our Provo office, which was about an hour away.  I suppose I could have viewed this assignment as something of a chore, but I chose to see it as an opportunity to get to know a very bright, talented, capable individual.  So, I would wash my car, (thank goodness, I had recently traded up from the Dodge Colt!) and would try to think of some interesting topics of conversation. 

Dr. Horne and I had made the same trip several times when something happened that changed my life. As he climbed into my car on a Wednesday afternoon for another trip back to the airport, Dr. Horne tossed his jacket into the back seat of my car, unbeknownst to me.  When we pulled up to the terminal, he grabbed his luggage but inadvertently left his jacket behind.  I drove home, dropped off the car for my wife, and then got a ride to a Boy Scout activity I was helping to chaperone.

This was before cell phones, and while I was gone my wife got a frantic call from Dr. Horne letting her know that he had failed to retrieve his jacket and that his passport and wallet were in its pockets.  Without a second thought, my wife loaded our three kids (all under the age of six) into the car and drove like crazy up to the airport.  My wife and these little kids ran through the airport as fast as they could in order to get the jacket to Dr. Horne before his flight took off.  (If you can remember ancient history, this was before the days of airport security.) 

A few weeks later my wife received a package in the mail with a beautiful hand-carved jewelry box and a thank-you note.  In the note Dr. Horne commented that his wallet had contained a substantial amount of cash and that not one cent had been touched.  He expressed amazement that we would have the integrity to return his wallet without even looking inside.  He was also grateful that my wife would drive up, even though it was clearly an inconvenience.  In a subsequent conversation, Dr. Horne told me that if I ever decided to leave Novell, he would like to talk with me.  Indeed, the time did come when I left Novell, and through a series of fortuitous events I became the general manager of  Mitsubishi Electrics PC Division in the United States.  Meeting Dr. Horne was one of the first real breaks I had during the early years of my career.  What started out as a small act of service on my wife’s part was rewarded with a strong mentor, boss, and a dear friend.  I will be forever grateful to Dr. Peter Horne.

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