Friday, October 21, 2005

Mad Hot Boardroom

As I mentioned in the 'Seven Things' meme below, one of the things that I have been planning to do is (someday) go back for my MBA. A friend of mine works in the career development office of one of the area's top business schools, and she put me on the guest list for a networking event last night for prominent alumni, recent grads, and current MBA students. The event was being held at the Union League, an ultra-exclusive, old money social club that was founded in 1864 for the bluest of blue-blooded Philadelphians and has been the hang out for all of the scions of upper-class society for generations. Ninety-five percent of the place is covered either in marble, mahogany, red leather, or some combination of all three.

I went to the event out of curiosity, as I've been wondering recently if I really wanted to be slogging it out in a courtroom for the rest of my career. Within the first fifteen minutes, I began to realize that at least for the present, I was lucky to be right where I was--gainfully employed. The purpose of the event was to put current business students in touch with successful alumni who were now leaders in their fields, and who hopefully could be their direct pipeline to a job. It also became very clear that most of the recent graduates still hadn't found work yet, and I spent the beginning of the night primarily trying to avoid death by lethal papercut from all of the heavily-embossed business cards being whipped out and thrust towards potential contacts all around the room. I made a go of trying to engage some of the people in conversation, and at first when they heard that I worked for a Fortune 100 insurance company, they immediately perked up and feigned interest. But as soon as it became clear that I was merely in-house counsel and was there trying to decide for myself about getting a MBA, their faces literally fell and they (understandably) looked for the quickest exit from the conversation so that they could continue in their quest to land a job.

After about an hour, I had eaten all of the crudite and cheese cubes that I could possibly digest, and the line at the bar seemed to be constantly growing, despite the fact that the only selection was a choice of either red or white wine. The room was also very hot, so I made my way into the main hallway to get some fresh air. Right away my attention was drawn to the sound of live music coming from the room directly opposite the MBA event. I wandered over and saw a trio of musicians in their early eighties hunched over their intruments, faithfully plucking out a standard variety of ballroom melodies. The room was half-full of men and women who were all there for the club's
Ballroom Dance Night. They were decked out in tuxedos, pin-striped suits, and the finest of this season's eveningwear from Talbots and Anne Taylor. I would estimate the median age of the group was around 65, but there were also a handful of people in their forties. What also caught my attention was the fully stocked bar of top shelf liquor, and the numerous sterling silver toureens filled with gourmet (yet easily chewable and digestible) food.

I've come to find that in any type of party-crashing situation, the best defense is a good offense; so I walked straight up to the welcome table and picked up one of the yet unclaimed nametags languishing in solitude. Apparently for the rest of the night, I would be playing the part of Phillip H. Ward, III. I headed over to the bar and ordered a glass of Glen Livet scotch, then started to fill my plate with filet medallions and braised asparagus. As my sudden arrival had dragged the age curve for the room downward by several decades, I began to attract the attention of some of the elderly patrons lingering nearby. It became clear that I couldn't just hover around the free food and drink for very much longer.

I noticed a woman in her early sixties standing by herself just off the dance floor, so I went over to her and said something along the lines of how I just loved listening to these classic songs. It turned out that she was there with some of her friends from the raquet club, and after some other small talk, I asked if I could have the next dance. She seemed very amused, and with a chuckle she took my arm as it was offered. As the band began to play "The Girl from Ipanema," we made our way onto the dance floor. She was a good sport about the situation, and after a moment asked :

"So, 'Phillip' is it?"

"Yes--Phillip Ward" I said, after shooting an offhand glance down at my nametag one more time to be sure.
"...the Third."

Several years ago, a girl that I had been dating had signed us up for ballroom dancing lessons. After several initial missteps with last night's dance partner, the basic rythym of 'step, step, sidestep' started to come back to me, and soon I was promenading her all around the dance floor. I was trying to pay attention to my feet to avoid stepping on her toes, but I kept getting distracted by the blinding glare of the extravagant jewelry adorning her neck, ears, and fingers. Her diamond necklace alone would have covered my monthly mortgage payments well into next year. For a moment I pondered what life might be like as a 'kept' man, and I decided that-- all things considered, I would be absolutely okay with that type of arrangement.

My dreams of a life of carefree luxury were cut short as I noticed a small commotion beginning to stir over in the corner of the ballroom. Apparently the chairwoman of the dance club and a few other committee members were going through their printed list of registered attendees, trying to determine who I was. As soon as the song ended, I thanked her for the dance, and quickly but discreetly made my way across the hallway and back into the MBA event to blend in with the crowd. It was not without a little chagrin, however, when I noticed the ornate ballroom doors snap shut not five minutes later, so that the dancing could continue without any further intelopers.

I had a 9 a.m. hearing the next morning in a courthouse located over 45 minutes from Philadelphia, so I took a pass when asked to come along to a bar a few blocks away where the networking would informally continue. I did notice a distinct look of eagerness and slight desperation on the faces of many of the attendees who were still jockeying for position around the several remaining alumni.

As I stopped by my office to pick up the casefile for the next day's hearing, I decided that for now, as far as the choice of careers was concerned, I wasn't quite ready to change partners just yet.