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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Character Building Project

           Chief Obbatinewat - symbol used by ShawmutBank

Once, I drove from Boston to w. MA with a life-sized bust of the Chief safety-belted next to me.
I was stopped by a police office who was concerned about my mission. 
Another of Mr. Seyffer’s Character Building lessons.

            My career in the financial and training industries was a loosely woven cloth that came together most unexpectedly. Previously, I worked for Amherst Associates, Inc.. It was a financial consulting firm that specialized in using computer models to design insurance reimbursement models for hospitals.  After that, I worked for Human Factors East. It was the hardest, most life-changing career move I ever made. The company was dedicated to building leadership skills at all levels within organizations. In particular, we focused on senior management – C.E.O., C.F.O. levels whenever possible. I was responsible for marketing and some training. A thimbleful of the draught we offered would be that we were teaching people to look within themselves to find the answers they needed for just about any situation. We made it fun, but it was still work. It required being open to seeing familiar things in an entirely new way. There were three-day, or intensive ten-day sessions. While very well-received in the San Rafael, CA where the headquarters were based, it was a harder sell in conservative New England.  Ultimately, the Eastern offices closed, but my life was forever changed.            
          With those two jobs to shore me up, I felt that I was uniquely prepared to apply for my next job. I submitted an application to work in a bank in Amherst, MA.  in September, 1983. There were no openings at the time.  The Human Resources person interviewed me briefly and said she would keep my résumé on file.  I was shocked when, one week before Christmas, I received a call from a woman in Human Resources in the Main Branch of the Shawmut Bank in Springfield, MA..  It is about a thirty-minute ride.  My interview fell on December 23.  As luck had it, there was the first snow storm of the season.  I was worried about where to park, I didn’t have boots that went well with my good suit.  If I changed my suit, I would have had to change my handbag.  I was grateful I had pulled my hair back in a tight knot that was close to frizz and water resistant. The snow crystals melted as I raced into the bank. It was a building designed during the Art Deco era. I was a bit too self-absorbed to take it in, but at first glance, I appreciated that it was a splendid and regal interior.  I was ushered upstairs to a small room. A human resource attendant left me there with a cup of water.  I interviewed with a very conservatively dressed, dry man whose intelligence radiated from his eyes. I was told this is Mr. Burr, an  Assistant V.P. of Marketing. He was quick with repartees and humor.  We had a rapport. When the interview was concluded, I thought that was it. But know, a man in a diminutive shape and a powerhouse of energy nearly jumped into the room.  He was older, clearly Mr. Burr’s boss, V.P. of Retail .  He pumped my hand and said, “Ken Seyffer.”  Which actually confused me because that was not my name.  It was a funny glitch.  I played with it, “Ohhhh, no, my name is Dawn Evans, you must have me confused with Ken Seyffer.”  There was a second where the whole thing fell flat, then Mr. Seyffer’s head dropped back and with a barking laugh, he pulled out a chair, indicated I should do the same, and we sat across from each other. We talked for about half an hour about nothing to do with banking.  Abruptly, he stood up and left the room. I didn’t have a clue what to do.  Was the interview over? I waited. And waited. Just as I gathered my purse, brief case and nerve to walk out, Mr. Seyffer returned with Mr. Burr. We sat down at the table again. Mr. Seyffer asked me if I had any unanswered questions at that point. When I denied any loose ends, he said, “It was truly a pleasure to meet you. I am sure that, whatever you do, you will go far. And remember, when you make a mistake in life – and you will – just look at is as a Character Building opportunity.” Handshake, then gone. My heart sank.  “Whatever do I do now?” I thought. “That sure sounded kind of like a brush-off.”
I was left with Mr. Burr. Mr. Burr said, “Don’t mind him, he is a bit tightly strung. Now, returning to the business at hand.  We would like to hire you as Director of Training. You would come in at an Assistant Vice President level. While the salary is not commensurate with what you were earning, you will have more stability, good benefits and more vacation days here. There are annual bonuses and cost of living increases.  You have room to go up in your pay grade, so there is every reason to believe you will be back at your old salary within a year. We would expect you to basically set up the department from the ground up. You will get a budget. As you prove yourself and the value of the department, that will increase. How does that sound to you?”
“I am thrilled.  Exactly to whom would I report?” Honestly, I was slightly intimidated by the Director of Retail. He was charming, but he had street smarts. He was very sharp and a lot faster on the uptake than I was. Mr. Burr was a bit conservative, but there was clearly more to him than he let on.
“You’ll have to learn to put up with me.  When do you think you might be able to start? Would January 2, 1984 fit your schedule?”
I filled out my W-2 the same day. It was a phenomenal Christmas present.  
And, thus, an eleven-year fulltime career (followed by an eighteen month part-time stint) was launched on the morning of the first snowstorm in 1983.
This entire memory clip was excavated from the archives of my mind unexpectedly this morning. I opened an email from a friend and colleague named Gladys Diaz.  In particular, two paragraphs appeared in her blog that were uncommonly familiar to me.
 Gladys wrote a close version of the opening dialog I used in one of the training programs I designed and delivered monthly THIRTY years ago – nearly to the day.  Her words were not quite the same, but the content was uncannily the same.  Gladys was probably ten at the time and had never heard of Shawmut Bank.  Something like a shiver raced through me when I read her post… please, take a minute and consider:
 “Your thoughts affect your beliefs and your beliefs affect your perception of the world, me
n, relationships, and even yourself.  The more you focus on your fears, disappointments, what you don’t have yet, and anything else that reaffirms those disempowering thoughts, the less likely you are to experience what it is you truly desire.
You are 100% responsible for creating both the life and love your heart desires.  The more you focus on what you want, without driving yourself crazy thinking about how it must or should look and what needs to happen for it to come about, the more likely you are to attract and draw those things into your life.”

I am left wondering if we just keep repeating the same lessons with different teachers until we finally catch on!

Thank you, Doug Burr, Ken Seyffer and Gladys Diaz. I am still working on the Character Building project.

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