Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When an editor forgets his brain

I participated on a panel at the Red Herring conference in San Jose - "Women CEOs in Tech". It was an interesting discussion on why the dearth of female tech CEOs? what are the contributing reasons? and then telling stories and answering questions about our experiences. From my perspective it was a chance to share the work being done by the Anita Borg Institute, and for me to share my observations on how much things have changed in the last 20 years.

In response to the question - Have you ever experienced discrimination and how did you deal with it? I talked about my belief that the best way, unless it's malicious, is to deal with it with humor and I was reminded of a funny story from my past - which I shared.

Sometime in 1998, when I was CEO of Simplex and Aki Fujimura was COO, we were invited to a press meeting called "meet the editors" with Electronic News. Jim Detar was the editor-in-chief at the time and we arrived, exchanged cards with Jim and his two cohorts, sat down and prepared to answer questions.

Jim asked a question related to company strategy and I answered. (Aki and I had agreed in advance that I would answer strategy questions and he would answer product questions). As I answered Jim looked irritated but said nothing.

Jim then asked a second question - which I answered. This time he was visibly annoyed and took no notes.

When I finished he said "No, I don't think you understand the reason for this breakfast - we are here to talk to the executives". He hadn't realized I was the CEO; he hadn't checked my business card and because I was a woman he assumed I was the PR lady. Because Aki is an Asian male he assumed Aki was the executive.

I smiled, explained that I was the CEO, and suggested we keep going.

To Jim's credit he recovered after a few questions and then sent me a card in the mail a few days later. It was a brown card with a drawing of a brain on it. Inside he had written "I am sorry I forgot to use it, Jim". Of course I laughed and I forgave him.

James Detar is now an editor with Investor's Business Daily. I wonder if he remembers?

Update
Mike Cassidy covered the panel today in the San Jose Mercury News

1 comment:

Jimbo said...

Hi Penny. Oh yes, I remember that one quite well. I remember the location--the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Clara. We had a series of CEO interviews there that year. It was a morning meeting. You described the situation and my actions excellently. I regretted my actions deeply afterward. I have always tried to support equal rights and to treat others with respect. And I failed to do so that day. I'm grateful that you are someone with a sense of humor, and someone with a sense of forgiveness. These days I always check business cards. And I always, always check to make sure I've brought my brain along for the interview. Best regards.--Jim

There was an error in this gadget