Wednesday 8 March 2023

Reaching back

I haven't been super-proactive on this front but I do believe in saying thanks if someone has done you a good turn - even if it's just their job. One of those links cited an 8min vid about thanking your old high-school teacher. Mine was Mr Wilkinson. Just about 2 months after I wrote about it in 2018, I got an unsolicited message on LinkedIn:

Are you the Bob Scientist who taught Evolution in the Genetics Department in the 1980s?

When I answered in the affirmative, he confessed that he'd been on a real bumpy commercial plane ride in California and realised that he'd never thanked the few people who had made a difference . . . and that I was in that exclusive club. That's memory speaking to make it more dramatic; the actuality was more prosaic: "On a car ride, I realised that there were a few people like you, who had changed my trajectory positively, but I had never thanked for it! I am delighted that the Internet was so efficient at finding you." We to-fro'd about the old days and I shared a few Blobs. Partly because of my talking about evolution and how to think, Mike [let's call him Mike] was now CEO of a small enterprise SME in Pharma. 

Head Office was in Manchester, but there was an office in California and another somewhere in Europe. It sounded like a few people were making a living out of his enterprise. We were going great guns by e-mail and Mike suggested that I might like to fly to Manchester in the summer to act as The Disruptor at one of the company's monthly business and future meetings. I was flattered, of course, but I have a reasonably well-tuned crap-detector and reckoned I could earn a consultant's fee if I went to Manchester a couple of times a year to hang out and give an Outsider's view on their internal certainties. It might grow into a nice little earner, like my foray into pop sci writing for money. At the time, I was two years off  living on my state Old Age Pension of ~€1,000 pcm. One over-nighter in The Maldron Manchester would double my income for that month - and I could loot little jam-servings off the breakfast buffet!

Well friends, my dreams of becoming a roving intellectual on the SME Pharma nickel was still-born. Mike announced that he was flying to the California office the following day and we could firm up details when he returned the following week. It never happened. Some time later I gathered [or maybe fantasized: see above for over-active memory] that Mike had been refused entry by US customs & immigration and had been whooshed back to England without leaving the terminal at SFO! It can happen to the best of us [* like me - see next para] and doesn't have to involve anything nefarious. It surely wasn't my business to pry. The US Visa issues didn't clear up and it seems that Mike's company collapsed - if the CEO cannot visit the US Office (where most of the revenue derives) it could fashion an insurmountable barrier. There certainly wasn't sufficient fat in the company to entertain Disruptors. Mike is now operating as a sole-trader in more or less the same field: you can't bury a good entrepreneur.

[*] For many years you have been able to clear US immigration at Dublin [and Shannon]. In the 00s, I set off to visit BOS with my UK [special relationship] passport. On the previous post-9/11 visit my visaless passport had been okay for travel; but now that privilege only worked if it was a machine readable passport - security theatre kept moving the goal-posts. The INS was perfectly polite about it, but refused me entry and I was escorted out through a side-door to a featureless concrete corridor somewhere in the bowels of Dublin airport. Eventually I opened a one-way door, popped out into the short-stay car-park and went home to re-group and re-book. I'd bought a 3for2 deal of big box Lily O'Brien chocolates in duty free for my several US hosts. The kids were accordingly delighted to see Father Chocolate back home much earlier than expected.

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