On the Friday that I wrote this piece, one of my favorite business associates whom I’ve know for a good while was being laid to rest. Let’s call him “Carl”. Carl and I had done good business together for almost six years. Carl and his son, “Ben”, ran a father-son insurance brokerage on the northwest side of Chicago, in a small office, where they kept things serious but light, logical, efficient, and often very humorous. A strange thing can happen when you’ve developed more than just a superficial rapport with a business associate. You may actually start to care about his or her life, family, health, and stories from their past.
Business lunches can sometimes be tedious, especially with someone you’ve never met in person before. It’s a fact of being human that we almost invariably form a first opinion based on appearances and mannerisms. Often, this can lead to presumptions about what you may or may not have in common with someone, which can then play into what is (or isn’t) discussed during the meal.
Sure, business meals are intended for just that – business, which should be addressed, but ultimately and realistically, the point of meeting face-to-face in this digital age is often to develop a relationship and to help you and your client see each other as actual people and not just stepping stones or obstacles. This can be especially important when discussing difficult scenarios or delivering tough messages.
It’s a given that a few, certain topics are automatically off limits, but still, finding common ground can be tricky, and on my first business lunch with Carl and Ben, the ice breaker came in the form of the early-70’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. No, Sir – I can’t talk sports, home construction or repairs, marriage (or divorce), or kids, but you and I can talk cars all day long.
Introductions usually involve sharing something personal about what you like, and when the marketing representative I was with, “Mike”, threw out into the conversation that I like to photograph old cars, Carl wanted me to give an example of a car I like or find interesting. Having just finished editing these shots of our featured car (with the intent of leaving prints in an envelope under the windshield wiper for the owner which, sadly, never came to be), the ’71 Olds Cutlass Supreme was the first thing that came to mind and out of my mouth.
Ben, who is another Gen-X’er like me, seemed only somewhat interested in the conversation (though still engaged in it), but Carl’s face lit up as he described such a car that he had owned at one time, years ago. Things I remember that Carl had mentioned from that lunchtime conversation: How the early 70’s was a great era for GM styling; How the lines on that Cutlass were so sharp; How he wished he still had it. Most interestingly, Carl mentioned how he also liked sharing his first and last initials with the Cutlass Supreme, “C” and “S”. This stuck. With the ice thoroughly broken, the four of us continued to talk about cars (and golf) for a while before moving on to business, relaxed and with smiles on our faces.
Nobody in my immediate family ever really shared my passion for cars, even if everyone seemed to genuinely respect it. Carl seemed almost like that really cool uncle who was in your corner and saw as much value in your differences as in your similarities, and that’s part of what made him so easy to do business with. This two-way respect proved to be mutually beneficial as I did a lot of good business with their brokerage. I am very comforted to know that like his father, Ben also really knows what he’s doing and is a good guy, himself. Carl will certainly be missed, and my thoughts are with his wife as well as with Ben and the rest of their family. To you, Carl, thank you for being not just a business associate, but also a friend.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
As photographed between May 28 – June 15, 2010.
Related reading from Paul Niedermeyer: CCCCC Part 5: 1970 Cutlass Supreme Coupe – A New Supreme Era Begins.