I had a suit custom made about 13 years ago. “Bespoke” is the way the British say it. Business Blue. “IBM” blue. I had 2 others made at the same time, beige and gray. But BLUE was THE suit. 2 pairs of pants to go with it. Suspender buttons sewn in. The jacket had a label on the inside left pocket, that read, “Expressly Made for Henry P. Fiallo”. It fit like a glove. It should have, after 3 fittings. The tailor picked out 3 ties to go with it, 2 blue, 1 red. I was all set. I had BLUE!
I had BLUE made because I had been appointed to take a subsidiary of a parent company public. I would be leading the company, calling on major customers, taking the company story on a 2 week IPO road show, pitching the company to financial analysts, hedge funds and investment bankers, and then, taking it public on the New York Stock Exchange. I did all that, and more. I named the company, picked the stock symbol and logo, hired staff, and made a multitude of organizational, financial, product and marketing decisions. It was a whirlwind time in my life.
As it turns out, BLUE was with me (actually, on me) during four pivotal events in my life. I’d like to tell you about those four life changing events.
- BLUE was there on August 6, 2001 when I rang the opening bell on the first day of trading for our new company. What a day! BLUE and I were at the center of attention. I shook a lot of hands, took a lot of back slaps, performed (played the congas!) outside the NYSE on stage with Felix Cavalieri and the New Rascals, and was interviewed by the likes of CNN and Bloomberg. I had arrived at the top of the business world, the pinnacle of a 25 year business career, a truly defining moment. And BLUE had been with me every step of the way.
- BLUE was there when I crashed and burned. Since going public, the company (my company) began to run into difficulties. Arguably, I performed inadequately as a CEO, and in fact, broke Federal laws in a futile effort to “make the numbers”. On September 15, 2004, after several gut wrenching weeks filled with SEC and Justice Department lawyers, and FBI agents, BLUE was on me when I plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud.
- On November 22, 2007, BLUE was there when Chief U.S. District Federal Judge Stephen J. McAuliffe sentenced me to serve 48 months in a Federal Prison. BLUE caught my wife’s tears as she sat next to me in the court room. We had the worst Thanksgiving holiday I can ever remember. I hung Blue up in the closet, since obviously, I was not going to need him for quite a while. On January 4, 2008, at 2 PM, I voluntarily surrendered myself at the Federal Correctional Facility in Miami, Florida.
- Finally, I took BLUE out of the closet, and wore him on stage January 11, 2013, several years after leaving Federal prison, as I addressed 600 employees of an internationally recognized music technology company at their world-wide sales conference.
Blue heard me tell my story to that audience. A story of a meteoric rise from humble beginnings, to a devastating crash for someone who was raised and taught to know better than to take short cuts, and to play with the definition of right and wrong. I told that audience about the 10 mistakes leaders should avoid at all costs (read it here on Michael Hyatt‘s blog). I told the story of a lack of humility, and a failure to hold myself accountable. For the first time, while wearing Blue, I told a story of untruth, lack of integrity, irresponsibility, arrogance, and avoidance. And I shared with them the hard-learned lessons that I came to acquire after I had my freedom taken from me. That fourth time wearing Blue, was cathartic for me, and by far, the most rewarding speech I have ever given.
Blue is close to retirement age. He is somewhat shiny and well worn in many places. Will I replace him? Sure. Everyone needs a good blue suit. But when I do, rest assured that NEW Blue will not have to watch me experience the self-inflicted pain and agony that my last blue suit experienced. And as far as OLD Blue is concerned, he will keep hanging in my closet, a constant reminder of what I did, and in the end, how I persevered.
What have been your proudest, most rewarding moments? And by contrast, what have you experienced that has left you devastated and broken? How did you recover, and in the end, how did you persevere? I’d love to know!