It all started with Uncle Chuck and his fascination for collecting and painstakingly reconstructing old things, from numerous specimens of the earliest automobiles ever assembled to a full-size pirate ship. As I was about to go looking for a job in New York, he gave me his ancient refurbished briefcase and wished me good luck. I needed it—I was a Brazilian without a green card or any experience trying to find work during the worst recession in decades.
After several months of rejection, my phone rang. It was my mother calling from London to tell me that she had been discussing my sad little existence with a friend during lunch, and that her friend had offered to arrange for me to meet with the CEO of a big life-insurance company. I tried to tell my mother I did not think I would be happy with a career in life insurance, to which she replied, “How do you know if you never tried it?” That’s the same line she used when she first introduced me to okra at age 4. I was in no position to argue with her—the situation was dire, and if I did not find a company to sponsor me, I would be kicked out of the United States. Life insurance it was!
The office was at the World Trade Center. I entered the elevator and pressed 102. Suddenly I was propelled upward to my new life. My ears were popping. My hands were sweating. My heart was racing. And my mutinous mind was silently repeating: Life insurance? I then went back to rehearsing my lines. Oh, yes sir, while my first-grade friends wanted to be firemen and astronauts, I always wanted to sell life-insurance policies…that was an obsession of mine right about the time I started eating okra. As I wondered about the long-term health risks of going up and down 102 floors in a fast-moving elevator every working day, the doors opened and I entered the place where I might be spending my future. And the future was mahogany! Every wall, every ceiling, every desk, every lamp, every arm of every chair was mahogany. No room for dissent here—you’re into mahogany or you’re out! As I waited for my fateful appointment, I noticed that the employees’ faces were so joyless. Even the young people seemed to have accepted mahogany long ago, probably without even putting up a fight. I wanted to scream, “Marble!” but before I could, I was ushered into the CEO’s office.
As I entered his cavernous den, he greeted me with the same funereal tone I had encountered at the reception area. He was a little man, with a face as weathered as the wood around him, sitting behind an enormous desk. I was told to sit on a chair located 20 feet away from him. It was a formidable display of power—the 102nd floor, the ocean of mahogany, the huge distance between us—and it worked. I was petrified.
The gloomy CEO was clearly unhappy to be spending his precious time doing this favor for my mother’s friend. When he asked for my résumé, I tried to open my uncle’s historic briefcase and, to my horror, it was stuck! I desperately attempted to unlock it—my fingers hurting from the effort—but it would not budge. I applied so much pressure on the hinges that one of my thumbs started to bleed. He then picked up the receiver of one of the three black phones placed in a row on his desk and asked the secretary to come in and escort me out.
Having been saved from the insurance world by Uncle Chuck’s briefcase, I ended up getting a job at a magazine-publishing company, and it took me a very long time to learn all there is to know about my job. Publishing is an art form. Yes, it does cost a lot of money to put out an issue like the one you’re holding, but not once in all these years did we ever think of cutting corners. This may seem hopelessly romantic, but it has worked wonders. Our supporters see the value in what we do, and the company has grown exponentially.
The change experienced by this company since our 20th anniversary has been astonishing. We have evolved into a multimedia-publishing firm that puts out four daily and ten weekly online newsletters, maintains two video portals and runs 13 websites. But expansion and transformation could not have been successfully accomplished without paying attention to what made us so special from the very beginning: an undying commitment to excellence and accuracy.
This commitment, bordering on an obsession, is in the DNA of our entire team. We would not be here today without the consummate devotion and professional ambition of our editors, under the leadership of Anna Carugati.
—Ricardo Seguin Guise