By Franklyn Kimball • December 12, 2010•Writers in Residence
In September 1977 I joined New York’s Shearman & Sterling as a new associate. We were paid $25,000 a year. The toughest, smartest businessman I’ve ever known wrote me a note which I still have in a folder behind my desk. He said “Congratulations on joining Shearman & Sterling. I’ve checked them out and it looks like a great place to start. But one thing Frank. If when you get there they can only pay you $10-15,000 a year, keep the job because it is a good job.” As a survivor of the Depression and the terrible recession that followed the War he had ample reason to be skeptical about corporate America and this was long before the trauma suffered by the legal profession in the Great Recession of 2007-2010.
What do you make of a comment like that? These days it would be on Above the Law before the toner was dry. But this statement was made by a Marine officer who had been raised in the Depression, and spent the Second World War flying DC-3 transport planes in the Marines. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the second highest honor a pilot can receive three times - one of a handful of Marines to do so. Not for shooting down Japanese planes in dramatic dog fights. Far from it. He earned it for landing his DC-3 more than 200 times at night, under fire, on Japanese occupied islands to deliver ammunition and evacuated wounded Marines. Did I forget to mention his plane was slow, loud, easy to knock out of the sky, and had no radar. He was 22-23 years old at the time. His Marines called him Major Kimball. We called him Dad.
You will have tough days in your career. Lots of them. You’ll be treated unfairly, the demands of work will be back breaking, and you’ll run into your fair share of jerks, weirdos, sycophants, and worse. And your physical endurance will be tested in ways that you cannot comprehend. What I learned from my father was that all of this can be endured if you have the character and commitment of a Marine. It’s an intense culture - not appealing to all by any means - but I can tell you that in all my years in practice in New York and Chicago I was never scared about any partner or adversary. Exhausted? Sure. Angry? You bet. Nauseous? Frequently. But never scared. That gene was not installed at God’s factory.
Lauren Hood - This was Marine week for Frank Kimball. I had lunch on Tuesday with a spectacular recent graduate of Northwestern, Lauren Hood. Remember you read it here first. This one’s marked for greatness. Here’s why. Not because we went to Rick Bayless’ legendary Frontera Grill. Not because she has a world class sense of humor. Not because she has more talent in her thumb than most of her peers will have in their heads in their lifetimes. But because she had a certain passion and intensity and maturity beyond her years. I was having trouble identifying the root cause and then we stumbled onto the connection. Her grandfather was a Marine and served on the same islands that my Dad did. She is her grandfather’s grand-daughter. If she leaves government service and goes to private practice the firm lucky enough to hire her should just promote her on arrival because she’ll be running the joint soon enough. I’ve met, counseled, interviewed or hired 11,500 students and lawyers. This one has it - in abundance.
From the Corps to AT&T - For the last three weeks we have been tortured by bad phone service in my office and our home. AT&T had no showed two times and I was getting a wee bit cranky. So at 7 p.m. that night the doorbell rings and it’s AT&T - only six hours late. I’m getting ready to engage in verbal combat but the fellow is my age, has a crew cut, is calm and polite. Instead, both having been Ph.D. graduates of Guy School we take a few minutes to exchange obligatory jokes and tell sports stories and I promise him a case of Heineken if he can kill the techno bug. He said “Sir, watch me work.” What did he do - spent two hours and killed most of the demons and arranged for a crew to return at dawn the following morning. He said he couldn’t take the Heineken. I said “ok I’ll just leave it on the steps and God will take it somewhere.” I am sworn to secrecy.
He wanted to take a look at the set up in my office and came upstairs and came to a dead stop in front of a remarkable drawing of the U.S.M.C. War Memorial statue which depicts the flag raising on Iwo Jima. He said “did you serve?” I said “no sir I did not but my Dad did. Turns out his 93 year old father was on Guadalcanal with my Dad. He also served at Chosin Reservoir a battle in the Korean War where 12,000 Marines defeated 10 Chinese divisions totaling 200,000 mean. I don’t know if they chewed the same dirt but it was a pretty exclusive crew of comrades. “Where did you get the drawing.” I smiled and pointed to the signature “Shannon Kimball” - “My daughter drew that for me when she was in 7th grade.” A few tears shed then by both purported tough guys. He had me take a picture of him standing next to the photo so he could share it with his Dad. As he walked out the door he said “No charge for this visit, sir. On the house. Special discount to Marine families.”
Tina Sciabica - With all the e-tools in the world would think we wouldn’t fall out of touch with friends. But life gets jammed and it happens. And it’s happened to me. And it’s often my fault in the extreme but that’s a the subject of my final column for Ms. JD. As your generation would say “My Bad.”One of the most influential people in my life is my former competitor and now a force in the not for profit world, Tina Sciabica. After practicing with two of Chicago’s finest firms, and a stint at Northwestern in Career Services, she launched what quickly became the best boutique headhunting firm I’ve ever encountered.
I’ve always believed in getting to know your competitors - heck many of them are great people and competition is just the oxygen we breathe. Tina and I became fast friends would schedule lunch once a month and never talk for one moment about business. We’d opine on others to be sure, laugh, and solve all the problems of the world. I don’t think any lunch was less than three hours. I was the guy with lots more experience but I say without embarrassment that I learned more from her about search than I have learned from anyone else.
Tina moved into the Not For Profit world and was a leader in www.RoomtoRead.org a now legendary organization which builds schools for girls in South East Asia. Is it any surprise that there is a school in Nepal which our family built in honor of my Dad -because of Tina’s very effective nudging? The deal was closed at the legendary Bongo Room, the breakfast joint in Chicago. She then was Deputy Director of SVN another San Francisco based NFP and is now Executive Director of READ Global, www.ReadGlobal.org a San Francisco-based organization where she works on fund-raising, outreach, partnerships and strategic planning.
Where’s the connection? In our third or fourth lunch we were chatting about families and it turns out that her father served in the Marines in Vietnam, flying helicopters - the most dangerous duty in the war. Tina inherited 1000% of her father’s toughness, character, discipline, love of service and country and the indomitable fortitude to roll up her sleeves and get the job done. Like most Marines if you meet him in civilian life he’s a refined, funny, quiet, dignified man with a certain posture and cut of his jaw that give the back story away.
If you have not worked in the Not For Profit world you cannot possibly imagine the stress level. The organizations are beyond lean, thin on admin help, and the constant quest for fund raising can block out the rays of the sun. To be sure it’s rewarding, but it’s not easy and it’s not always fun. For every hour hosting a great event there are 500 hours of tough tiring work. You don’t just sit around and debate policy and do strategic planning. As General Colin Powell said, “apply maximum force at the point of attack.” Tina Sciabica = Maximum Force. Did I tell you she excels at Kick Boxing and has a golden retriever named Max who makes Marley look well behaved?
The Marine culture is not for everyone. The haircuts, the uniform, the close order drill, the intensity, the fact that no Marine has ever been left behind on a battlefield. But beneath that Kevlar veneer are fascinating human beings with a level of commitment, focus, and professionalism that should be a lesson to one and all. And they pay it forward by setting examples for their families. There are liberals and conservatives in the Corps. There are Marines from every conceivable background -ethnic and religious and among all the services they are IMHO the most progressive and tolerant. They get the tail of the dog on money and equipment - they know it - and they don’t care. Lessons for all of us to learn.
Wherever you live in this great nation - sometime in the next year take a Saturday and go see an air show where the Marines are flying. Attend a demonstration of their Silent Drill Team. Visit Arlington. Or better yet take time - a lot of time- to talk to that parent or grandparent who survived the Depression or the Holocaust or who served in any branch of our military. Learn their story and you will discover something about yourself. And then pay it forward by telling your children. And, take a minute to find your relatives' service on the internet. They’ll be thrilled. Last year we found a photo from the 40's of the Liberty Ship Linda’s dad served on while in the Navy.
Those of you who know me know that anything I write or any program I present must include a reference to our daughter Shannon. Today’s will be more indirect and may shed some light for Shannon on her Dad’s DNA. The only account of my Dad’s participation in the war that I’ve found is Joseph Allen and Robert Carney’s book The Story of S.C.A.T
“The most disturbing an experience as any encountered by a SCAT passenger pilot came the way of Marine Capt. George W. Kimball early this year. After hauling supplies to the Bougainville front he was given a load of 10 Jap prisoners captured the night before. A fierce battle was raging and Capt. Kimball hurried to take off not paying much attention to the disposition of the prisoners and guards. After getting off intact and climbing to 10,000 ft., he decided to turn the wheel over to the co-pilot, Capt. Max W. Dix, USMC, and make an inspection trip. To his consternation he discovered there were only three Marines armed with standard M-1 carbines guarding 10 sullen and fanatical looking Jap prisoners.”
“The Marines seemed to be not at all disturbed, but their nonchalance disturbed Capt. Kimball even more. Finally he remarked to one of the guards: "You fellows don't seem to be taking this job of guarding these Japs very seriously." The Marine replied: "Why should we? Just one little ol' Arkansas mountain boy captured all ten of them last night and they had guns then." After that Capt. Kimball took over from the co-pilot and spent the rest of the run bragging to the navigator over the interphone about how smart his four-month old daughter was back in San Diego.”
Fathers brag about their daughters. That’s how it was. That’s how it is. That’s as it should be. No go out their and talk to your relatives. Give me a call and tell me about it. Better yet visit our home in Lincoln Park, come upstairs, look at Shannon’s drawing, have a glass (or two) of Malbec or stick around for the Margarita hour on Sunday night and say hello to our new puppy Dakota. Heck stay for dinner - most nights we will grill something commendable. Saturday is Frontera Grill or West Town Tavern. Sunday is Linda’s legendary chicken enchiladas or lasagna. Black tie strictly optional.
Is it any surprise that our Dad’s first dog for us was named “Sergeant” or that we did close order drill in the back yard with our air rifles? I suppose not. And so when a student from UCLA asked me last year “sir what’s on your play list” I explained to him that every morning I start my day with two versions of Hail to the Victors, Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red White & Blue, all three verses of the Marine Hymn, and Taylor Swift’s newest album. Well who doesn’t? And why don’t you?
Enjoy the holidays in all of its non billable glory. It’s 6 a.m. ladies and gentlemen. Time to put this column to bed and crank up the music. May God have mercy on my neighbors. Go Blue.
Frank is the owner of Chicago’s Kimball Professional Management
(773) 528-7548 (main) 312-350-2656 (cell).