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Bobby Baldwin, CEO and Winner!

As a woman who has worked and played in male dominated worlds, I learned early on that there are plenty of good, male role models around--in all parts of my life, but by the looks of the first poker table I visited,  it looked doubtful in this down and dirty poker room.  A few more months was all it took to prove the validity of my  prior experience.

By the time, I took up poker, I had 15 years of business experience under my belt. Generally for the better, occasionally for the worse,  I had  little fear of male competition--anywhere.

At the high stakes poker tables.  I had an early case of astounding  beginner's luck-- but I was not a dummy, I realized I was a minnow swimming with sharks.

In the business world, thus far,  my sharpest weapon had been a nose for identifying good, helpful, successful, men.  So I began to keep my eyes and ears peeled --in search of "a few good men."

One of them--holder of six WSOP bracelets, became a beau. He spent many hours teaching me the finer points of the game and introduced me to an eclectic group of unique achievers, including Bobby Baldwin  a World Series of Poker Champion and  now a senior executive of MGM--the president of the Aria. I don't know him well, but I treasure the lessons he has taught me about negotiating effectively.

At the Grand Prix of Poker, where we were both invited to play in the Charity Invitational, Bobby crippled me --unceremoniously, playing a pair of sevens as if they were Aces--because he knew I would fold to his big raise!

And then he toughened me up by  warning me to hunker down and study how best to play each a hand. Bobby Baldwin's sage words have proven applicable, everywhere!

Baldwin has the world on a string! 

Bobby Baldwin

My hours were numbered at the final table of the Grand Prix. Bobby eventually knocked me out in fifth place, taking advantage of another moment of inexcusable distraction on my part.

I tracked Bobby down to thank him for the thrashing and promised to take his words to heart.  And you better believe, I have done so!

The high profile C-Suite executive of MGM and former winner of the World Series of Poker Championship had already begun his rapid trajectory to the top of the corporate ladder, noting, “The only difference between the poker room and the boardroom is the shape of the table.”

Weeks later, we met up at a formal charity event in Las Vegas. He complimented my gown and then kidded me, good-naturedly, about being distracted at the final table of the Grand Prix, whispering, "It pays to watch hands when you are not in them."

Following Bobby's suggestion, I began to approach card tables and conference tables with more focus, taking pains to avoid a more blunt accusation of the attention span of a gnat!

I  created exercises to develop my power of observation, more acute acute hearing and awareness of people's speech and silence--both at the poker table and in business meetings. As I developed these skills, I made more confident analyses of risk reward ratios,  and I found myself in fewer jams--everywhere.

Master dealmakers are distinguishable from the rest by their people-reading expertise and negotiating savvy.  Bobby's advice resonated  deeply for me. I learned, slowly and methodically how to become a far keener observer and a more informed listener by paying attention when others don't.

Accurate "people reading and negotiating savvy are crucial calling cards in any power poker game. And, women come to the table with the innate advantage of more highly honed natural intuition.

If I had to guess how Bobby Baldwin came to hold the world on a string, I would make a ladylike wager that it is his power of concentration and attention to facts and behavior that others miss regularly.

Many years after the Grand Prix Poker Tournament and the gala charity affair, I was visiting  the late Terri Lanni, Chairman of MGM, when Bobby, who had become MGM president, popped in. I reminded him of his sage advice and its impact. He remembered details of both prior events!


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Wendeen and Al Gore meet again!

Wendeen and Al Gore meet up again in a different environment, before his presentation at New York’s most renowned and extraordinarily beautiful synagogue, Temple Emanuel. Last time around, Wendeen met with the former Vice President, shortly after he was defeated in the 2000 presidential campaign, while engaged in an attorney vetting assignment for the Florida recount.

Mr. Gore’s commitment to the environment over the ensuing years has been a major focal point not only for him following public service, but for a world that cannot escape the problems of pollution. On this evening Wendeen was at the presentation, eager to hear from someone who is certain that global warming is neither a myth nor a Chinese hoax, but rather an urgent issue for our coming grandchildren.

The former Vice President did not disappoint in his passion and determination, notwithstanding a drastic change in the political picture under a new president. And he did not get sidetracked either; there were no questions and no answers from Mr. Gore on President Donald J. Trump’s performance, shortly after the new president’s executive order-based- travel ban raised the ire of the Courts.

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Wendeen and Bill share memorable moment

Wendeen and Bill take a photo after chatting amiably about their  acquaintanceship which dates back to his first stint as NYC Police Commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuiani. Their first encounter came when each was advising the Mayor during a moment of potential racial unrest in New York. On his watch, for two Mayors  20 years apart, Commissioner Bratton did New York City proud.  He left public service in 2016–shortly after Wendeen’s photographed visit in his conference room, that took place during a tour of the police operations at Police Plaza with the Women’s Forum of New York. .

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Wendeen puts Mayor on Spot

In a meeting, by invitation of the Association for a Better New York ABNY), the Mayor schooled business and civic leaders and a sprinkling of politicos in the crowd, on his determined vision for Equity and Excellence in NYC public schools—for all children. But, he was pointedly mum about public schools that are currently accessible only to specially “gifted children. “

As a graduate of one of those schools, and having been motivated to do the necessary to qualify for admission, I was beginning to lament the prospect of a school system void of special opportunities for those who earn them. I questioned the Mayor as noted in the corrected City Hall transcript:*

Wendeen’s Question: Mr. Mayor thank you very much for the report. It’s exciting, I think for everybody in the room to know the emphasis that is placed on “Equity and Excellence for All.” I am interested in knowing the extent to which we’re going to be rolling out this concept in all of those schools – how will that affect your view of the special schools we currently have in New York, and will we need more of them? Will we need to expand them or will we have lesser need for those few schools that have typically attracted people who are highly talented, as proven through the testing process primarily?

The Mayor’s Answer in pertinent part: “A fantastic question, (Wendeen). Can I give you a gold star for the question? If we were in the classroom, I’d be giving you a gold star right now. This is the kind of thing I think we need to talk a lot about – much more about in this city. Specialized schools are extraordinary. They have turned out a generation of leaders in all fields. You know, we just – an easy example in the national dynamics in just the last few years – Eric Holder one of the most prominent leaders of the Obama administrations, David Axelrod who helped bring you the Obama administration both from Stuyvesant. So, pretty amazing people, congratulations to Stuyvesant. I would make a speech about Brooklyn Tech – great graduates like Len Riggeo and Dante de Blasio.

So they play a very, very crucial role, and they will certainly continue to. And I think there’s absolutely an open door – there’s certainly the potential of more specialized schools, but even more clearly there’s the potential to take models that work and expand them out. For example, where my daughter went – Beacon High School – tremendously successful, was used to create another great high school. That model and that approach was literally transported to another site on the Upper West Side and the new Frank McCord high school has started. So you can take a model and kind of replicate it in many ways, so yes we will continue to take great models and build them out and add new versions of them.

But at the same time – because your question is wonderfully precise about is there a contradiction with this theme – no, I don’t believe there is. The goal is to say, you can take any school and give it the kinds of things it never had, and the world will start to change. That is not a lack of acknowledgement of other realities as to the previous question.

On the way out the door of the meeting, the Chairman of ABNY, Bill Rudin caught my eye to say, “Great question.” New Yorkers need to keep their foot on the pedal to develop Equity and Excellence without sacrificing the incentive of special schools for parents who succeed in teaching their children the merits and the benefits of accountability, at a young age.

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President Obama Resolve

On the occasion of his third address from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama insured that all of the optics were aligned--for his fellow Americans and his worldwide viewers. Uncharacteristically, he put the brake on his penchant for off-putting references to "MY administration," using the phrase only once. Instead he chose more unifying and inclusive words, generously, and for emphasis invoked "my fellow Americans" twice.   "No Drama Obama "was at his best, in a voice that allowed for suitable passion but disavowed contrived political fanfare.

The uniqueness of the occasion was duly noted by media, beforehand--from the venue of his august office to the imposing lectern at which  the president gave his no nonsense and no big news speech.  Mr. Obama  opened with a matter of fact, "Good evening," and moved into his subject briskly. His voice conveyed  his position of authority  while reflecting a strong undercurrent of multi-layered emotion, maybe not so different from a vast cross section of the American public

Terrorist threats produce a powder keg of emotion as dangerous as the threat of an attack. The president seemed more mindful of his listeners, apparently aware of eroding approval  and growing skepticism about his bona fides to deal effectively in complicated foreign affairs issues.  And he treated his listeners across the country as participants he needed to persuade rather than as subjects obliged to tolerate a blind  "father knows best"  policy. Indeed, he connected more and pontificated less, than usual and there was a noticeable absence of his oft spoken colloquial  pronunciation  of  words  that end with ing.

He took responsibility for charting the course. But, on this occasion he presented to the world, faith in his team of  fellow Americans as much as the members of his Administration..

In calling the extremists "thugs, killers and a death cult,"  the president summarized succinctly  the sentiments of most of the world--across political parties and social classes.  These were his most powerful and penetrating words of the evening.

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Wendeen’s visits  with Israel’s Consul General, Ido Aharoni at his New York residence. It was an intimate gathering of esteemed women leaders, active in the Women’s Forum of New York and the International Women’s Forum, in  advance of  this year’s cornerstone conference in Tel Aviv.

Ambassador Aharoni and Wendeen chatted about their mutual community of interest and the solid  ties between Israel and New York. Mr. Ahoroni has been in the forefront of Israeli diplomatic initiatives since 1991 with a strong emphasis in  New York.  Wendeen has been a steadfast chammpion  for israel in government (going back to her attendance, as a US public official  at the funeral of Yitzahk Rabinin) as well as in her business, with affiliated consultants in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.

Eolis International Group  has recruited mor than 50 Israeli law studentss for our summer internship programs and looks forward to finding more of the best and the brightest during this year’s visit to the Promised Land.

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The New Year had gotten off to a good start; an eclectic group of business and public service projects was on the boards. And then came an offer Wendeen could not refuse; an invitation to participate in a live poker game to be televised on CBS Sports.

The player roster was as eclectic as any she had ever seen; lawyers, poker pros, a movie reviewer, and James Woods, the MIT educated actor, were on the list.

Some 15 Years ago Wendeen and Jimmy struck up an acquaintanceship at a poker tournament in California, each intrigued by the other’s connection to NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Jimmy had played Rudy in the movie of the same name. Wendeen had played a role in Giuliani’s run for Mayor and had served as a special advisor to him on City Hall Affairs.

The years flew by with occasional crossing of paths, a dinner here a poker date there. But in the upcoming Poker Night In America show they sit next to each other for most of the day–hemming and hawing about their respective holdings and mugging for the camera as reacquainted friends.

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It is a tradition!  Sharon and Wendeen celebrate the holiday season, sharing their love for Manhattan; restaurants, theater, museums, and, the must see Alvin Ailey dance company. The joy of Ailey’s longtime signature  piece, Revelations, never runs out of joy.

Last weekend Ailey paired Revelations with  the beautiful new Odetta, a tribute to the legendary folk singer, at the Saturday matinee–a  tip Sharon bestowed on Wendeen.  And Wendeen returned the favor,  tipping off  Sharon, an avid civil rights activist  to the impassioned, riveting choreography that explodes before your eyes in the dance company’s timely offering of “Uprising.”

The two sisters continue their  family time celebration over the Chanukah and Christmas  holidays, taking in great food for thought.

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Blues and country singer Luther Kent, a NOLA native, gives Wendeen a big hug during her annual post Katrina visit.. They celebrate the City’s resurgence.

Wendeen’s HCTF team assisted in evacuations and selection of counsel for NOLA residents following chaos at the Super Dome in the aftermath of Katrina.

Luther sings to Wendeen and friends in the beautifully refurbished Carousel Lounge at the Monteleone Hotel where superb service and the best massages are routine.

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Like all who had the good fortune to cross paths with Jay Oliva throughout his illustrious career as a pre-eminent educator, and quintessential steward of NYU,  I mourned his passing April 17th, very personally.

It was Jay who insisted that I trot into my history class with infants in tow, rather than cut his class at the lofty NYU University Heights campus. .

Jay was a cheering fan and forceful motivator for kids like me, who had no parents presiding over their educations.  And Jay was a strong voice who taught me the value of the NYU credo–perstare y prestare. He was an unwavering supporter of my decision to found a business with  $1,800 in savings and a freshly minted Bachelor’s Degree as capital. His lessons never faded though our contact was scarce during the next two decades.

Some 25 years later, while president of the university, Jay tracked me down and invited me to lunch. He told me many important things about the ever-blossoming university in which I could take pride. And he said he was proud of my business success and would be even prouder, if I would choose to give back to the University.  And so I have, but the size of the debt to Jay for his sage advice can never be repaid.

From the beginning to the end of this uniquely interesting acquaintanceship, Jay Oliva lit a fire to raise my own standards.