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Education of a Negotiator

Wendeen will walk to class, unassisted.

Last December I decided to pursue a graduate degree program that most people I know, have never heard of; it is a Masters of Legal Studies (MLS). The motivating force was a post-accident renewal program. Eight months after being hit by a taxi, I plunked down a $600 “commitment deposit” to Washington University Law School, for a predominantly online program with intermittent “immersion” credits obtained on campus, in Saint Louis, Missouri. 

My over-arching goal is to re-think negotiation and decision strategies–in which I purport to be an expert–through the lens of an adult student. I expect to acquire a boatload of new ideas for masterful negotiations and decisions– to optimize talent.

Drop-out changes the scene.

In my early twenties, I intended to make a big splash as a Ph.D. student, but I got sidetracked–frightened by financial pressures that come with three toddlers in tow. So, I disregarded my freshly minted BA degree with philosophy and psychology as my intended brand and hunkered down at blackjack tables with a computer program, until I could win pretty consistently. And, just in case I blew my growing wad, I also took up residence as a cocktail waitress at the best cocktail lounge in town. Dreams of a graduate degree fell by the wayside with my undefended thesis that predicted exponential growth of the legal profession.
I did not complain or explain my decision to concentrate on a business plan with the sketchy further education of a blackjack counter, hatchick, and “stand-in” model with the figure, paycheck, and title of a bunny.

At twenty-four, I took the plunge with a pitch for funding of the first search firm exclusively for practicing lawyers. My preparation was a mix of chutzpah, moxie and perfected deep breathing to control worries of rejection and $1800 of cold cash savings to contribute to the venture. But failure was never an option!

At twenty-four I scored seed money to begin my march into the world of law and business to form a global footprint in the optimization of legal talent; searches, coaching, counsel selection, and legal marketplace consulting services. And, I continue to thrive with an unquenched thirst to keep learning– on multiple levels.  I am ready to roll at WashU Law School.

At 74, I expect to be on the high side of the age curve of curious and motivated adults who see this program as a potential boon to their lives. For years I have toyed with the idea of returning to school. Until this year, I had no defined purpose other than reversing inner misgivings about previously ditching graduate studies. But, following a freak accident, last May, I had to find my way back to optimism and the active pursuit of my core belief in rebirth and improved renewal–no matter the immediate challenges.

What a crash! 

On May 2, 2018, my life changed in an instant.  One minute I was dining in a beautiful restaurant with a client, and the next minute I was lying in the street, on Fifth Avenue, a stone’s throw from Trump Tower and the squadron of Secret Service agents that descended upon me.  Following my luncheon, I had crossed the street uneventfully.  At the crosswalk, I hailed a cab. My hand attracted two drivers; apparently, they both saw me as drop-dead gorgeous!  Both drivers were eager for a fare. The one in the middle lane cut off the driver in the left lane, as he was approaching me. The driver in the left lane protected his car by swerving into me.

Just before I dropped to the ground for a brief nap, I must have attempted to punch out the taxi medallion seal on the hood of the car.  This is my only explanation for a fractured hand and wrist along with the crushed bones in my leg, ankle, and foot.  Scores of police officers  assembled in the street, to rule out a vehicular terror attack while a team of EMTs began to fit me with back, neck, and head braces for the trip to New York Hospital-Cornell Weill’s Trauma Center.

Suddenly, my life was upended– with fear of near-term mortality like never previously experienced in my life. My mind flashed back to earlier in the spring when I decided, on a lark, to apply for WASHU Law School ‘s MLS program. My prospects for a full recovery looked pretty grim after the first emergent procedure.  I eyeballed the fat temporary dressing that extended down my leg, to the tip of my toes.  The IV bottle was driping an opioid into the veins to control the pain.  I took up the position of a lookout– for any scrap of good news. ,

Finally, there were smiles all around me. The head, neck, and back braces that had constrained me for hours were about to come off. There were NO back, head or neck injuries. The chief surgeon then returned to a discussion of next steps, explaining that further surgeries were needed, but that I was inoperable for the time being; I would have to tough it out for a couple of weeks.

It pays to recognize good news.

There was plenty of reason to fret,  but my refusal to acknowledge the precarious uncertainty about next steps brought a moment of peace.  I thanked the trauma team, for their handy update, and thanked my lucky stars I could continue to use my brain.

While waiting for further news about additional surgeries, I  hi-jacked part of a  family collection of Easton Press’ Greatest Books; I re-read 3 favorite literary classics and pondered school days past and possibilities of a future return to school.  Once home from the hospital—with my leg, ankle, and foot successfully fused and repaired, I made up my mind to push forward with plans to enroll in the  MLS program at WashU.

Eight weeks ago, I bought the law book required for my first course, even though I knew I would have to defer my start date, until July 2019.

Master of my destiny!

On January 1, celebrated a Happy New Year. I have graduated from wheelchair to walker a good part of the time.   Soon I expect to meet clients at venues of their choice, as often as do breakfast meetings at a nearby breakfast haunt,  steps from my home.

By spring, I plan to fly off for a vacation, before hunkering down —at the World Series of Poker,  cooking up a storm for family and friends, and meandering    onto  the dance floor with salsa, swing, or tango partners or at ping-pong tables with my a college days spin from 10 feet back.  And,  I know the decision to drink in further education in studies at WashU ensures the best is yet to come.

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Carolyn–A Treasured Friendship

The minute Carolyn learned that I was down for the count–hit by a taxi, in NYC– she leaped into action.  From thousands of miles away, Carolyn  turned into the Rock of Gibraltar as I began to contemplate the metamorphosis from permanent injury to miraculously positive recovery over the coming months.

Carolyn has retired from her role as the CEO of Grey Group EMEA after spearheading a critical period of growth, but she remains as adventurous as ever and passionate every day. Today she is teaching me  the art of optimism that she radiates, so brilliantly, no matter the changing conditions in our lives. Carolyn’s husband brags about these traits–in Carolyn. I am ready for her day’s lesson!

Since the accident, Carolyn has instituted scheduled visits–every week. “Up and at ’em,”  she says, with suggestions of museum trips, gourmet meals, and theater outings. And she makes them happen–with her help.

Tonight she is taking a giant step; she has invited her husband, Jeffrey to join us for dinner at their favorite haunt.  This was a direct signal that my disposition and progress was suitable for company. I hear that Jeffrey is quite the communicator. I shall learn that he enjoys asking questions more than answering them. I may need to adjust my inquisitiveness, a tad.  Hmm.

I rev up the engine on my new motorized wheelchair and dare Ms. Carolyn to keep apace in her stiletto heels en route to the Carravagio Restaurant.   Of course, Carolyn keeps up with the maximum speed of this vehicle–at 3.5 miles per hour–with gushing admiration for my newly honed driving skills.  I returned the compliments, admiring her fitness,  grace, and balance.

On arrival, we are greeted by the dashing Jeffrey, smiling broadly -comfortable at his favorite dining spot. He is engaged in animated conversation with the manager and taking complete delight at the sight of his wife. Caravaggio is as inviting as ever — with a perfectly set table, calm lighting, an imaginative menu before us and an endless array of mouthwatering additions . But, independent, as I am prone to demonstrate, I ask for my favorite dish at Caravaggio– a -pasta dish not on the menu, but always available. You see, I too, am familiar with this restaurant, though not a regular. I want Mr.Husband to appreciate my gratitude for his good taste!

As to the rest of my  manners, that is another story. My business is like most everyone else’s business;  filled with emergencies that fall into the category of poor planning–sometimes the client , sometimes mine.  On this Sunday evening, while at the dinner table, I reach for the phone to advise a frantic friend on suitable legal counsel for her big pickle. My newly honed wheelchair  driving skills are not quite good enough to scamper away from the table!

I return to the dinner conversation. It continues seamlessly, with husband Jeffrey holding his fire on the questionable disruption.  Instead he probes for more insights about his wife’s friend. He is self-assured,  low-key,  and on the money when he finally decides to speak his mind. He questions the call suggests I like to be in control. Surprise!

Carolyn jumps in–thinking he is astute, but might choose his words differently.  She quickly pulls in the reins suggesting that I am “strong.” At this moment she actually sees me as a bit fragile. Husband Jeffrey sees me as strong. We move as an ensemble to a scintillating  discussion about strength and weakness and end the dinner with optimism about our continuing friendship.

Carolyn plays bridge with less learned players; she has learned to let frustration roll off her back. She is a role model for women who want to take the business world by storm; she has been there; done that, and got the tee shirt.  She travels far and wide; she is a truly curious citizen of the world. And beyond a shadow of a doubt, Carolyn has a contagious zest for life and spreads the word. And now I see that Carolyn loves her husband, madly, but I get the benefit of her gentleness.  

In Caroline, I have a treasured friend. As to Jeffrey, I believe our dinner  laid the groundwork for a new friendship, but it was also a reminder that good conversations are triggered by honest communication and optimism.

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Central Park, Renewal Is At My Doorstep

 


It is week 11 since a taxi hit me and shut down my summer vacation plans, but the non-negotiable reset button of 8 weeks of pure bed rest and 12 weeks of staying put in a wheelchair with “articulating legs”  has allowed me to revise my priorities.  I am meditating, mending, and maneuvering with exercises I never dreamed of.  And I continue to live in a field of dreams and travel on my chosen path, in search of the perfected  Renaissance life.

Outside, the scene rotated between calm and and provocative, cloudy and tearful,  and sunny and gray–as I gazed upon the park. I am getting stronger by the day and counting the weeks I must wait to climb the hills of Central Park, once again. Those hills were never so inviting until they were forbidden.

The Nor’easter arrived later in the day than predicted; but I prepared early and stayed with the plan: nine Beethoven symphonies and rotated readings of Chaucer, Friedman, Peter Baker, and the Sunday Times are near at hand and ready for my ears. The decadent world of Andrew  Friedman’s “Chef, Drugs and Rock and Roll,” a homage to celebrity chefs from the West Coast, East Coast and the world of le francais amuses, while Canterbury Tales reminds me that classics never get old.

I am feasting on the ever-changing landscape, that could be turned into impressionist masterpieces, but I  do not have to wait. They are before my eyes.  The torrential rain is accompanying music to my ears.  The windy downpour whipped sideways in front of the window; then it stopped as suddenly as it had started; revealing a gentle sky beyond the grandeur of the architecture that outlines the West Side of Manhattan in the high rent district.

Here I am, taking delight in each day’s progress, finding joy and peace in hopping 30 steps–without fear, shimmying sideways through narrow doors, transferring from bed to platform walker to wheelchair, seamlessly.   And, I plan to push my limits to put tobogganing, table tennis, and tango on my future dance card.  Renewal is a journey.

Our lives can change in an instant. But, as Rudyard Kipling cautions so well–I believe if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs–the ensuing strength will carry you to greater heights than known before. I remain in the game with certitude the best is yet to come. The destination is the product of the journey;  made so much easier for me to reach because I am surrounded by treasured friends.

Note, Another rendition of “Renewal” appears at EOLIS.com – CEO Face Time blog.

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Jen and “Unabomber” Hold Court

(Fort Lauderdale, FL) After racking up our chips, we called it a day on the set of Poker Night in America, the poker reality show that airs on the CBS Sports Network. The high-stakes competitions showcase poker skills, lucky streaks, gambling styles, grit and gab.

To my left, at the poker table was the handsome sharp-as -a-tack, poker genius, Doug Polk. He bought into the game with an intimidating $100,000. To my right was semi-pro Avi Freedman; he’s been killing the game of late. He brought out a bankroll of $30,000. Across the table were poker millionaires Frank Kassela and Shaun Deeb. Kassela is part of the rarified club of poker players that have scored a hat trick at the Annual World Series of Poker Tournament. Shaun Deeb has needles at the ready to insert under the skin of players that takes him on.

My 5K buy-in was the minimum stack permitted; I had another 5K in my pocket, if needed–compliments of my silent corporate sponsor. I like having a chance to decimate the competition with fewer bullets, but between the talent and the mega buy-ins all around me, I had no intention of coming up with more money against this crowd! I was committed to one strategy in this spot–disciplined aggression. It was my best hope with a pittance. At the end of play, I was down a few pennies, but I was up for a night on the town!

Led by high stakes player and poker talent scout Matt Glantz, a group of us hit the cocktail lounge to down shots or sip sodas before moving onward for more post-combat camaraderie. Poker Night regulars Jennifer Tilly and her long-time boy-friend Phil Laak (better known in poker circles as the Unabomber), had been occupied in the commentator booth all afternoon; they joined us. Prancing in stilettos and sneakers, respectively, Jen the only Academy award nominee who has won a World Series of Poker championship (Ladies Event) and Phil, also a WSOP champ (in an open event and Oscar worthy poker celebrity, hoofed it with us to the parking lot. We took off in two cars for the best stone crabs in town.

A rehash of the day’s events was quick and pointed at the dinner table. Big stacks dominated. Jen (the glamorous chatterbox) and Phil (the unpredictable eccentric) held court with style; they were witty, smart, gregarious, and completely engaged with each other–and with the rest of us during our nearly three-hour dinner. They provided plenty of laughable moments, but it was I who enjoyed the last laugh, thanks to this generous couple.

At the end of dinner, we played “credit card roulette for the check. By a process of elimination in this numbers game, the wheel of fortune was about to point the check either on Jennifer or me. Suddenly the game came to a halt. Jen looked coquettishly at Phil as he announced, “Jen, Wendeen, this check belongs to me! Thank you Jen and Phil.

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President Obama With “Wendy”

Last week, Wendeen reconnected with President Barack Obama, outside Washington (where they first met in 2008),  at a stirring event held at the Streiker Center/Temple Emanu-el. After sampling chef Daniel Boulud’s famous short ribs,  the President took pictures at a VIP reception before the Event. He would soon settle in for a “conversation” with Rabbi Joshua Davidson in the main sanctuary of the temple.

In earshot of Wendeen’s friends, nearby, as she approached to greet the President, he called out to her , “Hi Wendy.”  She joined him–responding  with this smile, caught by the camera! The only people who call her “Wendy” are family (Wendy was her nickname until she turned 6!), singer Wayne Newton, a client and longtime friend who resides in a world of his own, and  the good president.  Wendeen couldn’t bring herself to correct the president!

There was good reason that President Obama resonated deeply with his audience. He offered simple and sage advice to attendees on how to thrive in our complicated world. He said, “I tell my girls, “Be kind and be useful.” Wendeen is grateul for his perspective.

 

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President Obama Resolve

On the occasion of President Obama’s third State of the Union address, I was privileged to be in attendance and witness his ongoing metamorphosis from community organizer and novice power broker, to compelling orator and worldly statesman. President Obama insured that all of the optics were aligned–for his fellow Americans and his global viewers.

Uncharacteristically, he put the brake on his penchant for off-putting frequent references to “MY administration,” using the phrase  very sparingly–maybe 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 low steady voice filled with controlled passion. He just left to the side contrived political fanfare.

The uniqueness of the occasion was duly noted by media, beforehand–noting both his august office and 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  mindful of his listeners, apparently aware of eroding approval and growing skepticism about his bona fides to deal effectively in complicated foreign affairs issues.  He addressed his listeners across the country as participants to be persuaded rather than as subjects expected 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  the American people 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. In contrast at his recent post-president appearance, Mr Obama makes clear he remains resolute, but he is more rested.

Note: An earlier version of this article appeared timely to his 3rd State of the Union Address.

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Baldwin is Still Winning

At a time when Las Vegas is all abuzz about the implications of Steve Wynn’s fall from grace, I am reminded both of his rise as a visionary who brought a glitzy casino into the Wild West downtown section of Las Vegas and his  homerun in recruiting  World Series of Poker Champion, Bobby Baldwin, as an executive. Wynn took Baldwin up the corporate ladder  to the positi9n of president of the Golden Nugget.

Well schooled in accounting matters and people reading skills, Baldwin went on to become president of  Mirage Resorts, Wynn’s first  property on the famous Las Vegas Strip. He then moved onward and upward  to Wynn’s next crown jewel, Bellagio, before joining the C-Suite of the behemoth MGM Company,  where Wynn’s arch rival, Terry Lani, was the CEO.

When MGM,  took aim at the Wynn properties and acquired them– lock, stock, and barrel, Baldwin remained a winner, convincing Lanni to send him up a higher corporate ladder in the MGM infrastructure.

Wynn was forced into a sale, taking a pretty penny and a non-compete agreement  that  put him off the casino- building grid for years. But once freed from his non compete shackles, Wynn was back in the saddle. he built a new spectacular resort and recognized, once again as an incredibly effective casino visionary–with plenty of political clout.

And then came an all too familiar jolt of late– a powerful man in the crosshairs of allegations  of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Last week, Steve Wynn resigned his position of Chair of the National Republican Committee and then as Chairman of the Wynn Hotel and Casino. acknowledging, only, that the accusations lodged against him, had caused a public relations disaster for himself and the properties that bear his name.

For Baldwin — a storied history continues.  The late Terri Lanni called  Baldwin’s decision strategies “artfully refined over the years,” undoubtedly  perfected by paying careful attention at poker tables–where he is still a threat to younger poker wizards.

As a woman who has worked and played in male dominated worlds, including casinos from Las Vegas to Macau,  I have learned that even in the last bastions of rugged male chauvinism there are good  role models as well as bad ones to be found.

I have known Steve Wynn casually for more than 30 years-well enough to share a few group meals  and work together on a couple of charity dinners in Las Vegas; not well enough to have any personal clue about his alleged sexual improprieties with the Company’s massage therapists–some of whom worked on my ever -aching feet. I have had a bit more personal experience with Bobby Baldwin–enough to know that I was very fortunate to make his acquaintance.

By the looks of the first poker table I visited (in downtown Las Vegas), I suspected that it would be “slim pickins'” to find a few good men!  Baldwin turned out to be one of many poker pros who has   taught me crucial negotiating skills through the power of keen observation.

My early on poker friend, “Suds,” a successful  businessman and an elite poker player, introduced me to Bobby Baldwin. I instantly took the measure of the man as smart, well-mannered, focused, skeptical, determined, and– a skilled “people reader. He exuded inner confidence.

I don’t know Bobby Baldwin well, but I certainly have experienced his winning ways. At the Grand Prix of Poker–way  back in 1985, we were both invited to play in the “Super Bowl of Poker Charity Invitational. Bobby crippled me –early in the proceedings. He played 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  hand. Bobby Baldwin’s sage words have proven applicable, everywhere!

Baldwin has the world on a string! 

Bobby Baldwin

While I held on long enough to reach the final table, my hours there were short and less than sweet.  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.

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, before I met him, noting, “The only difference between the poker room and the boardroom is the shape of the table.”

Weeks after our Grand Prix encounters, we met up at a formal charity event in Las Vegas. He complimented my gown and then kidded me, 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, determined to prove I was not one of those people  with the attention span of a gnat!

I  created exercises to improve overall sensory perception, and learned the high value of 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 t by their people-reading expertise and negotiating savvy.  Bobby’s advice resonated  deeply with me. I learned, slowly and methodically how to improve my attentiveness. If I had to guess how Bobby Baldwin came to hold the world on a string, I would make a ladylike wager that his secret “sauce” is his power of concentration and attention to facts and behavior that others miss regularly. He also holds his cards very close to the vest.

Decades after Steve Wynn’s  Grand Prix Poker Charity Tournament,   I was visiting  the late Terri Lanni, former Chairman of MGM. By this time, Bobby Baldwin had become president of MGM. He popped into Terri’s office and joined us for a casual chat.  I reminded him of the long ago poker confrontations, while attempting to convince him I was no easy target anymore.  He smiled agreeably, but gave no hint as to his own conclusion.

 

 

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Woods and Wendeen – Politics and Poker

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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Two Eolis Sisters Celebrate Manhattan

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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Luther Kent / Wendeen Toasting New Orleans

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.