Thursday, January 8, 2009

Harrell, Party of Six

There is a certain trivial exercise that begins with a rather interesting question: if you could invite any five people, living or dead, to perhaps the most important dinner of your life, who would those five people be? Just the thought of all of the possibilities, I guess, can be overwhelming for most people. In fact, when asked the same question, most people that I know pause for a moment, only smiling, and then they endeavor to answer in the same way, carefully selecting five family members who have been of great importance in their lives. Their choices are admirable and inspiring—but being the man that I am, of course, you have to know that I’d do things a little differently.

First of all, it is the most important dinner of my life, correct? Well, if that is the case, then it has to be at a restaurant that I love and would want my guests to enjoy. That said, the venue has to be among my favorites, and it is likely to come from a list that is all its own. Here are six:

Mona’s CafĂ© (New Orleans)
Earl’s Restaurant (Victoria, BC)
Zea’s (New Orleans)
Samurai Dragon (Houma)
Shanghai River (Houston)
Felix (The Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong)

…And even though my penchants for Mediterranean, sushi and Chinese might be very strong, I would easily acquiesce to the fact that not everyone on my guest list shares my taste. Therefore, the most important dinner of my life will have to be at a relatively selection-neutral, albeit no less delicious, place like Zea’s or Earl’s. And believe me—those are not bad options, at all. Their diverse menus are likely to satisfy everyone at my table.

Okay, with the restaurant out of the way, now is the time to focus on my guest list. If I could invite any five people, living or dead, to perhaps the most important dinner of my life, who would those five people be? To be sure, it would be easy to send invitations to only family members or to friends; however, that would be too easy. And while I take none of my friends or my family members for granted, I feel like this opportunity really is an important one—a moment that could genuinely redefine my life and impact my destiny. Therefore, I would like to use it wisely, by assembling the greatest leaders that I can think of.

Why leaders? Well, the answer should be obvious to everyone. Leadership is a largely absent quality in this time of extreme anxiety. It seems that we as citizens of the world are going wayward, and that our vaulted institutions are no longer guided by the high minds necessary to restore their own viability, let alone steer our course. If requisite leadership does not exist abundantly in our modern times, then it might be necessary to call back into our past, and tap the thinking of those who helped to define civilization as we know it. That could deliver us from our troubled times, and personally, it would be the type of tutorial that could also make me a better leader.

First on my list would be King David of Israel. (I know that most people would invite Jesus to their own dinners, and that would mean the messiah’s itinerary would be quite full. Therefore, I am going for another biblical figure.) Actually, I think that the life of King David is a relatable one for most people. Here he was—an awkward boy told that, by thirty, he would lead God’s people, even though every obvious circumstance long seemed to indicate the contrary. Then it happened, and as king, he struggled with his humanity, constantly trying to quell his impatience and his temper, while always sustaining his devotion to God. David was every bit of a human leader—not always formal or proper, not always perfect, but nevertheless always committed and passionate. That is the type of man that I have long aspired to become: a man who understood his calling in life, and knowing that God has always loved him, despite the often wrong-headedness of his actions, a man who continued to work toward His purpose. At my dinner, the first questions to this king would be, rather simply, “How do I do it? How do I get it right, so as to be a true benefit to this world? And where do I find the discipline to upend my usual impatience, before it thrusts me into making even more dire mistakes in this life?

Also sitting at the table, and probably scoffing at the menu (and at everyone else), would be John Pierpont Morgan—or, for those who don’t know him by that name, J.P. Morgan. Though he basically inherited his opportunity and wealth, he is still the personification of modern corporate finance, and he is one of the titans who helped to build this country through that financial world (before his successors on Wall Street recklessly pitched it into oblivion). My admiration for Morgan resides squarely in the way that he, after a few short-lived career moves, took a minor investment house (Drexel Morgan & Co) and transformed it into the venerable J.P. Morgan & Company. To be sure, Morgan was weak on judgment, particularly when it came to his being anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, pro-fascist, etc; but he was really good at building his team. “A homely had no chance of being selected a Morgan partner,” wrote a turn-of-the-century biographer--but those who were (like Tom Lamont) helped to create a institution whose wingspan spread from London and New York City to China, structuring finance for everything from railroads to early innovations to war bonds. And it also was under Morgan’s personal command that the financial crisis in 1907, a major crisis similar to the one we face now, was remedied not from Washington but from the library of his personal residence. With all of this in mind, to Morgan, I would ask: “Given my broad vision, how do I take Axiom S.A. and create a similar powerhouse, one that merges consulting and deal-making and finance so seamlessly and completely that we literally recreates the industry? And how would you resolve this new crisis of confidence in the U.S. economy?”

Of course, for me, building empires of wealth is great, but I do understand the moral imperative thrust upon my life. And while the latter does not come easily, I remember that there is another man whose purpose and sacrifice was far greater than any I will ever know—Dr. Martin L. King. His place at my table is without question. Because of him, after all, we will not be eating in the kitchen or the alley. Indeed, Dr. King’s mission was to bring equality and opportunity to the lives of all men and women, and his sacrifice reminds us all that there is a real need to help those around us to rise above their circumstances and fulfill their own missions in life. Moreover, for me the most profound statement ever made by Dr. King is this one: “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people…but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time.” I would love to assure him that this man will never wait, and given the opportunity, I will do my part to right this world—to ignite its Age of Possibilities, so that every life within my sphere of influence will have the chance to live out Matthew 5:16 for themselves.

No doubt sitting next to Dr. King will be my mom. A family member, yes—but she is the greatest leader that I know. Pearla Lewis has the ability to reshape mountains with the force of her will, and if you think that is an exaggeration, just take a look at the children she reared, especially this one. Her presence at this table is important also because, whereas other leaders are likely to speak in abstract terms, she will no doubt do so very directly. My mom knows me; she has been there through the highs and lows, my trumps and failures, and to me, she will forever serve as a reminder of all that is righteous and good in this world…What’s more, I’d better not invite Dr. King to dinner and omit her from the guest list. I’d never hear the end of it.

Finally, there to help me absorb all of this advice, to help me parse ideas on discipline, on ambition, on the economy, on compassion, and on God’s purpose, in the last seat at the table, I would want one man. It was not difficult to select him above others, but it is difficult to say it aloud, only because I do not hope to infer anything about anyone else. In fact, on a daily basis, I am surrounded by so many awesome leaders and creative people that I truly feel blessed; becoming a consultant has opened the doors to so many ideas and concepts that it is often difficult for even me, the consummate entrepreneur, to keep up. And yet, of all of these members of the I-Class, there is one person who I know that just stands out, because he the walking semblance of every leader mentioned here. I have long admired his ambition, his compassion, and his vigor, and I am often taken aback by the humility that comes from a man who has known that he, too, can make mistake. Though his time for making a mark has yet to come, I would wager everything that I am on the fact that it will be stunning and indelible. That fifth person at the table is Jules J. Jones. Yeah, “Smallville” is without a doubt one of the greatest leaders that I know and that the world will come to know, and he will probably have more to glean from this dinner than even I could hope for.

It might seem like an old mix of the ancient and the present, but I think that it would be, well, cool. I would want the most important meal of my life, at the very least, to help to define the rest of it. There is no doubt that I’d hold everyone at the table until we could devise some way to restore our world. And when I step away from that table, under the supple lighting and comforting tunes that fill the restaurant, and when I cross the chatter-filled dining area to the exit, I want to do so with an even greater sense of purpose, with an even clearer idea of what is to come. As far as I’d be concerned, the next morning would be the start of the greatest time of my life—and I’d love nothing more than to leaping into it with my guns blazing.


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Digger in LV said...

Good entry, Gary. I probably would not invite family or friends either. I was thinking of a few Playboy bunnies, instead, so that I could have desert. LOL.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to try some of these restaurants this year especially when I get to New Orleans. So you really like Mona's, huh?

BTW I am one of those people who would only have my family over to dinner, especially the baby. I just want to know what he would have grown up to be.

Take care, man.

mike carson

Anonymous said...

That's a interesting post, Gary. I never was thinking about this such of dinner - G6.
Once i used to be a server, i could wait on this table and "steal" some ideas and wisdom that will make me the director of that restaurant on the next day, maybe not only. :) So when i will invite my 5 people, i will invite them to my own restaurant. :)
Once again, good stuff.

Nicolai Vicol

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