Wednesday, August 1, 2012

bad jobs: the family office

This job was at a firm, about 20 people, who did nothing but manage the wealth of a very rich family. The grandfather had made a killing in retail (sold his share of the business and wound up with piles of cash), and the money was in something like 200 trusts and accounts. I worked for the big guy.

I can tell you that any time I worked as an Executive Assistant, or for a C-level individual (CEO, CFO etc), or for a president or vice-president, it never worked out well. I'm not a corporate type; me and corporate don't go.

And this family office was very corporate, even though I suppose a family office wouldn't have to be. But the boss was a corporate dude; he was a business guy, which is probably why he was running the whole shebang. He had actually worked in the Carter administration, in an economic position - a high one. He was probably the WASPiest Jew I ever met.

But mostly, I wasn't involved with the money. The boss served on numerous boards of directors, had a foundation, and owned five homes. He was also invested in a few companies in which he was personally involved. One in particular I never understood; software that categorized your files. I don't think it did anything that Windows Explorer doesn't do, except it was a little more visual.

So I scheduled a lot of meetings and travel, typed correspondence, and called the caretaker to turn on the water in the Maine home - pardon me, one of the Maine homes. (One was on a private island. The others were in New York, Paris, London, and a ski place somewhere like Utah.)

He was not a bad guy; he was demanding, but also rather sweet and at times awkward, at least around me. He also loved technology, but it was kind of a clunky time for technology: the poor computer guy couldn't manage to get the computer and the Palm Pilot hooked up just right, and it never synced properly, which pissed the boss off. He did enjoy his Bloomberg stock feed, thought, and would call me from out of town and ask me to read him the prices on certain stocks. (He had a lot of AOL, which was very hot at that time.)

The problem was his wife. She was always around, and always badmouthing me to him. If I made a mistake or was slow with something, she would remind him about it all the time, something he probably would have forgotten in a day. I had a lot of work to do and it was often very complicated, but as good-natured as he was, she was a dreadful bitch (southern belle variety).

Soon before I was canned, the head of the foundation (a woman) explained it to me: the wife was uncomfortable with any woman who worked around her husband, and none of his assistants ever lasted longer than a year. The boss in no way had a roving eye and wasn't attractive by any means; maybe she thought any woman in the world would take him because of the money. Anyway, I was fired after six months. During my notice period, the wife would no longer let me write checks, which was just plain mean.

One good thing about that time: the boss and his wife went to a lot of plays and talked about them. At the time, Barry and I were probably making more money combined than at any other time, so we also bought tickets and went. In some odd way, this was probably the easiest and most personal thing he and I shared, having a brief chat about a play we'd both seen.

Also, I met a guy in the accounting area who stayed a friend for a few years; we bonded over being Elvis Costello fans. He was a little younger than I was, and I can't lie - he was good-looking. Even though it was never more than a friendship, and in fact Barry and I went out with him once or twice, Barry was a little jealous, which probably contributed to our falling out of touch. (I seem to recall the guy was unattached and looking, but certainly not at me.)

One more good thing: the woman who ran the foundation wore really pretty jackets, all by a designer named Zelda. I actually found a Zelda jacket on, the only thing I ever found there in my size, and bought it for $100; I believe it's the second-most expensive piece of clothing I ever bought for myself. I still have it, and it's still beautiful. (In fact, I should see if I can make it work with any of my current wardrobe.)

A sidebar about corporate clothes: they are also not me. I hate a suit like the plague. And since I was a plus-size, it made things harder and worse. It was hard to find well-made and gently-priced corporate wear in plus sizes. Plus it pretty much didn't flatter me at all. I tend to carry weight around my middle, which means nothing with a shirt tucked in really looks good on me. And the dry-cleaning costs! And the endless pantihose! And the fucking heels! I still have some nice pieces from that era, although I don't really know if I'll ever get much use out of them again. And I will be very glad if I never again have to see those shopping spots again. I used to go to King's Plaza mall, because they were all there: Avenue, Lane Bryant, the plus-size department at Macy's, the plus-size department at Sear's. The latter two were where I scored the best stuff. Macy's carried a designer named Rena Rowan who made beautiful silk clothes (I still have a mint-green jacket) and Elisabeth (the now-defunct Liz Claiborne plus-size line) and Jones New York. Sear's, surprisingly, also had some nice things, in particular another now-defunct Liz Claiborne line called First Issue, which had both regular and plus-sizes.

And one more story about my family-office boss: I have a small bird tattoo on my left forearm, and always wore long sleeves or jackets at work. My last week, I finally wore short sleeves, and he said, "I never knew you had that!" (Just surprised, not judgmental.) I replied, "I never let you see it." He seemed impressed. I don't think he liked firing me, to be honest.

What I (eventually) learned: a corporate climate is not right for me. I tried it several times because the money was always good.

No comments:

Post a Comment