Back in 1998 I was working in Holland as liaison between the joint venture that AT&T had at the time in Europe and our largest multi-national clients. We met four times a year in different locales where we would showcase the local country’s telecom infrastructure and how it was meeting customer’s needs.
Autumn in Geneva; Swisscom gave out Swiss Army knives at our plenary dinner announcing they were ‘cutting prices.’ A burly British CIO shouted from the crowd, “so, what is the meaning behind the corkscrew?” Hardy, har, har.
The crowd was always a tough one. We had to present our technical partnering the next day and, as usual, we had brought in Mr. Anton Valk to give that preso. Anton was our go-to technical person. He is a well-educated and articulate Dutchman who headed up our Network partnership team. He also looked the part. He sported curly Einstein-esqe hair, glasses and a perpetually confused look on his face when anyone was asking him a question as if he was pondering all the possible answers to ‘Can you please pass the salt?’.
Quite by chance I met him early the next morning in front of the hotel. I was going for a walk to see the city and he had the same thing in mind. I remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. I asked him about his job. He told me he was excessively busy and really needed to spend more time with his kids. He explained that his wife was dead and going out-of-town was a huge problem for him…one which he faced more and more frequently. We passed along the quay and crossed the river to the old part of town. Anton admired the beauty of a baroque church. ‘I never get to do this kind of thing’, he said, explaining that business travel was never usually pleasurable for him. I admired the boats on the lake and waterskiers.
We got talking about another colleague who we both admired. We struggled for words to describe the man who so effortlessly ran his department and his business within the corporate structure. Everyone seemed to like him. He is ‘duidelijk,’ I finally said.
Mijnwoordenboek defines the Dutch word “duidelijk” as: distinct, obvious, clear, bright, evident, manifest, done, transparent, flagrant, luminous, clarifying, cooked, clear-cut, clear as daylight.
Clear? Or as the Dutch say: ‘As clear (duidelijk) as a piling above the water.’
Maybe not. But Anton at once understood and agreed. Anton smiled as though he was just let in on a secret that he had no interest in sharing. The traffic was starting to build and the cafes were opening on the quay. The day was dawning over the alps. The meeting would be starting soon and we knew we had to head back. A breeze arose off the lake and we walked in silence. Trees were beginning to change color and rustle more restlessly in the breeze. I could smell autumn and closing my eyes I could see the fall trees in the town where I grew up.
About two weeks later Anton quit his job and took a new one where he did not need to travel as much. I went to his leaving party. His office was a disaster as always, but he looked very happy. He shook my hand and wished me the best with my career. ‘Duidelijk’, I thought. Very duidelijk.