The Great Hot Chocolate Saga
It was a big day. I mean historic big. Monday, Jan. 28, was new-tie, shoe-shine, call-your-momma-later big.
After more than six months of searching, Noble’s governing body had selected Vice President and General Counsel Steve Rhines to be the organization’s ninth president and CEO. To give some context, Noble announces new presidents less often than Jurassic Park movies are released. Since 1993, dinosaurs have roamed the theater five times. New Noble presidents: 3.
With Steve’s predecessor, Bill Buckner, already retired, there was no need to dillydally with the announcement. The governing body voted at its regular January meeting, and the following weekend was an electric ride of preparation that would culminate on a brisk Monday morning.
I arrived at the backdoor early, looking like a J. Crew pack mule with leather attaché slung over one shoulder, folders under my arm and a neatly stacked totem pole of food: a Tervis tumbler of tea topped by a small hot chocolate. The two drinks were crowned by a hinged-lid container holding that morning’s breakfast.
As I stretched to run my badge across the electronic reader, my “Leaning Tower of Breakfast” did the inevitable. The container slid sideways. I attempted to counter by leaning the opposite direction, which accelerated the problem. The hot chocolate ricocheted off the backdoor and exploded like a Willy Wonka Napalm bomb. My usual catlike reflexes failed me, and my chocolatey treat drenched my stark white shirt, suit and, yes, new tie. This could have seemed like an omen for the day. Instead, it set the scene for a small example of why Steve is our new president.
Standing in the puddle of cocoa and annoyed with my own stupidity, I kicked the now empty cup to the side, stepped over the mess and proceeded inside, attempting not to drip on the carpet. Within minutes, the communications team would assemble in our conference room to receive their marching orders for the day. So much had to be done in a matter of hours.
The plan was simple: get them started on their assignments, change clothes then return to the scene of the chocolate-
debacle and clean up my mess. As with most big days, only two of those tasks happened. A flurry of activity commenced. Chairs and sound systems were set up. Video equipment prepped. Email announcements sent. Last minute tweaks to the speech finalized. Everything hummed along like a Disney cartoon song.
Thanks to my wife’s childhood experience with her Ken doll, my new shirt-suit combo looked even better than the original.
Soon employees gathered for the big announcement. Rusty Noble, chairman of the Noble Foundation Board of Directors and grandson of founder Lloyd Noble, announced Steve’s appointment. Steve stepped to the stage as thunderous applause and a few hoots and hollers filled the room.
The employee response offered a resounding affirmation that Noble’s governing body had identified the right person, at the right moment, for the right reasons. In his trademark Steve-ness, our new president’s first comment was a joke. As the applause subsided, he said, “Well, that went better than I expected.”
Steve then rolled through his speech — a collection of reflections mixed with appreciation and a vision for the future. When he talked about his goal to be a servant leader, no one doubted his authenticity. Least of all me. Almost 13 years ago, Steve hired me. During my first few weeks, he told me this fundamental truth: “No matter our title, we are all here to serve.”
The rest of the day was a blur. Photo shoots. External announcement. Pure exhausting communications fun. In the waning moments of this big day, I ran to the backdoor to cross campus and came across a scene that serves as a glimpse into the heart of our new president.
There was Steve in his shined shoes and his new tie picking up a Styrofoam cup, one stained with cocoa, one that I had forgotten about. The local red ant colony had laid siege to the cup, opening a microscopic Starbucks. Steve was finessing the ants and the sticky cocoa, looking for the nearest trash can.
There he was — on the day he was named president — picking up my trash. He wasn’t angry. He didn’t ask why it was there. He was taking care of the problem.
If you want to know who our new president is, just know this — he is a servant first and foremost. He believes that we are all responsible for the details. No one is too important to do any job. Because even on big days, we still do all the little things that make Noble noble.