The right concerns

A few weeks ago I went fishing with my friend Dan. We only caught one fish, but the weather was fine, the lake was beautiful, and as always happens when I happen to spend time with Dan, I came away inspired and enlightened.

A few weeks ago I went fishing with my friend Dan. We only caught one fish, but the weather was fine, the lake was beautiful, and as always happens when I happen to spend time with Dan, I came away inspired and enlightened.

Dan was the CIO at one of the companies I worked for. We were good friends and colleagues. His job was tough - turnover among CIOs is perhaps the highest of any job in the executive suite.

He managed a corporate department of great complexity - it had the biggest headcount, the largest annual investment bud-get, and the greatest propensity for error. It also arguably represented the greatest strategic leverage point for the future, meaning there was constant debate, scrutiny, and criticism of our IT strategy. Dan handled it with grace, humor, and great skill.

Dan is Israeli and has a wonderful Middle Eastern sense of humor and brashness that created some memorable moments in the senior management suite. One of my favorites came during an executive staff meeting when our CEO was haranguing Dan about a particular IT issue.

Apparently, the head of a division was complaining about the lack of response she was receiving from Dan's team. With perfect aplomb, Dan maintained there was no legitimate issue and that the woman who was complaining did not know what she was talking about.

Our CEO was growing more and more frustrated. Exasperated, he looked at Dan and barked, "Dan, she keeps calling me. She has serious concerns about this problem."

To which Dan shrugged his shoulders and simply said, "She should have other concerns."

I have always wanted to use that line, but never had the guts. I loved to observe Dan during the annual budgeting process. He was a master at the art of financial negotiation and at cost obfuscation. He always had a strategy going into a budget meeting, never lost his temper, and always kept his sense of humor. Often, he would agree to an outrageous cut demanded by the finance department, before quietly adding, "Of course we won't be able to support the corporate email system if we make these cuts."

Two years ago Dan had a major stroke. A vibrant, athletic guy, he suffered this stroke just a few days after competing in a 100-mile bike race. He was 59. Dan spent two months in the hospital recovering and battling the effects of the stroke. He had to go back and learn things again, such as walking, speaking, and moving his body. It has been a tough struggle and though he has come a long way, Dan still grapples with short-term memory and some speech and vision issues.

But here is the beauty part - Dan is still the same funny, irreverent, and clever guy. We meet for coffee or lunch every two or three weeks, and I still always come away feeling inspired, enlightened, and rejuvenated.

Dan retired after the stroke and has been focusing his energy on his physical therapy as well as enrolling in continuing education courses at UCLA. He has a thirst for learning and great intellectual curiosity, and now studies everything from astronomy to forensic psychology. Most impressive to me, however, is that Dan has retained his passion for life and his joy in waking up each day.

When I start to feel stressed by work, money, or life issues; or when if I begin to feel overwhelmed, I just think of Dan, his irreverence, and how he has accepted life's challenges.

And then I realize I should have other concerns.

Don Spetner has served as CCO for Nissan North America, Sun America, and Korn/Ferry International. He can be reached at donspetner@gmail.com.

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