Living with your choices

The unpleasant experience of having someone betray my friendship years ago led me to be certain about the choices that I made. I wonder if he ever reflected on what he did. I am sure that he rationalized his behavior in a million ways.

Living with your choices by Nancy Knowlton

Shortly after Dave and I started SMART Technologies, the cold, harsh reality of an underfunded start-up hit us. Lack of funds meant that we would be unlikely to receive any cash payment for our efforts – we would be rich in stock but cash poor. Intellectually, we knew this when we started the business, but it didn’t take long before we felt the pinch of no cash. Right around that time a friend let me know that his company was looking for a VP, Finance, and he could put in a good word for me and arrange for an interview. I gladly accepted the offer, recognizing both the opportunity to resolve a problem and the potential negative to our new company.

I got the job – I think!

The interview went well and the CEO offered me the job on the spot. We talked about some of the details, and he said that I would have a written offer in my hands very shortly. I left his office, happy to have resolved our problem yet sad to have given up on putting full-time energy into SMART. You can imagine my surprise when the CEO didn’t follow through with the paperwork as promised, advising that he was moving forward with an internal candidate, something that he had earlier described as not a possibility. I have never spoken with or even seen the CEO since that time.

A very short time after this happened, the friend who let me know about the job cleared up the mystery about the CEO’s change of heart. As I was leaving the office, another friend who worked at the company saw me leave and went straight to the CEO, asking why I was in the office. The CEO didn’t answer – I’m sure because he was unprepared for the question. The fellow carried on and said that if I was brought in as the VP, Finance, he would quit. Apparently, this was an unpalatable prospect to the CEO, and on the spot he cratered and offered the role to the person who he had but moments before described to me as unsuitable.

Roller coaster experience

This whole roller coaster process spanned a couple of days. At the time, it mattered and it was intense, but it was quickly pushed to the back of my mind because of the pressing challenges within SMART. With no viable alternative, Dave and I kept our heads down, focused on building the business. In the end that focus was rewarded because the business thrived and grew. We socialized with the friend who betrayed me, but he never mentioned what he had done and I never let on that I knew.

Moving on

Through the years I have kept track of him. I believe that he did a great job in the CFO role and has been successful in all aspects of his career. For a variety of reasons we have drifted apart and I don’t see him socially anymore. If I did, I would be happy to speak to him, reflecting on the positive memories of the experiences that we shared so long ago. I have long since gotten over what he did – in fact, that was almost immediate because I had so many other pressing matters to deal with.

Reflections

I have often wondered what he might have thought about his actions in the quiet moments at night when he couldn’t sleep. Did he ever wonder how his actions impacted me? After all, he knew that we were struggling financially. Did he even give that a second thought? Did he feel better about his actions because things seemed to work out for me? Did he even know? Did he ever wish that he could clear the air with me and explain his actions? Did he know or suspect that I knew what he did?

I don’t know what he thinks and I likely never will, but I do know what I think about the whole experience. While I couldn’t see myself acting like this in a similar situation, I can’t know for sure what I would do under pressure. I can only imagine that he did what he thought he needed to based on his personal situation at the time and what he could live with. I am sure that he rationalized his behavior in a million ways, and that it didn’t seem that bad.

I have long ago learned that I will never fully understand what goes through the minds of others. I don’t feel the need to be judge and jury and pass a sentence regarding their actions. I need only pay attention to what I do and how I can live with the choices that I make.

Postscript

As for the actions of the CEO, I can only say how I would behave and how I have behaved. I am cautious in the promises and commitments that I make to people, recognizing how any rescission or diminishment can impact them. I try to think things through from all angles before proceeding. I think about issues holistically, making decisions carefully.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.