Discover more from The Accidental VP by Susan Smythe-Bishop
The Men from Atlantis
They proved to me that leading with kindness and respect was possible in an ego-driven industry
It was just after 9:00 am on a typical morning back in 1998, but this morning ended up being anything but typical.
As I stepped off of the elevator on the 15th floor of our office building, coffee held firmly in hand, the sliding glass doors to our reception area swooshed open as though I was stepping onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise. It took me a while to get used to these new doors, I had to bounce off of them head-first a few times before it sunk in that they were actually there to stay.
As I settled into my sterile cookie-cutter office and started to scroll through the many emails that landed in my inbox overnight, one really stood out. It was from our chairman and the subject line read: Mandatory Staff Meeting. My neck immediately stiffened as I opened it to learn that were all being summoned to a 10:00 am meeting in his corner suite.
GREAT, I thought to myself, who’s gonna be in the line of fire today?!? A reactive brain scan confirmed that this day was not a Friday, which was a huge relief.
A bad film review should never run, right?
If it had been a Friday, the day that movie reviews typically came out on, then I could have been in the line of fire. My boss seemed to think that publicists were supposed to have an uncanny ability to control the opinion of the film critics and that a bad film review should never run for one of our films. 🙄
This meant that, as the VP of publicity and promotions for our film division, if a bad review ran - it would somehow be my fault and hysteria would often ensue. I was the only person in my circle of friends who ever dreaded Fridays – they were just the worst.
Our chairman’s office was a beautiful space with stylish grey stone floors, two full walls of windows and a glass door that led out to a stunning terrace that spanned the most of the length of the building - a terrace that none of us were permitted to step foot on. We learned this rule one afternoon, shortly after a few well-intentioned employees decided to enjoy their short lunch break outside in the sunshine and fresh air.
After this “incident," we all promptly received a blunt email curtly stating that the terrace was off limits to anyone other than the senior executive team. 🙄🙄
The 10:00 am meeting
So! We arrived at this corner office with the door to the stunning terrace to find our chairman, a stylishly-dressed man with a healthy head of silver hair seated next to the CEO of the company, a taller man with wavy dark hair and a foreboding presence.
Shortly after I started working with the company, I was told that the staff endearingly referred to these two as "Barney and Fred” - not only because of their height difference, but also because they were good friends who tended to bicker a lot, which made me laugh. I actually adopted the visual reference as a device - something I could call on as needed to make them feel less intimidating to me as they often were. I didn't need to lean on it this particular morning, though, as they were both very much at ease and actually looked suspiciously happy as they dropped some surprising news on us…
Our company, Alliance Communications, had been sold to a company called Atlantis Communications. From that day forward, we would be known as Alliance Atlantis Communications.
It took a few very long moments for their words to sink in and for me to process what I just heard, but once I did - my head nearly exploded and I could barely contain myself. I knew others who had worked for Atlantis and no one feared the upper management, it was the opposite. They felt appreciated, respected and the work environment was actually fun. So I really had to conceal my joy in front of our team who all seemed somewhat concerned, but there was no mistaking it, this was joyful news for me.
I had often wondered what our company could be like without the tension and shroud of negativity that hung over our heads with each passing week. I imagined how much more creative I could be in an environment that wasn’t ruled by ego and how much happier we all could be. This news gave me hope.
Was our company a better place to work after the purchase?
As I had hoped, this new team genuinely appreciated and valued their employees and treated everyone with great respect so from a personal perspective, I was much, much happier.
Though it wasn’t perfect for us as their focus was more on the lucrative broadcast side of the business and not the film division which was where I worked, the positivity and respect from the new owners did trickle down to us. I grew to love my job and it was so refreshing and exciting to see this style of leadership in action.
I KNEW it was possible to have this kind of leadership in the industry, they proved it for me 🙌🏻 🙌🏻 🙌🏻
Two of the four men from Atlantis, the new owners of our company, were Michael MacMillan, now founder and CEO of Blue Ant Media and founder/partner of Closson Chase Vineyards located where I live in Prince Edward County, and Seaton McLean who is also a founder/partner of Closson Chase.
This pair also unwittingly played a role in putting Prince Edward County on the map for us. While reading The Globe and Mail almost 25 years ago, I stumbled across a feature about their new winery in this region that we had never heard of, so we came out for a visit, immediately fell in love with the area and eventually moved here!
Not only was Closson Chase among one of the first wineries to sprout up here in PEC – it’s also one of the best. Their award-winning wines are excellent, the service is exceptional and you cannot help but feel the positive energy that envelops you the moment you step into their iconic purple barn. Below is an illustration I did a few years ago of all of the partners to celebrate their 20th anniversary (they will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year).
We’ve come to know a few of the staff members over the years too (including the amazing and wonderful winemaker, Keith Tyers who was one of my earliest “County Characters” below) who all profess deep admiration and respect for the owners of the company, which doesn’t surprise me at all. If I was younger, I would be begging for a chance to work with them again in some capacity 😊.
WHEN IT’S HYSTERICAL, IT’S HISTORICAL
- Lori Gottlieb
In reflection, it is astonishing to think about the amount of verbal abuse we put up with. It was accepted behaviour in this business back then and sadly it became our normal, our Stockholm syndrome.
An argument can be made that we all grew a thicker skin because of it, which, to some degree I can’t deny. However – what I got really good at was this:
I learned to box up, compartmentalize and accept the bullying behaviour that triggered all of the anxiety, sleepless nights, stress and stress-related maladies that came with it.
Words have tremendous and lasting power, and no amount of packaging or re-framing lessens their impact. You can’t just laugh or shrug off bad behaviour and forget about it, nor should you have to.
I’ll always maintain that no matter what amount of pain or adversity someone has faced in their lives or despite what current pressure they are under - no one can ever justify being abusive and taking their frustrations out on others.
There are countless examples of people who have risen above extremely harsh and horrific conditions that were imposed on them, and they chose to use the adversity as a catalyst for positive change. Viktor Frankl, Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai immediately come to mind - they drew from their experiences and helped to elevate others rather than tear people down.
IF YOU HAVE THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING RIGHT AND BEING KIND, CHOOSE BEING KIND
- Dr. Wayne Dyer
Being kind is a conscious choice, there is always a compassionate lens that we can choose to see the world through. You get to decide if you’re going to be kind or not – it’s a decision.
While it’s not perfect here in Prince Edward County and I do see some negativity, especially through comments made on community social media channels, I find that we are surrounded by so many wonderful people who have also chosen to see the world through a caring lens. I gravitate towards those people by choice.
My hope and belief is that current and future generations simply won’t tolerate abusive behaviour that we once felt we had to in the workplace, or anywhere for that matter.
My bottom line on it is this:
When given the choice, and we always have a choice, always choose to be compassionate and kind.