Saturday, December 15, 2007

Deloite and Touche

The Media Club was on the top three floors of the building and the elevator was the only way to the top. There was something a little goofy about the whole thing, the students filing off the elevator, one by one. Like children returning from lunchtime recess, the facilitator shuffled them into the lounge on the Southeast side of the Laclede Gas building at 7th and Olive in downtown St. Louis. It was there they would be disappointed to find only a piece of the arch in sight, but spectacular views to the south. The newer Metropolitan Life Building saw to that, completed in 1989 earning the title of Missouri's tallest building. For members and guests of the Media Club, the new building blocked the view of the river, the arch and everything else that was once considered the best view in the city. You could still see Bush stadium and the "not busy enough" activity in the streets of downtown St. Louis back in 1991.

The 30th floor was the main dining room, private dining and lounge. The 31st housed an athletic club with a small bar where members gin games occasionally went on to the wee hours of the night. The main floor was decorated rustically, dark wooden panels English Tudor, steeple chase paintings throughout. Men were required to wear jackets. You could smoke cigars in the lounge at night so the air had a heaviness during the day, in relationship to the rest of the club. The furniture was comfortably worn, slightly battered from years of parlor parties, gatherings, meetings, dances and upscale events for the power people of St. Louis.

There was a time that the Media Club was just "media" folks; the elite purveyors of information to the world. Bob Hyland, obviously the matriarch of the media scene for nearly four decades with CBS. Other names like Koplar, Buck, Pulitzer, Fleishman, and Duggan. There were other dignitaries, all sorts of important people that, should you look real close, you would recognize by name or face. These people belonged to the Media Club. It was their ilk who gathered there, those who formed the way we receive information, be it newspapers, television or radio.

After the mid eighties, the membership extended outside of the Media industry, there were still plenty a local celebrity to coddle, but most of the "biggies" were business people now; law firm partners, accounting firm executives, insurance brokers, all players in the world of big business. My favorites were the entrepreneurs, retail and wholesale jewelry business owners, property owners and developers always buying and selling the old buildings in the area. There was many a local politico.

I was so intrigued by the men and women, polished by the way they looked, their style, their brinkmanship when conducting a business lunch. I could easily put the process into perspective. There was a beginning, a middle and end. There was the "chatting" stage, the "substance" stage and the "what's next” stage of every business lunch. My role was to inject the culture of fine dining in to their experience, that which they grown to know and expect. We would work together on people. I was part of the deal, often.

So it was interesting, their taste for pageantry. By pageantry I mean the protocol or the standard by which we as a staff saluted them when they arrived and carried it though until the end of the meeting.. It was the drink in hand before they had time to think about it. The salutation: “Hello Mr. Hulltengren, a pleasure to see you today”. The goodbye: “It was a pleasure to see you again Mr. Hulltengren, goodbye sir”. The pageantry could be laid on pretty thick for most. Others would have their own personal salutary dialog which was to inject a common interest and/or memory of an important occasion, like the birth of a granddaughter, or their being featured in a newspaper article.

Deloite and Touche, the big accounting firm in St. Louis, was having a cattle call, an employment event designed to attract, hire and retain Missouri's top business school graduates. For these graduating students, the elevator stop at the Media Club was an important destination. It was there they would finish their week long program of interviews and meetings with supervisors to determine if they would be hired at the company.

The Media Club marked the finish of the process. It would determine how the students interact in a business dining environment. All of the department heads would come mingle and get to know each candidate during the dinner. I called it a "moxie check". It was brilliant in my book, how better to get to know your future employees... Most of them had passed the test and had been extended offers. But the harsh reality was that others would be sent away at the evenings end. Could any of them have been sent home because of poor business dining etiquette? It was definitely a contributing factor.

In any case, there was a huge emphasis on these Cattle Call dinners by the human resource director. I would work with them, preparing the rooms, seating assignments. Sometimes we would talk about those who performed the best. It was a game really. This was important to the company culture. Seeking out employees with regard for tradition, manors and good etiquette. It was a condition that they would hire only the best, that they hired what they were, practitioners of business etiquette, that which emulated the traditions of business dining at the Media Club.

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