What's a small decision you made that ended up having a big impact on your life?

I joined The Mead Corporation in 1981 as they expanded their Technical Services group.  My role for the first year-plus was mainly being a backup as all the major areas had senior people already in place.  That made me more easily available for other assignments and perhaps that helped as this story unfolds.  

John Langenbahn had just become CIO and in 1982 he and the executive management decided to merge the Cincinnati data center, which housed three board-focused divisions, into the Dayton data center, instead of buying them a new million-dollar mainframe.  The project was announced on a Friday in Dayton with a follow-up meeting scheduled for the following Friday in Cincinnati.

After the first meeting I mentioned to somebody that it would be cool to lead the project, so my small decision was to speak up.  But being the new kid, and all of 27 years old, I never thought anything would actually come of it.  The following week as we converged in Cincinnati, one of the managers congratulated me as they had heard I was going to be leading the project.  I told them that I hadn't heard that, but I was gung-ho to do it.  During the first part of the meeting, I was announced as the leader.  I have no idea why my boss or his boss didn’t tell me, or even ask me, prior to the meeting.  Over the next three months and working crazy numbers of hours, we successfully moved the three divisions, one per weekend, to Dayton with minimal issues.  

A few weeks after the project was finished I and my right-hand guy on the project were called up to the CIO’s office.  We were sweating bullets as we rode the elevator to the 25th floor along with our boss and his boss, wondering why the CIO wanted to see us.  Had we screwed up something and were going to get our asses chewed off?  We were relieved to find out that he just wanted to thank us and give us a spot bonus of a couple of thousand dollars, a big deal back then.  I think we were happier that we just weren’t in trouble. 

I believe that leading such an important project was the initial catapult to the rest of my career.  Shortly after I was promoted to Section Manager, later to Network Services Manager, then ERP Director and Chief Technology Officer when Mead and Westvaco merged.  Without this opportunity, I might have just stayed a happy technologist, never entering the ranks of leadership. 

Maybe because I just decided to open my mouth, not realizing that the right person took me seriously, did my career take off.  


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