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February 25, 2011

How I fell down the “rabbit hole”

alice falling

This is the story of how I fell down the “rabbit hole” into the food business.

While finishing a year of scholarship study at the University of Trondheim, Norway, I decided to change my degree program from a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) to a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).  At the time, I feared that getting a job with a MPA would be more difficult than with a MBA.  I returned to Ohio University where I was fortunate to secure a stipend and scholarship as an accounting teaching assistant and completed my degree. 
I was excited thinking that the MBA program was finally going to be the kick in the pants that I needed to jump start my professional career.  But during the last quarter of my tenure as a graduate student, with the buzz of job interviews, I began to feel a bit of a panic.  My fellow MBA candidates were all  excited to be interviewing with what was then the Big 8 accounting firms,  and companies like Big Soap. I felt nothing but anxiety.  I would sit and listen and pretend to take serious the endless  banter about how you had to wear a blue or gray suit.  That women must wear shoes with no more that 1 ¾ inch heels with sheer nude pantyhose.  You must wear gold or pearl stud earrings and your hair must be up off your shoulders.  You must maintain eye contact at all times during the interview, no exceptions, and you must know the right way to shake hands when first entering the interview room.

Fortunately for me, I had an advantage over some of my classmates as I attended a private Catholic grade school at a time when the discipline was as strict as any military academy. When I was in the first grade the church was assigned a Monsignor that we feared more than accidentally biting into the communion host.  When it came time for report cards, the Monsignor would float into the front of the classroom, and either chastise or mutter praise for the grades of each student.  You were to jump up from your desk promptly when your name was called and walk towards the Monsignor with your right hand extended, take the report card in your right hand, transfer it to your left hand, shake the Monsignor’s hand, curtsy or bow and scramble back to your desk

So when the interviewer came to call my name, I could perform the “Johnny Jump Up” with the best of them.  This eager beaver maneuver spills over into retail headquarter lobbies all over the country.  Salespeople sitting poised on the edge of their chairs, as if waiting for a starting gun.  I wondered if they practiced this athletic event in some secret room at the big company headquarters with stop watches and video recorders for post jump up review.

The Big Company folks also seem to make an annoying little snorting noise. No not the loud pig like noise that I make when I find something surprisingly amusing, but a short abrupt inhalation of air at the end of a statement, with a slight tilt of the head.  They ALL do it.  I think it might be part of the brainwashing ritual. The leaders know they have completely taken over the employee when they involuntarily sniff air, turn up their nose and cock their head with just the right amount of arrogance. They gaze around the lobby as if to say. I know all you slackers wish you were me.  Well, no actually we don’t.  You see those of us on the outside of the cult are looking at you in your blue or gray suit, with the 1 ¾ inch heels, the stud earrings and the “just shoot me now” pocket hankie and are saying to ourselves…are you still buying into that load of crap?

I actually received a good offer from a big tire company, even though I went to the interview in a sleeveless sweater wearing dangling earrings and open toe shoes.  The people were great and the pay was good, but they wanted me to start immediately after graduation.  I mean like the next week!

Well, this interfered with my plan to spend another summer in Greece. I said that I could not start until August or September, they told me June or nothing, and I replied well then it is nothing. I delayed applying for my diploma, renewed my teaching assistant scholarship and stipend and left Athens, Ohio for Athens, Greece.

The final final year of my graduate studies, I met a professor from Italy.  He spoke of how he could not find any pasta in the United States like at home in Italy, and thought perhaps we should start a pasta company.  I remember laughing and saying, I don’t even like pasta and closed the door to my cubicle.

Then as I sat in my cubicle staring at the map of the world, where I played where in the world I would rather be than here with color coordinated push pins, I thought job or summer in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy?  It was tough moving that summer push pin from Akron Ohio to  the Italian Riviera but I somehow managed.  The research began and  that is How I fell down the” rabbit hole” into the food business.

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