Big Idea

Zig's new studio was just off of Station Square opposite Rutherford Station, on the second floor, above Leprechaun Newsstand, where just a year earlier someone found gold at the end of their lottery rainbow. It would take me about an hour to get there from Zany Brainy, and Hakyun, a designer he was sharing the space with, could tell by the urgency in my voice that I really needed to use the studio, so he let me right up. Setting the word IDEAS in black, four-inch, giant boldface letters, I printed and cut it into a 5" x 11" piece of white paper, which I then rolled up, tied with a little red ribbon, and placed into the mannequin hand. Intentionally, you could see it right through the window of the box, until I added a simple cover flap. The new hinged lid had a headline on the outside, in the same bold font, that said, "I READ IN THE TIMES THAT FIRMENICH NEEDED A HAND WITH BIG IDEAS." On the inside of the flap was a little letter expressing my interest in the position and my contact information, which was duplicated in permanent ink at the base of the hand as if it were a wrist tattoo. Liz, who had since left Robertet and was now a Marketing Manager at a competitor, had already given me the name of a VP of Marketing at Firmenich's office in New York, Cathleen Montrose. The ad instructed applicants to send their resume to HR in Princeton, and with a dopamine rush, as if I were holding that winning lottery ticket myself, I chose instead to FedEx a hand in a box to this woman in Manhattan.

The Monday following Columbus Day, I received an unusual letter in the mail from Tom, the Firmenich HR representative in Princeton. The letter said that I had been selected to participate in a Creative Session in which they would provide everything I needed, and I didn't need to prepare or bring anything with me. The letter went on to list a week's worth of time slots to choose from, and I was to let Tom know my choice at my earliest convenience, as the dates were all scheduled for the second week of November. First thing the following morning, which is 8:30 and not 9:00, I reached Tom immediately. After the awkward niceties, all he let me know was that I would be given an assignment, need to solve it, and present it to a panel as a one-hour audition - there would be no interview at this time, and in closing, confirmed that all I needed to bring was my creativity. "I'll take Friday at 2:00," I told him. "You're the first person to reply, Mikel, you can have any time slot on the schedule," he said. I purposely chose the last slot on the last day so that I would be the last person they saw - nobody was going to follow me - and to this day, I have no idea how many others would go before me. The first person I called, to help me interpret this unique opportunity, was Liz, who then arranged a call with a friend of hers that knew the culture at Firmenich and was willing to answer a couple questions I had: Beard or no beard? And, tie or no tie? "Keep the beard. Lose the tie," she advised.


---- This story continues next week... and then again the week after that. ----

Stay tuned - because even if you know where it's going, you probably don't know how it got there. 


  • Stu

    Not nice to leave us on a cliff, but I will tune in next week because I am hooked.

  • Ryan Cirkus

    A hand in a box with big ideas on a scroll “Brilliant” I will have to remember that one.

  • Michael Katz

    Fun to hear about some of your process in this process 😉

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