The American icon, Elsie the Cow, mascot of the Borden Dairy Company, had her own barn at the Walker-Gordon Dairy Farm in Plainsboro, NJ, where she lived with her “husband,” Elmer, whose likeness can be found on every bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All. Like most farms in the area, the property itself ultimately became a housing development, sitting just across the Devils Brook, bordering the Firmenich "Princeton" campus. Princeton's Ivy League status and reputation, as a university and a community, both of which were less than three miles from Firmenich, provided a certain level of prestige and inherent smarts that the company could obtain by osmosis and a P.O. Box. The campus itself was a little over an hour from my house, but I gave myself two hours to get there. I wasn't taking any chances on being late for, what I considered to be, the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, well past prime foliage, the air crisp and cool, with the windows open, I sat in my car, parked along the pines that bordered the softball field and helipad, and calmed my nerves by closing my eyes and letting the warm sun bathe my face in light. I set the alarm on my watch for 1:40 in case I dozed off, which wasn't entirely out of the question, under the circumstances. Going into this, even having no idea what would be expected of me, I found myself to be surprisingly relaxed and confident. Before leaving the house, I figured it couldn't hurt to be prepared for anything a "creative session" might entail, so I packed my black Coach messenger bag with a few tools of the trade - a plastic triangle, a few black markers, a set of color markers, my pen and pencil case, an X-Acto and extra blades, and of course my sketchbook, which I never left home without. I had been told I didn't need to bring anything 'except my creativity,' so I left my portfolio and resume at home with my tie. Inspired by the 'Rain Man’ himself, played by Dustin Hoffman, as he descended the Las Vegas elevator wearing a gray double-breasted suit, buttoned-up white shirt and no tie, I decided this would be my look for the audition, except my suit was dark olive and I wore a black merino wool turtleneck underneath. Somehow it made me feel tougher, like a soldier ready to do battle.
In my mind, I had pictured the offices of a Swiss, family-owned, manufacturer and supplier of fragrances and flavors, to look more like The Crystal Palace that had originally housed the Great Exhibition of 1851 and stood in Hyde Park, London. All glass, steel, and ornate, and yet clinical, scientific, and of course, corporate. I wasn't expecting it to be more Bauhaus, more contemporary, slick, modern, more ArtCenter'ish - complete with a quad of two-story buildings, joined by sky-bridges, all in tinted glass and black steel. It came across as more cool than cold, and if it weren't for the family-name signage at the main entrance, and the permeating aroma in the air of strawberry laundry detergent, you might think this was some sort of government operation. Going into Building B's main reception, I felt a little like a secret agent about to be handed my mission. HR Tom greeted me, and without saying much more than, "Did you find us okay?," he brought me over to the second-floor of Building H. As we made our way over to meet Ronnie, the Sr. Marketing Manager, all I wanted to ask him was, "If there are four buildings in the quad, why were the Buildings labeled as A, B, C, and H?," Ronnie would take me from there, and led me to, as the nameplate read - the Media Room, which, according to Ronnie, would be my studio and stage for the creative session. "Here is a sheet with four marketing problems. You need to choose one, and in one hour, present your solution to a small panel. Everything in the room is available for you to use, and we tried to provide whatever you might need to do so. Good luck, and we'll see you in an hour," and with that, she shut the door.
The story continues next week with the game-changing audition of a lifetime.