"Tell me what you smell," Robert wanted to know, as he handed me a stick of deodorant. "It's clean, it's fresh, it's masculine, maybe more modern than old-fashion," was all I was coming up with on the fly, and really caught off guard. I could've used some of the industry-specific terms I learned from my Robertet work, like marine, ozonic, or even fougère, and impressed the shit out of him, but I didn't want to come across as some kind of know-it-all, especially in making a first impression with the head of Body Care & Home Care Perfumery for North America, and Alice's boss. Robert McEwan was tall, even while sitting across from me at the little meeting table in his office, which was decorated with legit oil paintings and a breathtaking armoire that seemed to be from a French pharmacy. With his curly, dirty-blonde hair and a quirky smile, he had a dry sense of humor, and an overall gentle demeanor about him, which was all too familiar once he let on that he was a Southern California boy that made his way to this role via stints for Firmenich in Asia and Europe before landing here in Princeton - I mean Plainsboro. Our meeting was brief but no less welcoming, and so far, I hadn't met a single person with any form of negative vibe, on top of which, it seemed everyone here had a creative side. He handed me off to Alice, who then asked if I wouldn’t mind taking the time to meet one more person. "Steven is visiting the office this week from our headquarters in Geneva. He's got some time now to meet with you for a coffee in the cafeteria, if that's okay with you," she asked, as if I had a choice in the matter.
First of all, meeting Steven was one thing, I didn’t know who or what he was, but I certainly knew what a company cafeteria was. It was a dream. And it was right downstairs. Somehow this information escaped any mention when my offer was being made, and the fact that it was subsidized too, only made it yet another perfect perk. It was that time between services of breakfast and lunch, so the only one seated at a table was an older than me gentleman with a white shirt and matching tonsure, gray suit with a rather conservative tie, distinguished and yet disheveled. “Hello. I am Steven,” he introduced himself, “Steven van der Kruit.” Alice and Steven certainly seemed to know each other, but it was clear to me they hadn’t seen each other in a while. Steven agreed to bring me back to Alice’s office whenever we were through, there was no rush, so we grabbed a couple black coffees and sat back down at the table. After I gave him the elevator pitch version of me, it was my background in advertising that struck a nerve with Steven. We had already discovered our birthdays were three days and sixteen years apart, the truest of Gemini, and now our stars seemed to be aligning.
Eighth grade Spanish was the last time I took learning a second language seriously, except for being able to read Hebrew, and that French class I failed during my last semester at Syracuse. Steven spoke his native language, Dutch, as well as German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English, all fluently, and was dabbling in Thai, because he was thinking of getting an apartment in Bangkok. He had three daughters to my two, and they were all living near their mom in Amsterdam. Steven told me he’s been living outside Geneva the last couple years, after being transferred from Firmenich in Cologne, Germany, where he had started with the company back in 1991. Twenty years earlier, like me, he got his start by working for an advertising agency at age twenty-four, except the one he worked for was led by a psychologist, a salesman, and an artist. Science, magic, and art seem to be a common bond for creative marketing, which is where Steven was working now, for Marie-Claude Pasquier’s Creative Market Studio, or CMS, in the company’s headquarters, at La Jonction, in Geneva, Switzerland.
In Dutch, Steven explained how his father later told him he should 'jump over his shadow' and leave his new job at Arden, and move to Duesseldorf to go work for Frau Barbara Klinger at Henkel Corp. The expression itself means that when you’re faced with something that scares you, you have to push through it, and force yourself past your 'shadow,' or dread, not necessarily your psychic twin, but then again, ‘the chimney has to smoke,’ Steven told me.
The region of central Spain known as La Mancha is roughly 85 miles south of Madrid, and there, rising above the town of Consuerga, you’ll find the picturesque Cerra Calderico ridge. In Chapter 8 of Miguel de Cervantes’ early 17th century novel, ‘The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha,’ Don Quixote sees a collection of windmills and believes they are giants, while today, historians and bibliophiles believe these are the very windmills that can be found in the community of Castilla-La Mancha. The name “La Mancha” is considered to be from the Arabic word al-mansha, meaning birthplace, and the windmill region of Zaandam, just north of Amsterdam, is where Steven was born. Steven’s mother was a dairy farmer from Delft, and his Spanish-heritage father took the last name ‘Kruit’, from the Spanish Armada’s word for ‘gunpowder room,’ where the most trusted, and reliable crew members worked. Steven was in fact ‘the son of gunpowder,’ and told me, again in Dutch, ‘Never kill your supply lines.’
Holland has always been a sea-going nation, and it was a man’s business to be both a navigator and explorer. Don Quixote teaches us that life is to be challenged and that passion and discipline of a determined soul are a foundational element of being a leader. Quixote does not accept current reality and subsequently forces his creative imagery, his commitment, and his happiness on it. Honest, dignified, proud, and idealistic, both Don and Steven want to save the world with windmills in their head. Steven gave me a piece of advice before we got up to leave, telling me essentially that Firmenich didn’t like stars and that it’s best not to be too out there, public-facing as it were, but it was actually Don Quixote who said, “Thou hast seen nothing yet.”