Looking back, it had been only one month after I had started with Firmenich, when Alice asked me to be one of the interviewers of the candidates for an open marketing position she was filling. When it was all said and done, my last choice was Joanne. Even with her Colgate background – the toothpaste, not the university – there was something about the combination of her Nanette Fabray hairdo and the fact that she was from Wisconsin that didn’t quite sit right with me. Maybe it was cool factor, or lack thereof, but it just didn’t make any sense that someone born and raised in the United States, roughly the same age as me, had never heard of the “Who’s On First” routine or of its creators, the legendary comedy duo, Abbot and Costello. Shockingly, she was equally unfamiliar with Pink Floyd and their classic album “Dark Side of The Moon.” Granted, not everyone is so pop-culturally savvy, but these are staples if you’re paying even the least bit of attention to the world around you. I didn’t get it, but it didn’t matter, she was hired anyway, obviously, to work on Colgate stuff.
Three years later, quite literally at my mother's funeral, I found out that I'd be officially reporting to Joanne, but only after the new global head of the CMS, Marc, paid a quick visit from Geneva to meet with Alice and I. He was quite straight forward with his message, and told us flat out, “Going forward, I’d prefer it if Mikel was less creative.” In fact, he decided that starting right then and there, “Mikel needs to start doing more traditional marketing and put the creative marketing aside.” Both he and Alice agreed that the easiest way for me to transition into my new role would be to concentrate on the category of Men’s Grooming. I'm still not sure if that was a double entendre, but by the time I was reporting full-time to Joanne, she took the liberty of adding Liquid Hand Soaps and Dishwashing Liquid to my responsibility roster, but it was her premeditated addition of APCs (All-Purpose Cleaners) that was the final straw. Men’s Grooming was one thing, especially at the outset of the Metrosexual signal and the premier of the original ‘Queer Eye For The Straight Guy’ TV series which validated the trend, but when it came to working on fragrance marketing for toilet bowl cleaners, I knew I was in deep shit.
My signal detection skills were becoming more like a hyper-awareness, and the hunches I had, they’d begun to show early signs of genuine accuracy. I soon figured out that if I could detect signals on the outside, on the streets observing changes in the consumer landscape, I could just as easily apply the same observation skills on the inside, in the company, in the office, and of course, in the marketing department. Something was just not right. A gut feeling is one thing, but when it turns into ulcerative colitis, that’s taking it to an entirely different level. It felt as if I was being tormented to the point where if I wouldn’t quit, then I would be made to comply to unreasonable demands, in what seemed to be nothing more than a means of creating a paper trail so that, when and if I slipped up, I could be let go with due cause. It was a total set-up, and it wasn’t just a hunch. Joanne had made it quite clear that she wanted ‘real’ marketeers in her department, and not these creative types, and the only way she could bring in anyone new was to create an opening for the headcount. The writing was on the wall.