After I graduated from college, I took a job in strategy consulting at a small firm called Corporate Decisions, Inc.
The guy who had the desk next to mine could hardly have been more different than me. He was an athletic, good looking, Dartmouth frat boy. When he shook my hand that first time, he practically broke it in half. His name was Jeff Thomas. I did not expect to like him. I suspect the reverse was true as well.
Quickly, though, we realized that we had a lot to learn from one another. I knew how to analyze data. He was an incredibly savvy strategic thinker. Jeff knew all the stuff you needed to succeed in the world that they didn’t teach you in college. In the two years we sat next to each other, I learned more from him than just about anyone else I’ve ever known. Before long we became (and still remain) close friends.
At Corporate Decisions, the place where we worked, you were expected to put in long hours. During one of the many late nights we spent there, Jeff and I dreamed up a game we dubbed “eraserball.” To save Jeff from embarrassment, I won’t describe the details of how the game was played. It was a lot of fun, but always awkward when one of the firm’s partners would unexpectedly come around the corner mid-game.
I’m sure the partners at that firm didn’t hold up much hope of long-term success for either Jeff or me. Never would they have expected to see Jeff on the cover of this month’s issue of Fortune Small Business because the company he runs, Ambassadors Group, is one of the 100 fastest growing small businesses in the country.
(I would link to the cover picture itself, but strangely, I cannot find it online anywhere.)
Hats off to Jeff, who apparently is every bit as good a CEO as he was an eraserball player.