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May 8, 2017
An Unexpected Adventure

On Monday, May 8, Gail was busy. As a property manager, she had two rental properties that were about to turn over tenants. She was placing ads on several different rental sites including Craigslist. She had an open house scheduled for Saturday.

As a mother, she was dealing with a critical point in the health needs of our son, Joss. He was in the midst of transitioning medications, and Gail was working with several doctors to keep an eye on his mood, motivation, eating and sleeping.

As a grandmother, she had scheduled a rare visit back east to visit our granddaughter Avery. Avery had an upcoming dance recital. Gail and our other son Cameron were going to fly to Wisconsin to join our daughter Colleen from May 17-22. Gail had just worked out the last details of car rentals and accommodations.

And then the phone rang.

On Monday, Russell was busy as well. At work, he was in the midst of preparing for Agilent’s upcoming quarterly earnings announcement. In a little more than a month, the company would hold its second-ever all-employee webcast with the CEO. Russell was in charge of the event, which would include full video for the first time. And Russell was posting to the company’s external blog on a regular basis.

And then he got a phone call from Gail.

“Two things,” she said. “I need to tell you about a phone call. And then you need to make a phone call.”

Three years ago, Russell had sent a letter to Princess Cruises. On their website, they described a position called “Guest Enrichment Lecturer.” If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you may recognize these people. On at-sea days, when passengers need onboard activities, they will talk for an hour about anything from history to science.

The position is unpaid and actually performed by a passenger. In return, Princess provides a free cruise and accommodations. The lecturer is also allowed to bring one guest who stays in the same crew cabin. Outside of the lectures, the two get to enjoy the cruise as passengers.

In May 2014, Russell sent a letter and resume offering his services. His proposal included diverse topics ranging from “The Search for Longitude” to “The Mythology and Technology of Star Wars” to “The Story of the Trojan War.” Russell had no idea what he would actually present, but the subjects sounded good. The proposal included a total of nine titles and abstracts that he basically made up off the top of his head.

A year went by and we heard nothing. Then, in May 2015, Russell got an email from Princess. A summer intern had apparently been given the task of sorting through some of these resumes. They scheduled a phone interview, and Russell said he would be comfortable speaking at up to three cruises per year. The intern said they would put Russell into their speaker queue.

Russell asked how many other lecturers there were. The intern didn’t know, but she said that most speakers went through an agent. Russell was a rarity. He worried that this might reduce Princess’ interest in him.

Two more years went by. Again, we heard nothing. Just two weeks ago, Russell mentioned to Gail, “I don’t think we’ll ever hear from them.”

On this May Monday in 2017, Gail heard the house phone ring. Normally, we never answer this phone and let it go straight to voicemail. Then she heard the words “Princess” and “Russell” and ran to pick up.

Chris, who managed cruises in the Pacific area, wanted to know if Russell could join a cruise. On Friday, four days from now. For 17 days.

Gail started laughing. She told Chris that this was probably the worst possible timing. But she would leave the decision up to Russell, and offered to relay the message.

Russell got more information. Apparently, Princess had somehow ended up with no lecturer for this cruise. (It wasn’t clear whether someone cancelled or someone forgot to schedule a person.) Chris had Russell’s resume with nine proposed lectures. He wanted all of them. This cruise had 11 sea days.

Russell, ever eager to make the sale, made one of his more idiotic statements. “I could do 11 lectures,” he said. But he still needed to talk things over with Gail.

Chris was ecstatic. He would email a contract to Russell immediately. Russell and Gail would need to respond by that night.

On Monday evening, Russell and Gail had a long talk. The offer was terrific. Due to the incredibly short notice, they would cover Russell’s flights and gratuities as well as his accommodations. In fact, they would also cover Gail’s flights – which (according to Chris) Princess never does.

The timing was horrible. At work, Russell had talked to his manager and coworkers. After some initial shock, Russell’s team immediately started working out how they would cover all of his responsibilities. By sheer luck, Russell had been training another communicator in the earnings process for the first time in 11 years. Russell’s manager was supportive, despite the extra work this would create for the rest of the team.

At home, Gail had no idea what to do. She would have to cancel the rental open house. She would have to cancel or postpone her grandma trip. If Russell went, he might have to go by himself.

But we both agreed on one thing: After three years, Princess had finally called Russell for the first time. If he said “no,” they would probably never call again.

That evening, Russell emailed a signed contract back to Princess. He had to work out coverage plans for all of his projects at work. He had to write and create slides for 11 one-hour presentations. Oh, and he had to pack.

And he had four days to do this.


Russell’s proposal form with Princess Cruise Lines

 

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