The Consultant

Thirteen years ago today was my first day with STR Partners. I had been working in London had come home for Christmas when I took an unexpected interview with Jan Taniguchi at STR. Because it was a holiday week, the office was quiet with only a couple people working that day.

I flew back to London to quit and pack. My firm was…not happy, but I was also…not happy. I threw some stuff in boxes- donated more to London charities, so I didn’t have to pay to ship it back – and headed back to Chicago.

When I got home I felt an enormous sense of relief combined with a bigger sense of embarrassment. Four months prior, my friends had thrown me a huge going away party. Everyone had been so excited and supportive for my new adventure. Whoo hoo – London. The Queen! British accents. And now I was back.

I felt like I had failed, but I also felt like I had succeeded in righting a wrong. After Oz, Dorothy said that the next time she needed to go looking for something she wouldn’t need to go further than her own backyard. In my case, it was River North.

My head was foggy that first day at STR. In addition to being jet lagged,
I was also having this out of body experience- did I really just move to London only to move back a half a
minute later?

I struggled to take in all of the information being tossed at me. 98% of their clients are school districts, so all morning I was hearing a name of a suburb followed by numbers. Minooka 201, Pleasantdale 107, Wilmette 39, LaGrange 102…and on and on and on. Friendly new coworkers also popped over to say hello. STR was smaller then, only about 20 people, but I was having a hard time keeping the faces, names and numbers straight.

At one point a man with a pleasant smile came by to say hello. He was wearing a lanyard with a badge that said “consultant”. STR was didn’t have fancy security – no metal detector or sign-in at the lobby. Employees weren’t issued badges. I thought the consultant was a rep for a flooring or finishes company that was swinging by to check in /update our sample library.

A little while later the accountant came by to ask if I had met all the Partners. I told her I thought so, but to please help me fresh my memory.

She pointed across to the their offices. “Jan, Ricky, Mike… did you meet Mike?…Colby, Jennifer” I looked across to see Mike the “consultant” sitting in a partner office. “oh gosh,” I said “I didn’t think he worked here. He was wearing a name badge.” She told me that because STR is on-site at schools, some districts will issue badges to them like they do with the rest of the school staff.

That day Jan invited me to lunch with the Partners. As is with larger groups, smaller conversations broke off at the table. The “consultant” sat across from me and asked me my story. I was a refugee from a 4 month stint in London. I did not understand the school district numbering system. I was an actor and once played a singing bee (the insect not the letter) in a touring kids show. I didn’t realize he worked (much less was an owner) at my new firm. I babbled on and on…

The “consultant” smiled and for the first time in a long time I felt better. Like myself. Because
if we are being honest, I had been gone for much longer than four months across the pond. And now I had found my way home.

Today, thirteen years later, the consultant brought me coffee in bed. Not to celebrate (although he did remember the day) but just to be nice. Sometimes, when I drive his car, I’ll see one of his badges laying on the seat. I will smile and think back to the first time I met my consultant. My husband. My Mike ❤️