Op Tails by
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Prompted By Parties

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I went to work for Management Decision Systems in May of 1981. It was a young, vibrant company founded by John D. C. Little and Glen Urban of MIT Sloan School, Len Lodish of Wharton and two of their brightest students, Jay Wurts and Rick Karash, to do marketing models. It expanded to do all sorts of decision support systems, financial as well as marketing models and sell the proprietary software they developed to support their unique mutl-dimensional modeling approach. I was their new sales representative. Though not versed in their software or systems, they knew I was bright, tenacious, could present in front of high level professionals and had excellent follow through. I could always bring a technical person along to demonstrate the product. It was a long, consultative sales process.

One week after I started on the new job, my husband’s company, Index Systems, Inc, also founded by smart MIT people, in particular, president Tom Gerrity, a decision support systems guru, held a two-day seminar in Newport, RI for their consultants and top clients with a white tie dinner dance at Rosecliff Mansion on the night in between the two days. It was called Op Tails because some time earlier, they held a company team-buliding sailing event dubbed Op Sail.

Spouses were invited to the dinner party. Rosecliff has the largest ballroom of all the Guilded Age mansions along Bellevue Ave and was the spot where the fabulous party scene from the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow “Great Gatsby” movie was shot. You bet I wanted to be there.

Dan’s white tie and tails were rented for him by the company, but I had to buy an appropriate dress. I looked at Bloomingdale’s. I would not buy a gown, but thought a cocktail dress would do and found an Albert Nippon appropriate for the occasion, my figure and budget. It still resides in a basement wardrobe. I convinced my new company that I would learn a lot from a lecture about Decision Support from Tom Gerrity and drove down the afternoon before the party, windows down to let the breeze give my body wave more volume.

Dan and I were giddy as we dressed in the hotel where the conference was held, then drove together to the grounds of Rosecliff. Everything was magnificent. The company had hired a photographer to take our photograph outside the mansion in front of a  classic and still-functioning 1925 Rolls Royce Phantom. We took turns being driven in it up and down Bellevue Ave. We felt like something out of a by-gone era society event. Everyone looked fantastic. One friend wore a long black dress with elbow length white gloves. Her partner (now husband) had a silk top hat, cape and cane. We thought they were the most glamorous couple at the ball.

We took photos of ourselves on the famous heart-shaped stair case, where a century earlier, debutantes made a grand entrance.We thought we were quite stunning too.

Dinner was served outside, in the formal gardens, overlooking a reflecting pool. Later we came in for dancing to a live orchestra. No detail was spared. It was an enchanted evening.

The next day, I did attend Tom’s seminar about decision support systems and to my delight and eternal gratitude, I learned much useful about the topic that would be the basis of my sales knowledge for many years to come. Tom went on to become the Dean of Wharton Business School. For a period, I was the top sales person at MDS. Though I left after 3 1/2 years, I stay in touch with many of my colleagues there and still consider it the best work experience of my life. I believe taking the day (and evening) off to listen to Tom Gerrity (and attend an out-of-this world) party, was a great way to start on the right path to succeed at my new job.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: Index Systems, white tie, Newport, Rosecliff
Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Both a great story and terrific, beautiful pictures, Betsy. This was really evocative of two eras. Both the Gilded Age and those early days of software start-ups. And, as we now know, along with their great promise, they both had their excesses, to put it mildly. That said, it was very nice to learn that the event also offered some real professional training as well, albeit (I assume) not in terms of how to put a Phantom successfully in gear.

    And thanks for explaining the title. I actually remember a number of Op Sail events from the 1976 Bicentennial (e.g., the Tall Boats), but would never have figured out Op Tails.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It was a memorable event, but mostly given for clients, John. Employees (and spouses) could only attend if they were escorting important clients. And neither MDS, nor Index ever thought of themselves as software companies. They were primarily consulting companies (for MDS, we used our software to create large projects and models for clients. We did sell the software, but less often than a project.) They were full of bright MBAs out of Sloan or Wharton or Harvard. These were top notch people and I enjoyed my time at MDS enormously.

      This was long before the “dot com” boom. In Index’s case their Op Sail was a team building exercise with groups going out on sail boats, racing against one another. I, too, remember the Tall Ships of 1976, but that was years before this group’s Op Sail.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I love the glam shot in front of the Rolls Royce!

  3. John Zussman says:

    Such a memorable evening and such a stylish couple! I find myself wondering whether such extravagance reflected how well Index was already doing, or a play to attract clients so that they WOULD do that well. Also whether it was typical for consulting companies to throw this kind of bash then—and whether it’s still typical now. Either way, this one set a high bar.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      John, I don’t know if I would describe this as “typical” of the era…remember, the party came as part of a two day seminar, chock full of informative sessions for top-tier clients, and the consultants could only attend if they had a client in attendance. It was, in many ways, a boondoggle for those top clients, a way to show how well Index was doing at the time, and probably a thank you to those clients for the support.

      We attended some sensational events when Dan moved over to Andersen Consulting (still a private company and making oodles of money). They helped to underwrite a Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington,DC. So, again, with a client in tow, we went to DC for a private tour and fabulous dinner at the museum the night of the opening. We brought our (relatively young) kids with us for some sight-seeing, but not to the evening event. We ordered room service before we left for the museum, but forgot to warn them about the mini-bar. Jeffrey discovered some floppy disks in there. Shockingly expensive disks!

      The most memorable such event was for an Andersen Worldwide partners meeting (this was before Andersen Consulting split from Andersen Worldwide and became Accenture and also a public company). So 3,000 partners from Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting descended on Paris. The spouses fanned out around Paris to see the sights (on our own, no tour groups provided), but one special night, the company bought out the Louvre just for us from 5pm on. They had museum guides in most rooms to give insight into what we saw. Though dressed in cocktail attire, we went at a fast pace from room to room (6,000 of us including spouses) to see as many masterpieces as we could in the hour and half before dinner. Somehow, Dan and I wound up in a tapestry room. Neither of us are huge fans, but the specialist made it fascinating. Of course, we also saw Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa…the greatest hits! Up close and without hordes of people. Then a seated dinner for all us in the crypt of the museum. Tenderloin, warm and delicious, (we weren’t all in the same room, but the chairman’s state of the company speech was broadcast over closed circuit TV into every room where we were seated). Truly an astonishing night. But no photographic evidence.

      I must believe those sorts of fabulous events are no longer on the menu. Most consulting companies are either scrounging for investor’s money or are public and either way, investors wouldn’t look kindly on these sorts of events. The art world still does some of these events at their museums, but only high-level donors receive invitations, and then are expected to pay large sums to attend, as they are always fundraisers.

  4. Suzy says:

    Fabulous story, Betsy, and the picture in front of the Rolls Royce is to die for! I love that you got to ride in it up and down Bellevue Ave. And I think your tea-length dress was the perfect choice. Gatsby himself would have been delighted.

  5. What a wonderful event! The brainy biz background and the exquisite setting. Your photos took me right back to Gatsby. Dressing and hair just exactly right for the setting, as if you had found old pics of your mother and father. I carefully avoided comparing you to F. Scott and Zelda who were nutty as almonds.

    Your insider’s description of the business at hand I found fascinating. There are so many worlds and — as you can probably guess — I haven’t attended many business conferences of that scope and scale. Fascinating descriptions!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Charlie. Glad I did not turn out to be Zelda, that’s for sure! But the evening was Gatsbyesque and certainly memorable. The business aspects were new to me, but I learned to love that company and find the people interesting (to this day…many are FB friends and comment regularly).

      Obviously my husband remained in the consulting business for the remainder of his career, and got quite lucky when Andersen Consulting converted to Accenture and went public. It was a work hard, play hard atmosphere for sure.

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