Cheese Pizza, Please


My brother, Tony, tells a great story about one the first times his children traveled by airplane. As they were settled in their seats, blissfully engaged in their Gameboys, the flight attendant came by with the snack boxes and other pre-made meal choices. As his two older brothers ordered a snack box, the youngest, Gino, was still hooked on his video game. His brothers nudged him. He looked at them quizzically. They said, “She wants to know what you would like for a snack.” He replied matter of factly, “Oh. Cheese pizza, please.” As if the flight attendant would just pull a cheese pizza out of her cart. The innocence of that encounter always cracks me up.

I had my own “pizza encounter” a few years ago that speaks to managing expectations and always appreciating that there are multiple layers to client and personal interactions. As my Mom used to always tell us as kids, “Things are never quite what you think they are. Always look deeper.”

As many of you already know, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. And while “Chicago style” pizza is known by many to be “deep dish,” I was lucky enough to grow up in Flossmoor, IL, right next door to Homewood, IL, which is the original home of Aurelio’s Pizza (all of the Chicago readers are already having a Pavlovian reaction right now). Even after moving from Chicago to New Jersey to Philadelphia to San Francisco, Aurelio’s remains my favorite. Over the years, whenever I traveled to/through Chicago on business, I always tried to carve out a trip to Aurelio’s. So, you can imagine my delight when an Aurelio’s location opened up in downtown Chicago, several blocks from our Equity Risk offices.

One of our Equity Risk traditions is what my colleagues call “Free Lunch Friday.” Almost since our inception, the company buys lunch for all of the employees on Friday. The caveat is that you have to eat lunch in the conference room with your colleagues. You cannot take the food back to your desk. The idea is to build camaraderie and enjoy a little “mini-celebration” at the end of a hard week. It’s just sandwiches, burgers, or pizza. Nothing fancy. We don’t have our own chef. We don’t grow our own kale on the roof of the building. Our juice bar is the OJ in the refrigerator. But we do come together as a team.

One Friday several years ago, I was in our Chicago office. I walked into the conference room for our “FLF.” “Surprise!” my colleagues exclaimed. “We ordered Aurelio’s Pizza for you!” It was a very thoughtful gesture. I eagerly opened the first of five pizza boxes arranged on the table: veggie.

I opened the second: anchovies.

I opened the third: onions and peppers.

I opened fourth: pesto.

I opened the fifth: cheese. (If you have read my other posts and have not figured out that I have very specific tastes, then you probably did not score well on reading comprehension on your SATs.)

I loaded my plate with slices of cheese pizza and enjoyed a great lunch with my colleagues. After we finished, I thanked them again for their thoughtfulness.

Several weeks later, I found myself in Chicago again on a Friday. As I walked into the conference room for “FLF,” my face lit up as I scanned the boxes of Aurelio’s again before me.

I open the first box: cheese.

I opened the second: cheese.

I opened the third: cheese.

I opened the fourth: cheese.

I opened the fifth: sausage. (Now is probably the time to tell you that, growing up, the only pizza my family ever ordered was sausage.)

I loaded my plate with slices of sausage pizza and began to devour it as if it was my last meal. That is when I looked up and saw all of my colleagues staring at me. Why wasn’t I eating the cheese pizza? They noticed previously that I had loaded up on cheese pizza and bought extra cheese pizza just for me. I commented that, previously, sausage was not an option. Cheese was a default. They only knew part of the story. They had an incomplete set of facts.

How often do we only get part of the story from clients?

How often do we assume we have a complete set of facts?

How often do we extrapolate a few data points into a full analysis?

How often do we make assumptions about loved ones in our relationships based purely on a single, prior experience?

Remember, as Mom always said, “Never play ball in the house.” Oh, wait, that was Mrs. Brady. My Mom said, “Things are never quite what you think they are. Always look deeper.”

Unless, of course, the person just comes right out and tells you — “Cheese pizza, please.”

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.

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