General Norman Schwarzkopf and My Office Chair
On December 28, 2012, retired General Norman Schwarzkopf died. In the early 1990’s General Schwarzkopf led coalition troops in Operation Desert Storm to free Kuwait from Iraqi invasion forces. Because of his plain speech, clarity of conviction, love for his soldiers, and his skilled work as a general, those under his command as well as the public, including me, admired, respected and loved “Stormin’ Norman”.
At the time of the war I was working for Steelcase, assigned to their wood furniture division. As American troops were preparing for war word spread throughout Steelcase that General Schwarzkopf’s staff, in putting together the General’s command center in Saudi Arabia, had bought up the inventory of Steelcase Breton chairs from a Saudi Steeclase dealer (a chair manufactured by our division).
This meant that “Stormin’ Norman” would be leading and directing the war against Iraq sitting in one of our chairs.
It also meant, because I too had a Breton chair in my office, I now sat, and led, from the same chair as General Schwarzkopf. So as strange as it sounds, sitting in the same chair of this great American general inspired me. I somehow believed that if General Schwarzkopf could lead from a Breton chair, then so could I.
As a result I never gave up that chair. When I left Steelcase I asked if I could take it with me. They kindly gave it to me as a gift. And ever since then that Breton chair has traveled with me to every assignment and office I’ve been in, including the past 15 years at SpringHill.
Now I believe God loves irony. He uses it to make us stop and think. Which He did once again because, within a week of General Schwarzkopf’s death, my beloved Breton chair broke, sadly the chair literally snapped off its base.
But this irony has given me a reason to pause and reflect on this great leader, reminding me of my continue responsibility to speak plainly, have clarity of conviction, love my “troops”, and to plan and lead our team in a way that ends in victory.