The CEO Essay, an April Fools on Me!

In only my second job as a sales person my manager, with a little help from his cronies, played one of the funniest April Fools jokes one me. They got me hook line and sinker.

What made the joke so good was in less than 5 minutes, they got me to go through the full deck of emotions; fear, anxiety, anger, excitement, confidence, and confusion. They got them all. It was, without a doubt, pretty dang good.

Inevitably, every year someone from Born finds me to politely refresh my memory on how funny the “CEO Essay” April Fools joke was. This year was no different. Craig Andrie, my old boss and one of the perpetrators, sent me a nice little LinkedIn reminder. Considering he so eloquently pulled it off, and has so much fun reminding me, I figured he should be the on to tell you about it here.


The CEO Essay

Every April 1st I end up telling the one and only great April Fool’s story I have – and for those that know me I have lots of stories… but this one is about Jim – so it fits here pretty well…

This story happened at a company called BORN – a place that was known for a lot of high-touch employee interaction – lots of focus on culture and a pretty tight-knit group of folks. Jim had recently been hired into an entry-level sales position fresh out of his first sales job – selling memberships for the Denver Chamber of Commerce. The fact that we sold rather sophisticated IT services never really seemed to bother Jim – he was always amazingly confident and always moving fast… that might be why he was a bit susceptible to the joke – but to be fair, both he and another sales person we had hired at the same time both fell for it – in fact, inadvertently playing off each other in the process… but I get ahead of myself.

So, it is early morning and there are three people in the office – the Branch Manager (Mike), our Sr. Account Executive (Richard) and myself, basically the consulting services manager at the time. Mike was always a bit of an instigator and initiated a conversation about trying to “get” the two new AEs… In short order Richard and I joined in and on the spot we came up with something we called the “BORN Essay”. This essay was something new AEs in the company had to develop and deliver to the CEO – basically telling him why they had joined the company and what they hoped to achieve in their career. Remember, this was a high-culture sort of place so this idea did not seem to crazy – and the CEO had come from a sales background and the concept of him wanting “to stay in touch with sales” was totally believable.

We rapidly figured out a sequence of events that would make the situation believable – and then waited for the two newbies’s to arrive.

At the time we were working out of temporary offices and were basically using a shared conference room as a sort of war-room for activities. Jim and the other AE came in and set up as usual. Mike went in to talk with them about the day’s events. Shortly after I came into the room and told Mike that the CEO was on the phone… Mike picked up on the conference room extension. Of course it was actually Richard who dialed in to make it look real. Mike proceeded to “converse” with the CEO. Why, yes… That is right… Well I am sure they have been working on it… Of course… Yes… I am sure 1:00 will work fine… All the while glancing over at the two AEs who are wondering what Mike would be talking to the CEO about first thing in the morning.

Hanging up the phone he turned to the newbies and said… I am so sorry… I completely forgot to tell you. You were supposed to write this BORN Essay… He then explained in detail the cultural significance of the exercise and how it was very important to the CEO. They were a bit reluctant to believe but he sold it well. Then Richard walked in the room… they asked him directly about the essay. He of course backed it up, right down to volunteering to go look for his essay so they could use it for an example… Nice touch that…

When I came in a few minutes later we put the icing on the cake. They asked me about it and I said – Man am I glad I don’t have to do that… Not being a sales person I was not required, and holy cow – some people really got put through the ringer on this thing… I may have even alluded to the fact a mistake here could be a career limiting move as the CEO was known to be a bit fickle about this stuff.

Well, they were now definitely buying it. With both Richard and I adding detailed corroborating stories – well that was about all we needed to get them pretty worked up.

So now comes the very funny part. How do you think these two responded? Remember – both were junior in their careers. Both had just joined the company. Well – it was night and day.

Jim (and this is a compliment) dove in and just started writing. Words and stories were flowing out of him. Once over the shock, I think he was actually having fun with this thing. Every few minutes he would literately back away from his laptop – point at the screen and say something like. “That is awesome!”, “I can’t wait to tell him THAT!”… Of course Richard, Mike and I were egging him on and trying not to crack up…

Our other AE was not doing so well. In fact she was experiencing serious writer’s block. Her document was virtually blank and she seemed to be turning a bit paler by the minute. We of course were trying to coach her to express herself and have confidence – just speak from the heart… of course that just seemed to make it worse.

Well about 45 minutes into this whole thing the CEO calls again… of course it is really just Richard in the other room. Mike picks up and pretends to talk to him again. This time he says something along the lines of – Well yes, I am sure they could move it up a bit…

Both newbies eyes got a bit bigger – though I gotta say Jim probably would have picked up the phone right then and started in…

Mike then said, so you want to talk to them at 10AM… on April 1st… Are you sure you want to talk to them on the 1st? You mean THIS April 1st… You mean today, April 1st…

Well – after the third our fourth mention of “the first” both of the newbie’s jaws drop…

Richard and I are now in the room as Mike hangs up the phone… all three of us with giant grins on our faces… it was just amazing to watch the reaction on these two victims. It goes without saying that the words that subsequently came out of Jim’s and the other AE’s mouth over the next few minutes are probably best not reproduced here.

Over the next hour we celebrated the joke. It was wonderfully funny and hard to believe we had done the whole thing pretty much off the cuff… that must be what good improv comedians feel at the end of a good night…

That was April 1st, 1997… I told the story to a lot of people that day and every April 1st I tell it again. Some stories never get old in the telling.

Thanks for the memory Jim!


Anyone ever get you real good?

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