Friday, October 24, 2008

John Whitehead, Mensch

I always enjoy a Yiddish expression dropped into business conversation. My paternal grandfather spoke Yiddish, which may be one reason why the language resonates with me. 

I'm just back from the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) annual conference. There is much fruit for future blog posts to come out of the sessions and speeches. Here is the first.

The NACD, in a brilliant decision, presented its Ken West Lifetime Achievement Award to John Whitehead. John's credentials and accomplishments would not even fit into a supersized blog entry. Suffice for current purposes to say that John is a former co-chair of Goldman Sachs and one of the most renowned if not revered banker-businessmen of our times.

In a buildup to John's stepping on stage to be handed the award, a short film was played that showed several friends and colleagues lauding the honoree. One was Josh Weston, former head of Automatic Data Processing Inc. The accolades were piling up to the ceiling of the JW Marriott ballroom. 

Finally, as the tape wound down, Weston admitted that there was no word in the English language that could capture the essentialness of John Whitehead. The only word, he said, that could do justice to John was this: "Mensch."

Josh had it right, and the 700-strong crowd knew it. They jumped to their feet to applaud what a stand-up guy (a lame interpretation of the Yiddish salute) John Whitehead is. Our congrats to John, with whom we did a cover story interview in our Summer 2005 edition, on this well-deserved recognition.