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In 1995, I was announced as the
new Chief Financial Offcer of The
Providence Journal with operations
all over the country and over 3,000
employees. Ì was thirty years old and
had proven myself gifted in behind-
the-scenes manipulation. However,
as the public face of perhaps the most
important company in the state, my
new role would place me in full view.
Ì panicked.
A week after the announcement,
Ì stood at a lectern in an empty
Brown classroom on the east side of
Providence. A middle-aged woman
sat in the front row. She had a bright
smile and wore reading glasses. "Go
ahead,¨ she said. "Read your fnancial
report like you were presenting to a
bunch of Wall Street analysts.¨ Ì didn't
bother to explain that we were a private
company. My heart was beating out of
my chest. Ì couldn't breathe. When Ì
opened my mouth, Ì simply spat out a
few words, hyperventilated, then spat
out a few more. Ì was about to be
exposed.
"Okay, that's enough,¨ she said,
walking to the lectern where Ì was
sweating profusely. "You can't speak
and hold your breath at the same
time, Tom,¨ she said. For the rest of
the session, the head of the drama
department at Brown University had
me doing nothing but breathing in and
out.
"Do you read to your kids at night?¨
she asked when the session fnally
ended. The question stung me. Ì
worked, and Ì drank. Ì had more
important things to do than read to
my kids. Yet, in that moment, with that
simple question, Ì realized who Ì had
become. Ì looked her straight in the
eye, and lied. "Great,¨ she said, "bring
some of their books next week.¨
At home, Ì searched my two-year-
old daughter Kerry's bedroom and
found three Dr. Seuss books: Go,
Dog, Go!, There's a Wocket in my
Pocket!, and Oh, the Places You'll
Go! Ì volunteered to read to her at
bedtime a few times to practice for
my next lesson. And because Ì knew
it was the right thing to do as a dad.
A week later, Ì was at the same
lectern trying desperately to spit out
the words. "Big dog, little dog.¨ Ì
paused, letting a little air into my lungs,
before reading the next line. Ìt didn't
work. Ì still found myself struggling for
breath, eventually having to stop and
gasp. "Tom, you are exceptionally
smart,¨ my drama professor said
from the back of the room. "You make
logical jumps without knowing it ÷
you go straight from A to C. When you
are acting or speaking to a crowd,
however, you have to slow your brain
down so your mouth can keep up.
Think A-B-C.¨
Ì read again, looking for periods
and commas to collect myself. "A little
better,¨ she said. "Now, Ì want you to
stand tall, drop your shoulders, and
take on the voice and mannerisms of
your favorite character.¨ Ì followed her
instructions and read my Dr. Seuss
script with passion and a heavy dose
of overacting, trying to ham out each
line as much as Ì could. She loved it.
"Your assignment is to read just like
that to your kids every chance you
get,¨ she said. "Find that voice and
project.¨
Back down the hill, The Providence
Journal had been headquartered at 75
Fountain Street for nearly 200 years.
The board met in a windowless, wood-
paneled room. The aroma of pipe
smoke was permanently in the air,
the arms of the wooden chairs worn
down by generations of use. This
was no place for a boy. A massive
mahogany table dominated the room,
while portraits of former CEOs looked
out from the walls.
Steve, the chairman and publisher,
sat at the head of the table. His board
members sat in order of length of
7
9
W
service. Ì was the farthest away.
Steve called the meeting to order,
dispensed with administrative items,
and then turned to me for my fnancial
review. All those older men focused
their attention on the kid in the cheap
seat. Ìn the moment of transition from
Steve to me, there was silence; naked
skepticism flled the air. My blue suit,
red tie, and newly acquired glasses
couldn't hide how out of place Ì was.
Ì took a deep breath in and exhaled.
My diaphragm muscles worked just
like my Brown instructor said they
would. Ì felt the air travel in and out of
my lungs. Ì was no longer holding my
breath. Ì imagined myself reading Go,
Dog, Go! to my children.
"Thanks, Steve, it was actually a
very positive quarter fnancially for
The Providence Journal,¨ Ì said with
a comfortable but serious smile. Ì
stopped and took another breath, in
and out. The board wanted to hear
what Ì was going to say next. Ì had
them interested.
Little did Ì know, less than a year
later Ì would take the Journal public,
play a key role in selling it, get kicked
out of the house for being a drunk,
and again be in need of my newly
acquired public speaking techniques;
this time talking not about dollars and
cents, but about the truth of my life as
Ì got sober and then, a decade later,
traveling across the country speaking
to groups of men about The Good
Men Project.
Even today, whether in a prison
or at a screening in Hollywood, Ì still
try to remember when Ì take the stage
that it's impossible to speak and hold
my breath at the same time. And when
Ì step down from the podium, Ì always
tell myself, "Ì meant what Ì said, and
Ì said what Ì meant,¨ adding, as only
Dr. Seuss could, "and an elephant's
faithful, one hundred percent.¨
Thomas Matlack
was Chief Financial
Offcer of The Providence
Journal until 1997. He
was the lead investor in
the Art Technology Group,
which reached $5 billion
in market capitalization
in 2001. He founded and
ran his own venture frm
from 1998 to 2010 before
turning to writing. His
work has appeared in Fogged Clarity, The Philadelphia
Ìnquirer, Rowing News, Penthouse, Boston Common,
Boston Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine, Wesleyan,
Tango, Pop Matters, and PenSpark, and he is a frequent
contributor to The Huffngton Post.
Ìn 2008, Matlack founded THE GOOD MEN PROJECT
with his venture capital partner James Houghton. He
has appeared on national and local television and
radio as well as in print across the country. Ìn the fall
of 2009, Matlack led a non-conventional book tour that
started inside the Sing Sing Correctional Facility and
ended in Hollywood with a screening of THE GOOD
MEN PROJECT documentary, followed by a panel
discussion including Matt Weiner and Shepard Fairey.
All proceeds from the Project go to helping at-risk
boys.
Matlack has an extensive social media platform
including:
http://www.scribd.com/tmatlack
http://www.facebook.com/thomasmatlack
http://www.facebook.com/thegoodmenproject
http://twitter.com/tmatlack
http://www.fickr.com/photos/goodmenproject
http://www.youtube.com/goodmenproject
http://matlack.blip.tv/
http://www.goodmenproject.org/blog/

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