Every Friday, CasinoBeats is thinking out loud

Back when CB was a wet-behind-the-ears graduate, a certain commercial director was something of a role model. This guy had a very keen mind and an eye for numbers, and he’d deliver many an insight with laser-sharp intensity. Let’s call him Tom, for that was his name.

Tom’s life was fast and exciting, lots of travel and a constant expenses backlog. At home was a wife and two children and, somehow, amid the often chaotic demands of tweaking daily the purse-strings of a 3,000-strong corporate beast, he found time for all of them. For all of us.

He travelled far and light, and was a regular feature on the Pendolino train linking London and Manchester. He took the 05.43 service so frequently that it became known in the business as The Tom. Once upon a time, as another petty crisis beset the work surrounding a young CB, Tom was asked just what it was that he wanted CB to do about it? Without missing a beat came the reply: “I want you to think”. And then he hung up. He taught everyone around him a great deal, did Tom.

Despite his propensity to travel light, he was nonetheless encumbered by all the usual tools of the (relatively) modern executive. And he worked everywhere – in the office, at the gym, at home in the evening and, of course, on the train. Setting up the train ‘office’ was something of a chore. Laptop, own mobile, Blackberry Pearl (it was 2005), iPod Nano (ditto), all tightly bedded in a nest of cables, thirstily sapping carbon-heavy charge from the The Tom.

But it wasn’t just him, it was everyone back then. It happens now to some extent, although in reality the modern smartphone can cover most functions on its own. Occasionally Tom would comment on all these accompaniments and the need to streamline. “Tools not toys, boys,” he would urge.

One morning on The Tom, our UK commercial director seated himself at a table and set about lining up all his bits and pieces on the undersized makeshift desk, before unfolding his laptop and starting to stare at Excel sheets in the same way Neo would regard The Matrix. Just as the train was leaving Euston and heading north, another exec landed in the seat opposite.

Flustered from an apparent rush to catch the train, New Guy seated himself and – in much the same way Tom had – set up his little mobile office and opened his laptop.

Thankfully, this wasn’t the Quiet Coach as these actions may have precipitated a murder

A short time into the journey, one of New Guy’s two phones began to ring. Not too loudly but loud enough to disturb Tom, who couldn’t actually see the display. New Guy could see the screen from his vantage position and he regarded it before letting it be.

Thankfully, this wasn’t the Quiet Coach as these actions may have precipitated a murder but, still, Tom was irked. A few minutes later, it rang again and – in exactly the same way – New Guy just glanced at it and, satisfied he didn’t want to pick up, let it ring out. Tom began to bristle and started to think about delivering a few fresh pearls of wisdom regarding this borderline insurgent behaviour.

When New Guy’s phone rang a third time in the space of just five minutes, Tom – increasingly incredulous – could not hold his tongue any longer. “I am sorry,” he said (he was very polite), “but are you going to answer that?”

New Guy didn’t say a word. He looked at Tom as if to say ‘it is my business whether I answer the phone or not’ but, nonetheless, picked up the still-ringing handset, hit the answer button (with the little green phone symbol on it) and held it to his ear.

He seemed to nod and say “No” and then “Yes”, and then he held the handset out towards Tom. “It’s for you,” he said.

It was Tom’s phone.

If you look up ‘crestfallen’ in the dictionary, it defines it as feeling “sad and disappointed”. Tom was definitely crestfallen. He was also a little humiliated – embarrassed, certainly – and somewhat ashamed at the impatience he’d shown. Red-faced, he of course took the call. Once done, he apologised to New Guy and the two exchanged pleasantries. But the bad taste remained.

Like many experiences in life, there are lessons to be taken from Tom’s train-phone mix-up, or ‘Phonegate’. There is something about organisational skills or recognising when others are just like you in position or predicament, but the key takeaway would appear to be the need for humility and the extraordinary (and often surprising) value of humbleness.

It is easy to be polite  but remaining so when the mood changes can be a sign of genuine leadership

All it would’ve taken for Tom to save face would have been to ask: “I’m sorry, but is that your phone?” New Guy would have said that it was not and they would’ve laughed about it. Instead, Tom – on The Tom – learned a valuable lesson.

It is easy to be polite most of the time – to act with civility and humbleness – but remaining so when the mood changes can be a sign of genuine leadership.

For all his high flying, Tom still had lessons to learn from Phonegate. But, as always, he took this particular learning opportunity for what it was – a funny story that stresses an important point. And he took it on-board, in every sense, and moved ever upwards.

It wouldn’t be appropriate to disclose what Tom is up to now but rest assured that his upward trajectory continued. He is known for his laser-focus, sharp intelligence and his unfailing good manners. And he has three phones.