GREAT Speakers (Part II)

PB050107Rarely do I invite guest speakers to come to talk to my university classes whom I barely know or have never met. Usually they are people I am confident will deliver a good talk to my students because I have gotten to know them in the last several years I have been teaching in Kazakhstan.  Last night was that special exception when my masters class was treated to Australian dry humor with Russell Banham speaking about his journey from Australia to working at Deloitte in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  He had sage advice to deliver concerning his work experience but also about life values.

Russell began with a question about what happened in December of 1974, long before these Kazakh students had been born.  They guessed and guessed but all were wrong.  That was the date when Russell started working for Arthur Andersen accounting firm.  If the blow-up at Enron had not happened in 2002, which impacted Russell in Brisbane, Australia, he claimed he would probably still be working for Arthur Andersen as a life-long employee.  However, what is interesting with most competitive accounting firms is that mid-50s is the age of retirement from being a partner, but you can return as a mentor consultant for the same firm.  Russell’s dry humor went right over my graduate students’ heads when he admitted, “I’m 55…I know I don’t look it.”  To me, Russell looks like a happy, knowledgeable professor with distinguished, graying hair.

Kathy, his wife, was sitting in the back of the classroom with me and we both laughed.  I believe people with dry humor need others around them that “get it,” Kathy has gotten it over 27 years now.  To live in Kazakhstan for any length of time, you NEED a sense of humor.  What was funny was that Russell, in an e-mail exchange, had initially asked me what his wife had “volunteered” him for.  Never having met him, I didn’t know if this was a stern rebuke of my not letting him in on what I expected from him or if he was simply dashing off a quick note to me. E-mail messages sometimes have a strange way of getting things more complicated with even a simple inquiry.  So I rattled off in my e-mail back to Russell all the different speakers he might know and what the titles of their talks had been: Chevron – “Change Management,” Citibank – “Effective Management,” Nestle – “Values and Principles” but I added that our speaker from Nestle had brought bars of chocolate.

PB050106Naturally, the competitive Australian which Russell no doubt is, and not wanting his organization of Deloitte to be outdone, did one better than Nestle.  Russell brought Deloitte baseball hats as a gift for each of my students. Thanks Russell!!!

We’ve had some GREAT speakers in my English Speaking and Listening class and next week we will have our final speaker of the semester with Julia Connelly talking about her passion.

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