The one where the Italian CEO calls me “Fantozzi”

By Devon Hennig

Boardroom Confidential is a collection of wild-but-true stories from the careers of me and my friends.


There were more Massimos and Marcos and Davides and Alessios than I’d ever met in my life, and they were a fiery bunch — none more so than the CEO.

On my first day as VP Marketing, I was introduced to Sue (one of the few non-Italians) whom I was told was the executive assistant for North America. Sue could help schedule meetings, arrange calendars, complete expense reports, and the like. Great. I’d never had an EA before. Nice perk.

As I went about onboarding, my boss told me to set up a call with the CEO.

Sure, I thought. No problem.

I messaged Sue and asked if she could book the call with the CEO’s executive assistant in Milan. Sue said, “Absolutely.”

I saw a meeting invite appear in my inbox and hit accept.

Two minutes later, I got a notification from the CEO.

Invite declined.

Huh. That’s weird.

I opened the email from the CEO and it said the following.

Devon 2 things:

– Making an office manager schedule your meetings is so 1980, no one does it here, we manage our own shit. If you don’t want to be fooled by me don’t do it. We are not “Fantozzi”.

– I do internal calls only on Monday and Thursday. Best time for me is 8.30 AM next Monday.

How’s that for a first interaction with the CEO?

Needless to say, I immediately Googled “Fantozzi”.

It turns out Ugo Fantozzi is a fictional character from an old Italian TV show. He’s an unlucky accountant with bumbling misadventures, similar, I think, to the likes of Jacques Clouseau or Mr. Magoo.

Not exactly who you want to remind the CEO of, huh?

Mostly, I was confused.

Why would the company tell me there was an EA who could coordinate calls if the CEO was going to bitch slap me for doing it? Was it some strange hazing ritual? Shouldn’t Sue know how he liked to operate?

Regardless, I replied with a light-hearted message and sent a new invite for the CEO’s suggested time slot. Within a minute, he accepted.

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that every CEO is different. Some are flamboyant. Some are intense. Some are Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Some are calming. Some have weird routines. Some are full-on eccentrics. But all of them are passionate and busy, which makes for a direct relationship. Personally, I don’t mind the more dramatic and outrageous ones as long as their energy is positive and motivating. Whatever flavor you get, the best you can do is figure it out sooner than later and roll with the punches.

Devon Hennig

Devon Hennig is a writer, marketer, and ex-game-show host. He quit his job as a software executive to make a go of it on his own. Follow along as he tries not to go broke.

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