How to party with Hollywood Stars and Supermodels

Billion Dollar Whale is a fascinating story by two Wall Street Journal reporters. The “whale” is a pudgy Malaysian-Chinese guy named Jho Low. Aside from making friends with Arabs and stealing from Malaysian taxpayers, the authors don’t credit Mr. Low with any skills. Is that an obstacle to partying with movie stars and beautiful women?

Low rented a suite of rooms that cost $100,000 per month. The flashy new resident showed up at the building in a convoy of black Cadillac Escalades with a retinue of security, and he paid for a number of other apartments in the building for his entourage, which included Hamad Al Wazzan, his wealthy Kuwaiti friend from Wharton. Long-term residents complained about the bodyguards and the ostentation, but that was exactly Low’s aim: to show he had arrived. He began to spend eye-popping amounts, running up a $160,000 bar bill at Avenue, a new club in New York’s Chelsea district, on a single night during fall Fashion Week in 2009. On another occasion, Low sent twenty-three bottles of Cristal to actress Lindsay Lohan’s table when he spotted her during a night out in Manhattan.

It’s a little-discussed secret that even the biggest movie stars take payment to attend events, and Low began to seek out the managers of top actors, or pull on the Strategic Group’s network of club promoters, to get celebrities to his parties. The rumor that Low was a billionaire with unlimited funds made him an attractive person to know. Even for DiCaprio, one of the world’s top-paid actors, with a sizable fortune of his own, the scope of Low’s purported wealth was alluring. The night at the Palazzo in October 2009 was just the start of many parties the actor would enjoy with Low.

Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys, and Jamie Foxx become some of the regulars as well.

Where do all of these folks hang out?

It was Fleet Week in Saint-Tropez, and the world’s superyachts vied for berthing space at the town’s marina. In July and August, the resort on the French Riviera, centered around a warren-like medieval old town of ochre-colored houses and old churches, is heaving with the world’s richest people. They flock to the town for parties on yachts and in the town’s bars and the daytime carousing at the clubs on nearby Pampelonne beach.

The most illustrious of all is Les Caves du Roy, a fixture on the world party scene since the 1960s. Every inch of the club, situated in the basement of the Hotel Byblos, just a few hundred meters back from the port, is covered in gold. There are golden columns, which end in waves of fluting, a parody of the Corinthian style meant to evoke champagne bursting from a bottle. The dance floor is golden, as are the tables on which are perched gold leaf–covered cocktail bowls.

Once there, Low spends 2 million euros on Champagne.

His friends also know how to party:

In Abu Dhabi, Al Qubaisi wore the traditional emirati cloak and head covering, and had a family home, a sprawling villa, where his wife and four children lived. But like many rich emiratis, he conducted a different life overseas. At his villa on the Côte d’Azur, with Bugattis and Ferraris parked outside, he partied with models, and he had a younger Moroccan wife in Paris. When abroad, he traded in traditional emirati dress for tight-fitting T-shirts, including one with a montage of images of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from the 1983 film Scarface. Once, when an executive showed up to Al Qubaisi’s mansion in France to discuss business, he answered the door wearing a skimpy swimsuit, while women in bikinis lingered in the background.

There is still time to appreciate art:

A few weeks after the Wolf of Wall Street premiere, Low, posing as Eric Tan, sent DiCaprio a $3.3 million painting by Pablo Picasso as a late birthday present. The oil painting—Nature Morte au Crâne de Taureau—was accompanied with a handwritten note. “Dear Leonardo DiCaprio, Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you,” it read. Then, Low told a Swiss gallery that was storing a $9.2 million Basquiat—a collage entitled Red Man One—to transfer ownership to DiCaprio. The order, made in a letter also signed by DiCaprio, indemnified the actor from “any liability whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from these art-work.” The actor also got a photograph by Diane Arbus—cost $750,000—from Low. In private, DiCaprio was happy to accept these gifts. On the red carpet, he was in a more philosophical mood. Some critics of the film—including voting members of the Academy who heckled Scorsese at an official screening ahead of the Oscars—complained it glamorized Jordan Belfort’s fraud and was more likely to spawn financial malfeasance than serve as a cautionary tale. DiCaprio had carefully prepared his retort. “This is an indictment of all of Wall Street. But it’s an indictment about something that’s in our culture, this incessant need to consume and this incessant need to obtain more and more wealth with complete disregard for anyone except yourself,” he told one interviewer.

Political donations lead to invitations to hang out (and take selfies) with President Obama and family at the White House.

What about sex with supermodels?

Miranda Kerr, the Australian supermodel, walked in. She had come from a formal event and was wearing a ball gown, at odds with the atmosphere in the down-to-earth eatery. With her soft brown curls, iridescent blue eyes, and trademark dimples, the thirty-year-old was instantly recognizable, … After winning an Australian modeling competition, aged only thirteen, she had eventually moved to the United States, where she became a Victoria’s Secret model. In 2013, she earned $7 million, making her the second-best-paid female model in the world after Gisele Bündchen, and offers kept piling up—from H&M, Swarovski, Unilever—to promote products. But a supermodel’s earnings aren’t enough to launch a major business, and Kerr was interested in what Low had to offer. She had tired of modeling and was looking to transform herself into an entrepreneur. The next morning, she had a package of KORA products couriered over to Low’s apartment in the Time Warner building. Back in October, Kerr had divorced actor Orlando Bloom, with whom she had a three-year-old son,

Kerr explained her priorities:

“Simple things, like, you know, a fresh bouquet of flowers makes me really happy, watching the sun rise or the sun set,” she told one interviewer.

Low apparently did not realize that a floral bouquet would be sufficient:

A few months later, he would buy Kerr yet more jewelry, a $3.8 million diamond pendant, making a grand total of over $8 million to acquire the supermodel’s affections.

The $8 million is just for a rental, as it turns out…

Kerr had split with Low after the first stories about him began to emerge in early 2015. In May 2017 she married Evan Spiegel, the billionaire founder of Snapchat, cutting all ties with Low.

More: Read Billion Dollar Whale

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The latest glass cockpits are obsolete?

At Oshkosh this year I attended a talk by an Air Force flight instructor about how military pilots are trained. He showed slides of various USAF trainers and the panel layouts are completely different from the latest and greatest civilian panels. Here’s the avionics suite that goes into a T6C “Texan II” trainer (i.e., a Swiss-designed Pilatus):

The heads-up display is where the engineers expect the pilot to look. The switches just below the HUD are next in visual accessibility. The big TV screens that get pride of place in a modern civilian aircraft are relegated to a low “last resort” position.

As impressive as the latest Garmin G3000-equipped jets are, could it be that the whole design philosophy is wrong?

Related:

  • MyGoFlight retrofit heads-up-display (uses a BMW-style projector), which I tried at Oshkosh and it seems to work well. About $25,000 as a retrofit? (as with most things in aviation, the option for the plane (e.g., A/C) costs about the same as an entire automobile that contains the same feature!)
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Encore Boston casino aerial photos

While flying Neoscape in an East Coast Aero Club helicopter on a photography mission, we were waiting for the shadow of a cloud to move away from the commercial real estate site subject. Matt Richardson decided to get some photos of Boston’s new casino, Encore:

This is some of my favorite helicopter flying and we still get to do some interesting projects despite the Rise of the Drones. Operating close to Logan Airport (Class B airspace), as this project required, is an example of when a traditional helicopter may make more sense than a drone.

Thanks to Matt and Neoscape for sharing!

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Can the Second Amendment survive?

A comment in response to my July 4 question “What’s great about the United States?”:

The right to keep and bear arms, of course! Do I need to elaborate? I should think that the readers of this blog wouldn’t need the lesson to understand why it’s so important to millions of Americans. Tens of millions of your fellow citizens exercise that right every single day, year in and year out, and aren’t ashamed to be armed citizens despite the mendacity and lack of respect shown to them.

Our current media and cultural environment may label me a pariah, but I’m not afraid of people calling me names based on a twisted, biased, and ignorant interpretation of what the 2nd Amendment really means to the average person. To me, it means that our country values the individual so much that ordinary people are trusted to own and keep weapons that belong to them. It’s a fundamental statement of the worth of the individual and it just can’t be overstated. I think everyone will miss it greatly if it ever stops being so.

We started out with laws, including the Second Amendment, designed for a population of 4 million yeoman farmers who accepted both risk and personal responsibility. Now there are 330 million residents of the U.S. and risk-aversion grows every year. Flying a little Cessna was considered an acceptable risk back in the 1950s, but most people today insist on a higher level of safety and idiot-proofing. Similarly, any risk of being shot by an unhinged person is enough to drive a lot of people to demand (at least on Facebook) protection from an all-powerful government (as in Leviathan).

Readers: What’s the chance of the Second Amendment surviving in our society on its current trajectory?

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Meet in Seattle next week?

I’m coming into Seattle for work on Monday, but starting Tuesday, August 6 I will be free. My only firm plan right now is a late morning Tuesday seaplane refresher flight at Kenmore Air. I depart for Boston on a Thursday night redeye and am staying at the Hyatt Regency near the convention center.

Update: we have picked Din Tai Fung, 600 Pine St (Pacific Place) at the unfashionable hour of 5:15 pm on Wednesday, August 7. (alternative is to wait in a long line)

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Don’t talk to the police without a lawyer

The Last Stone, by Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down), shows the terrible consequences for one criminal of not availing himself of his right to have a lawyer present (who presumably would have told him to take the Fifth Amendment, since he was, in fact, guilty).

After decades of smaller convictions, Lloyd Welch was in prison in Delaware for molesting a 10-year-old girl. The Montgomery County, Maryland police detectives came to talk to him in 2013 regarding the disappearance of two girls in 1975. If he had refused to talk to them, he would have been released from prison a few years later, signed up for public housing, Medicaid, food stamps, Obamaphone, etc., and enjoyed the last third of his life:

Prior to this collision with the Lyon squad, the path had seemed clear. His prison mental-health report had all but pronounced him rehabilitated. “Mr. Welch took advantage of the treatment opportunities available within the prison to come to an understanding of the problems that led to [his] offense,” it read, its author either asleep or completely taken in. “Mr. Welch seems to have developed deep insight, empathy, and remorse for his victim’s pain and suffering.”

Over about 70 hours of interviews, though, the police gradually got him to admit his involvement in the kidnapping, rape, and murder of the girls (sisters, aged 10 and 12). The critical tools were flattering, lying (pretending that they knew more than they did), and patience. Multiple interrogators collaborated on this project and they had different personalities, which lent itself naturally to the good-cop, bad-cop ploy.

Mark, in particular, seemed to get this. He showed no sympathy for Lloyd whatsoever. He badgered him with the falsehoods and inconsistencies in his stories. He also liberally exaggerated the evidence against him. “We found a lot of cases that are all across Maryland, South Carolina, Florida. All these cases around Wheaton, Takoma Park, that look like they’ve got your name on them. Rapes. Girls have disappeared. Girls that have been found murdered.” “Hold. Hold. Hold,” Lloyd protested, raising his hand. “No, this is the truth, Lloyd. We have all the old evidence. All the old fingerprints, DNA samples, stuff that was never analyzed. Because back in the seventies they didn’t have DNA analysis. But we kept all that evidence. Now it is all getting compared. And it’s not just going to be us saying that you did it. That’s evidence, Lloyd.” Mark was bluffing. None of this was true.

Electronic surveillance suggests that the family is guilty (see previous post), but does not yield enough information for a conviction:

The squad had anticipated monitoring calls for a month, but they ended up listening for three months. It was costly. Supervised by veteran Montgomery County detective Rich Armagost, the bugs had to be monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, occupying four or five officers at a time. Many of the things overheard were redolent of deeper knowledge. For instance, after seeing news reports about the digging on Taylor’s Mountain, Pat Welch told one caller, knowingly, “They are going to find something on that mountain.” When told where the police were digging, she remarked, categorically, “Those aren’t their graves” and “They are on the wrong side of the mountain,” even though she had insisted to the squad that she knew nothing whatsoever about the Lyon girls.

The police can’t get any good physical evidence, even after they are pretty sure that they know what happened to the two girls’ bodies:

The location of the bonfire had been fixed, and the dirt there scooped out and sifted through screens. A fragment of charred human bone was found, along with scraps of singed fabric that might have been worn by the girls or come from the bags described by Connie and Henry. Melted fragments of beads were found that might have matched a necklace Kate had worn, and a piece of wire recovered might have matched the frame of Sheila’s glasses. None of these items tested out convincingly. No DNA could be recovered from the bone.

So it comes down to getting Lloyd to keep telling his story and lying about the physical evidence is not off limits:

Virginia’s prosecutors weren’t buying it, Dave explained, because they were more intent on nailing him than on learning the truth. In short, Lloyd was about to be charged with murder. “Does the DNA from the bones show that it was the girls?” Lloyd asked. “Got one fragment that shows,” said Dave, falsely.

The most effective tactic is wearing down the suspect.

After four hours, Dave left and Katie stepped in. She buttered Lloyd up at length, going on about how much better a person he was than the rest of his family, how much more cooperative he was. Then she pleaded with him to help himself by helping them. They were on his side!

Katie sometimes tried to simply overwhelm Lloyd. She would start talking, throwing out ideas, her words flowing in great improvisational gusts, easing from one concept to the next, alternately flattering, reasoning, bargaining, confronting, empathizing. Mark called it her superpower; he joked that sometimes suspects would confess just to shut her up. Katie turned it on full bore now. She invoked Lloyd’s children, who, she said, wanted this all to be over. She talked about mistakes she had made in her own life. She was somebody who knew mistakes. Life, she said, was about learning and moving on … She was still at it when the session passed the six-hour mark. It was a magnificent torrent of cajolery, all of it delivered earnestly and with a straight face.

Jesus forgives even if the Montgomery County police do not:

The Virginia detectives came back in before the session ended to reassure him that he had a few more days. Lloyd told them how bad he felt for having done nothing to help the girls back in 1975, about how his life had changed. He’d become a Christian; he was determined to turn things around. “I’m not a bad person,” he said.

But the Montgomery County police pretend to forgive. They often tell Lloyd that his interest in young girls and drugs was perfectly normal back in 1975:

There were totally different things goin’ on back then.” Katie was smoothing the path for Lloyd. She was allowing, for purposes of easing Lloyd’s concerns, that having sex with prepubescent girls was somehow a normal thing, especially in the anything-goes 1970s.

Lloyd said he thought his story would be interesting. He had never touched the girls, he said, but he’d led an interesting life. “I had a lot of ass when I was growing up,” he said. “I didn’t have to force myself or anything like that. I mean, when I lived in Washington, DC, in that runaway house, I had different girls every night, because we just partied together. Nothing forceful or anything like that. We’d all just get together—” “It was the seventies.” “—and it was free love. Sex, rock ’n’ roll.” “Exactly.”

Separately, the author tries to explain why a person would kidnap two girls from a shopping mall, 10 and 12, and participate in their rape and murder. The answer comes from Bernie Sanders and Thomas Piketty:

In a twisted way, it made sense for Lloyd to prey on children at the mall, for several reasons. … Malls were suburbia’s gleaming showcases, lined with high-end stores stocked with goods Lloyd could not afford, displaying colorful, oversize ads for a lifestyle beyond his reach. They drew clean and prosperous families with credit cards and shopping lists. Living in the woods with his girlfriend, Lloyd would not have known how to take the first step into that world. And while he was not the sort to reflect on such things, much less articulate them, he must have resented the plenitude, all the comforts of money, family, and community that he lacked. As Lloyd himself had put it, “I was an angry person when I was young.”

If only we can eliminate inequality, we may also be able to eliminate this kind of crime. #VoteWarren

What do evil people look like? Would we know them if we saw them? The author goes to visit Lloyd Welch in prison and finds “an unimpressive, scheming man.” The guy does seem to lack self-awareness: “He complained about being treated in the prison as a rapist and murderer of children.”

The guy certainly deserves to be in prison, it seems. But he put himself there by not asking for a taxpayer-funded attorney. That is one of the strangest aspects of the story.

More: Read The Last Stone.

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Increase Federal border staff in the south by moving some from the north?

The situation on the U.S. southern border is now considered by our media to be a “crisis.” The crisis is not so severe, of course, that Congress has been motivated to change any of the laws that encourage people to migrate here (birthright citizenship, lifetime taxpayer-funded housing, health care, food, and smartphone, etc.) [Just as the treatment of migrants who say that they’re under 18 is horrific, but not so bad that anyone complaining about it offers to open his or her own home to a migrant!]

Since we don’t have substantially more money or new laws to deal with the situation on the southern border, would it make sense to move resources that we’re already paying for?

When you fly a private airplane into Canada, for example, you let the Canadians know who is on the plane and where you expect to land. On landing, if you don’t see any officials (the usual case) you call up the authorities and they give you a “report number” to write down (unclear what this could ever be used for!), thus freeing the Canadian government to deal with more pressing issues.

When you fly a private airplane into the U.S., on the other hand, you have to provide complete information on all occupants of the aircraft via a web site (eAPIS) and also make a phone call as you would with Canada. The Feds will send out an armed agent ($1000 per working hour if we factor in pension, overtime for evenings/weekends, periodic weapons training, government SUV, and other benefits?) to do a cursory inspection of the plane and the people.

If the U.S. went to the “random sampling” approach that the Canadians use, there would be a lot of resources freed up to deal with the tide of migrants washing over the southern border. Aircraft operators are fairly diligent about customs and immigration. None of them want the government to take away their airplanes if an unauthorized person is found on board.

The same approach could be used for commercial airline flights. Why have 100 people at Logan Airport to deal with flights coming from London? The government already was advised via eAPIS of the passenger manifest. The passports were already checked in London by the airline. Why not move 90 of the 100 people to where they are most needed and have the remaining 10 randomly sample passengers from London?

If we had a country in which 100 percent of the residents were documented, maybe it would make sense to screen 100 percent of inbound travelers. But if we already have between 10 million and 22 million undocumented people living in the U.S., why does it make sense to screen the inbound family Cessna, the inbound Fortune 500 company’s Gulfstream, or the inbound British Airways flight whose passengers were carefully sifted through by the carrier?

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Boeing hires software engineers for $9/hour

“Boeing’s 737 Max Software Outsourced to $9-an-Hour Engineers” (Bloomberg) seems to be getting folks’ attention regarding the aviation safety angle. I think the career planning angle is much more interesting. The other day, I met a bright young high school student who said that he was considering a career in software engineering. He used the term “STEM” about 15 times. Presumably he is being pushed in this direction by well-meaning adults, including our politicians (nothing helps turn a person into a cheerleader for STEM more than a complete absence of any engineering background and a college transcript that is devoid of a single science class).

Programming/software development/software engineering tends to be a brief career, almost certain to end when the former coder is in his or her 50s (usually much quicker because people don’t love this job).

Now we learn that one of America’s most demanding employers is able to find programmers to work for $9/hour. Why would a young American want to slug it out against that kind of competition?

Coders can make decent money, but they often need to be in high-cost cities to get the bigger paychecks. Earning an above-median $125,000/year does not secure a good lifestyle in New York, D.C., Boston, or anywhere in California. The dental hygienist (BLS median $75,000/year) has much more flexibility regarding where to live and work and can probably enjoy a higher standard of living. (Tax Foundation’s real value of $100 map.)

This is not to say that nobody should be a programmer. If you love to code, don’t feel the need to interact meaningfully with humans during the day, don’t mind having less personal space than a McDonald’s cashier, think that you can manage the health risks of a sit-all-day job, and have the discipline to save for a forced retirement at 52, go for it!

But I am confused as to how non-programmers can read a story like this Bloomberg one and then tell a young person “You should go try to grab that $9/hour job!”

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Meet in Ireland?

I’m planning a trip to Ireland, arriving Tuesday, May 28 and returning on June 5. Would any readers like to meet up there? If so, please email: philg@mit.edu.

Thanks!

(The plan is to teach a couple of classes at a flight school in Dublin, do some helicopter flying, possibly visit the Isle of Man, and check out Belfast before it is swallowed up into the ocean like the Brexit doomsayers predict. Experience regarding the Isle of Man would be especially welcome. My local guide in Ireland is not a fan…)

Here are some ideas that I pulled from a guidebook

Dublin (2 days)

  • National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology
  • Trinity College (arrange Book of Kells?)
  • Dublin Castle and Chester Beatty Library?
  • Hugh Lane Gallery
  • Irish Museum of Modern Art
  • Tenement Museum

Helicopter Trip to Cork?

  • Cork
  • Cobh
  • Kinsale
  • Skellig Islands
  • Lakes of Killarney (orbit in heli)
  • Bantry House (if extra time)

Lower Shannon

  • Cliffs of Moher
  • Foynes
  • Lough Gur
  • (maybe) Roscrea

Helicopter Trip to Galway?

  • Galway
  • Aran Islands
  • Connemara National Park (get some exercise!)

Northwest Ireland (helicopter up there?)

  • Sileve League (only if WX perfect)

Drive to Belfast (2 days)

  • Carlingford way up or down
  • Belfast downtown (1 day?)
  • Giant’s Causeway
  • Glenariff Forest Park
  • Seamus Heaney HomePlace
  • Mount Stewart
  • Mourne Mountains
  • Castlewellan Forest Park
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A successful executive advises a woman beginning her career

A friend’s daughter is finishing up law school. Due to my not-so-secret double life as an expert witness working with big law firms, she asked me for advice as to whether to join one of three international firms that had offered her jobs. Her passion is white collar criminal defense (should be a growing field if the taxpayers keep investing in multi-year investigations that reveal nothing more than Americans getting paid for having sex and/or trying to minimize their tax payments):

Right now I am struggling because at [Firm A] they have an incredible white collar group that is small, extremely prestigious and also full of incredible women …

At [Firm B], I would just go into general litigation, and then I could put my hand up to get in on white collar projects, but it might be more difficult to specialize. They are also really committed to pro bono … It is also a litigation-forward firm (rather than dominated by the corporate practice) which I like too.

I assembled a group email panel of lawyers and business executives. Male perspective:

I wouldn’t rely on women. Female intrasexual competition is human nature (other species too). You are a young fertile woman. The women in management are aging, no longer as attractive, and no longer fertile. Maybe they voted for Hillary but their biological instinct will be to have you killed, not to help you take their places in the boardroom.

It would be an advantage to be the only women on a litigation team. There will be women on the jury and perhaps the judge will be a woman. The team will have to put you forward in order to forestall accusations of sexism. Whereas if there are 10 women on the team you could be at a back desk handing out documents. Maybe there are other good reasons to like [Firm A], but I wouldn’t give any extra points because there are woman running the show there.

Female perspective:

In my view, all else being equal, the woman factor might be a reason to chose [Firm A] over your alternative. However, most important is whether the role at [Firm A] is what you want and the environment/ team dynamics are the best route to your success/ achieving your goals.

For me, working with women vs men really doesn’t matter as long as I feel I am set up for success.

Working with “incredible women” may not be better for you than working with incredible men. What makes these women incredible? Is there a difference between “incredible women” and “incredible men”? And what does their being “incredible” mean for you?

As I think back to all the work situations I’ve been in with women vs men over the last 20 years, I can say that this is absolutely right: “their biological instinct will be to have you killed, not to help you take their places in the boardroom.” It takes a very accomplished woman who is not insecure about where she is in life to suppress that instinct. No matter how old she is. There are not many women that accomplished in the workforce today. If you find one to work with awesome. If not, no big deal.

Men are generally easier to deal with in my experience. They are less complex. With men it usually comes down to ego. If you don’t attack their egos, and keep your relationship professional, they won’t try to compete with you or cross any lines. To the contrary, they will see you as an ally and they will support you.

I also agree about the advantage of being the only woman on a team. It’s not just about being the only woman though, it’s about being good at what you do AND being different from your peers in a way that obviously benefits the team/company.

Example: I am the VP of North America [Widgets and Services], two levels removed from our corporate ([Fortune 500 company name]) CEO. I am the only female VP on [this] team and the only person in the company who understands [something that brings in a growing amount of revenue].

Next month, [the Fortune 500] will hold it’s investor day. 20 of our top institutional investors will be visiting along with the entire top executive team. My boss and his boss will be presenting to this group, as will the Presidents of every other division. I found out yesterday, that I too will be presenting. I am the only VP – level person from all of [the Fortune 500] who will be presenting and the only woman. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a President or SVP because I am the best they have and a woman to boot!

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