Pride lands you flat on your face;
humility prepares you for honors.1
George told Jack that all he needed to do was simply present himself to the receptionists at the main lobby of the retreat center and ask for the Fore-giver. George reminded him to let the receptionist know that he was on an appointment with George as his referrer. When Jack got to the building downtown, and if he had not lived in the Northwest Arkansas area for about ten years or so, he would have been surprised. The retreat center was located in a two-story building along Central Avenue, just beside the Walmart Museum, in downtown Bentonville. If not from this place, say from out of town places like California, one would perhaps be expecting a place “befitting” of top business leaders who have called this place a resting place and a renewal center. Perhaps, one might even expect a secluded, fenced compound in a quiet area, say, by the lake. That is, if one was an out-of-towner, a newbie to Northwest Arkansas.
However, Jack had lived in the region long enough that he was beginning to understand the culture and ethos of the place. He had come to admire the simplicity of this region—a simplicity that belies its economic power and contribution to the whole nation. From Walmart to Tyson Foods and to J. B. Hunt, this region never ceased to confound the naysayers. In fact, about ten years ago when he first visited the area for Mike’s wedding, he was so hooked on the irony of the place that he decided then to locate the head office of JackedInspirations Inc. to the region. He had always been fascinated by stories of great accomplishments executed by people who were considered marginal and underestimated. It seemed to him that Arkansas, especially Northwest Arkansas, was just such a place. This was a region that produced some of the largest businesses in the entire world, yet when Arkansas is mentioned, some people will raise their eyebrows in a snobbish way, as if to say, What? Arkansas? Which place is that? What is there? Jack smiled as he recalled the reaction from his friends when he told them that he was relocating to Arkansas to start JackedInpsirations.com. Their reactions denoted that they thought Jack was heading out into total darkness and oblivion. At first, they were incredulous, as though he had purposely lost his mind. In fact, for the next five years, some of these guys had cut him off entirely. Nevertheless, he was convinced that a place that produced Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J. B. Hunt, had something going for it of which outsiders might be unaware. He chuckled as he recalled the dream, a mere flicker of hope he had nursed then that he, too, like Sam Walton, might make a difference even if from the margins. For some years there, it seemed that he was on his way to doing just that. That is, until Mike had thrown him this wicked curveball. He winced in pain as that thought brought him back to why he was sitting in downtown Bentonville, waiting for some no-doubt quirky old fellow called the Fore-giver.
George told him that this was a personal retreat center for workers and business leaders, but looking at this not-so-magnificent building, he wondered what kind of a retreat center would be housed in such a busy business center. As far as he could recall, retreat centers were supposed to be where leaders and executives went away from it all, to reflect, to strategize, and to map out new direction and action plans. Retreat centers he knew about were often located near lakes or within private estates in areas further away from the hustle and bustle of daily business grinds. When George had first told him about this and handed over the small access card, it had seemed like a good idea. Now, as he was about to make his way into the building, he was not so sure again. So, on impulse, he stood up and walked out, around the corner to the downtown square.
Outside now, he sat on one of the steel benches in the square surrounding the fountain and stared blankly at other people milling around, eating ice cream, and just having an enjoyable time. He took a deep breath and exhaled. There was something calming about this place. He knew this place so well. He often went to the Crystal Bridge trails in the evenings for his regular walk and run. From where he sat, to his left, you could almost see the Crystal Bridge trails. Oh, how many times he had walked those trails. He had given his word to his friend, George, that he would attend this retreat. A commitment was a commitment. Therefore, he got up and headed back to the retreat center.
“Hello. Welcome to the LRC! How may I assist you today?” the receptionist, whose nametag read ‘Jane Macfarlan’, said almost in a singsong voice. She said it as though she really meant it, with a smile too. Jane was a beautiful woman who looked to be in her early forties, with blond hair and a face that could have won ‘Miss Universe’ beauty pageant in her earlier days. For a brief moment, Jack was taken aback. As an entrepreneur, he traveled a lot, visited several offices, and encountered very many receptionists and secretaries. Too often, their ‘Hello, how may I help you?’ sounded rehearsed, even angry as though they really meant to say, ‘Here comes another loser to waste my precious time.’ However, this was different. He also had to constantly remind himself that LRC is an acronym for Leader’s Retreat Center. George was also in the habit of simply using LRC to refer to this place, but they seemed to forget that not everyone was familiar enough with this place to even know what LRC meant.
“Sir?” her gentle questioning voice roused him from his thoughts.
“Oh,” he muttered, presenting her with his access card. “I am here for the executive retreat program.”
She took the card from him, glanced at it briefly, and smiled.
“Welcome, Mr. Davidson. My name is Alyssa,” the woman volunteered with a broad smile. “I am the manager of the retreat center and attendant to the executive director of the center, the Fore-giver. We have been expecting you. Please be seated while I make sure everything is all set for you.”
As Jack stepped to the right to take a seat, he could not help but wonder why everyone seemed to refer to whomever he would be meeting as ‘the Fore-giver’. George used the same phrase, but then, he had simply imagined it was George’s fond way of referring to the mentor—a sort of nickname. He had thought that there would be many executives here at the retreat center. True, George hinted that he would be meeting with an interesting leader and mentor, but he had not asked how many business executives would be in attendance. Judging from what he was seeing from the welcome lobby, this place did not seem to be designed to host several people. He sighed and reminded himself to hold off judgment until he had seen things for himself.
In a few short minutes, Alyssa was back. “Mr. Davidson, this way please,” she said with a pleasant smile. Jack picked up his carry-on bag and followed through the two-barred mahogany door that separated the welcome lobby from the rest of the center. What he next saw almost shocked him. The rest of the building was so beautifully reconstructed and refitted. It was nothing compared to the whole outside environment in the lobby. The whole of the floor was carpeted with one of the most beautiful and possibly most expensive rugs he had seen, probably from the East. The walls were all lined with rows and rows of books, all encased in glass. Jack’s business involved self-development books and resources, so he knew when he saw a rich library of some of the best materials in the world. Jack was more than impressed. His jaw dropped open in admiration.
Alyssa noticed that he wasn’t following, stopped, and then realized why. She worked there for so long that she sometimes forgot the kind of first impression the place could make on people. She walked a few steps back to meet Jack and started with a tour of the place. She meant to get him to his suite first and later do the tour, but it seemed Jack was so transfixed by the books.
“As you can see here,” she began by pointing to the nearest bookcase, “each bookcase has a computer with all the books in that case neatly listed. If you are interested in one, all you have to do is select a book, click enter, and a robotic hand neatly picks up the book and delivers it to you.” She selected a book, and almost immediately, the robot delivered the book through an opening on the right of the computer. “To return the book takes a similar process. Simply place the book in the return slot on the left of this computer. The robot automatically recognizes the book and places it on the exact spot it was picked up from earlier.”
Alyssa did a quick tour of the first floor. As she spoke, Jack looked around. The place was completely refurbished, brightly lit, with chandeliers and all kinds of top-end decorations. It had a refreshing and relaxing feel, as if someone meant for you to stay, and enjoy your stay, for a long time. The windows were tainted glass, from the ceiling to the floor, which allowed guests to see outside but forbid intruding eyes from the outside. There was instrumental music coming softly from speakers mounted at different spots on the ceiling. On the right was a setting that looked like a big family place. It had twenty single settees, each with a side table at both ends. Alyssa pointed out that this was the place where the leader would meet with executives for group plenary sessions. On the other end of the floor was a much smaller sitting area, which, according to Alyssa, was where the leader would often sit, reflect, or consult with individuals. A few feet from there was a kitchen complete with a cooking stove, coffee makers, cabinets, etc. There was an air of freedom and simplicity in this place. The furnishings were elegant but sparse. There was an airiness about the place, as if one could stay for weeks and not feel trapped.
Alyssa continued her tour. “Over here is the staircase to the second floor.” She led the way up. “There are 20 private suites up here.” The suites were lined in two rows on the second floor with a big passageway in between. Just by the stairs was a lounge, of sorts, with a fridge, microwave, and water fountain.
“This is your suite,” as she opened Suite #7. As Jack stepped into the suite, the opulence and space that greeted him were far better than any five-star hotel that he had stayed at before, and he had stayed in many such hotels as he traveled the country. “Wow,” was all he could mutter.
Alyssa said, “Breakfast should be ready in about ten minutes. Simply press the intercom here and let Rosa know when you want your breakfast, and it will be delivered to your suite. The same for lunch or dinner. The suite has ample supply of drinking water, snacks, and other conveniences, but if you need additional supply, feel free to help yourself with supplies in the kitchenette by the stairs, no questions asked.”
“Your first plenary session with the leader and other executives will be at 9 a.m.,” Alyssa continued. “The schedule of sessions is right there on your table. I hope you enjoy your stay, Mr. Davidson. We are truly honored to have you here for the weekend.” With that, she exited the suite and gently closed the door behind her.