My TA, R.I.P.

On the other end of the phone was Paul Dunn inquiring if there was anything special I wanted to do or see on my upcoming March trip to Great Britain. We had just finished a twelve-city tour of Australia and New Zealand in February 2000, conducting Preview seminars for the Results Accountants’ Bootcamp, and now I was about to do the same with the UK RAS Team. Paul knew this was only my second visit to Great Britain, so he wanted to make it special.

I had only one request: I wanted to visit Karl Marx’s gravesite at Highgate Cemetery. Well, somehow that request got assigned to Paul O’Byrne, who ended up driving me out to the cemetery after a seminar I presented to RAS members.

It wasn’t the first time I had met Paul. We first met the prior week at Stratford-upon-Avon (birthplace of William Shakespeare), at another RAS event where Ric Payne and I presented. Paul had done a Mind Map of my talk, which I found ingenious. I knew he was going to present the Previews with me around the UK, so we’d have plenty of time to get to know one another.

Essentially, my first eighteen months of getting to know Paul consisted of one enormous argument over the necessity of maintaining timesheets in a professional knowledge firm, not to mention the virtues of laissez-faire capitalism versus a more centrally planned economy on the European model. We’d argue everywhere—on the phone, in the car to and from Heathrow, driving through the crowded streets of London, in pubs and snooker clubs while downing beer and crisps, and at the many historical sites he showed me, from Oxford and Cambridge to Bath and Liverpool.

I’ll always remember one seminar I gave in 2001, when Paul and I were still debating. Prior to the program he gave me a tour of his firm (O’Byrne and Kennedy) and I surreptitiously slipped one of the firm’s timesheets into my pocket. I used that as a prop during my talk, since I found it amusing that the time started at 7am and went to 7pm, joking that if one worked for OBK, look how long you could account for your time in ten-minute increments in one day!

After about the 15th mention of this, I saw Paul pick up his cell phone. Little did I know he instructed his colleague to reserve the Web domain of, thus launching off a virtual retribution cannon at his disposal whenever I said anything that displeased him. He updated it often, with a wit that went for the jugular, not the jocular.

Then in September of 2001, OBK decided it was time to go all the way and finally trash timesheets, which they did on July 2002. I would like to think that it was the force of my logic that persuaded them, but Paul always contended they simply did it to shut me the hell up.

From that point on, Paul and I would travel the world together, doing over 100 programs all across the USA, UK, Prague, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We worked seamlessly together because even though we are very different people, we shared a common vision that bound us together—a desire to change the world; meaning not only change how people think, but also how they behave.

Paul loved ideas. He could take one, play with it, improve upon it, and then have the courage to go try it out on an audience, or in his firm. He constantly stretched my mind. On all of our trips we would stay up late discussing better ways to present our ideas. Since Paul was such a wunderkind with technology, he could always edit the right video clip or put together a montage that was perfect to make a particular point.

He always made time for people, especially me, which is why I began calling him My TA (Trusted Advisor). He edited every one of my books, offering criticisms, improvements and ideas that enhanced their readability. Even when his first fatal diagnosis cruelly cut his time short, he used some of his most precious resource to read my latest book, which is dedicated to him.

Thankfully, our time together wasn’t all work. We took a trip to Paris with Paul’s lovely wife, Daniella, that I will always remember. On another occasion we spent an incredibly hectic one day in Rome, with Paul running around showing me all the highlights, his ubiquitous video camera even running inside the Sistine Chapel, to the chagrin of the local police who nearly threw us out. He taught me how to play snooker, annoyed that a Loud Mouth Yank could beat him at his own game. He loved Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, along with the drive down the California coast, where we coaxed him to try sushi for the first time (he hated it).

In true Monty Python fashion, Paul would go way out of his way to make a joke. One of the funniest things that I (and my colleague Dan Morris) have ever read is the Mad magazine Flaxbender Annual Report, a take-off on a corporate financial statement. After showing it to Paul, he drafted his own report that beautifully illustrates his wit, humour, warmth, and love for his family.

I had the great good fortune of meeting and spending time with Paul’s family—Daniella, Luke, Katie, Laura and Frank. I know nothing I write will ever compensate for your loss, but I hope the following passage from the Talmud gives you solace, especially since Paul believed in the quality of life, not just the quantity:

In a harbor, two ships sailed: one setting forth on a voyage, the other coming home to port. Everyone cheered the ship going out, but the ship sailing in was scarcely noticed. To this, a wise man said: “Do not rejoice over a ship setting out to sea, for you cannot know what terrible storms it may encounter and what fearful dangers it may have to endure. Rejoice rather over the ship that has safely reached port and brings its passengers home in peace.”

And this is the way of the world: When a child is born, all rejoice; when someone dies, all weep. We should do the opposite. For no one can tell what trials and travails await a newborn child, but when a mortal dies in peace, we should rejoice, for he has completed a long journey, and there is no greater boon than to leave this world with the imperishable crown of a good name.

How or why do two people become friends? The French writer Montaigne supplied what is perhaps the best answer: “Parce que c’était lui, parce que c’était moi” (because it was him and because it was me).

On November 6th Michelle Golden and I, along with Paul Kennedy, visited Paul at his home, reminiscing and laughing about all the glorious times we have had together. At the end of our visit, I said goodbye warmly, embracing Paul, knowing that probably I would never see again this wonderful human being.

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