86. Meera Rossiter, EVP

“Tough.”

Meera was the third child of immigrants from the New Delhi area. Her parents had come separately as college students to the American Midwest, met at a campus social event, became friends, drifted apart, but three years later met again, this time at a graduate school symposium for foreign students. A year and a half later, they got married and graduated, both ceremonies on the same day, he in computer science, she in medicine. Meera was their third and last child, all daughters. She was never like her sisters. Or anyone else in her family. Her two sisters were obedient, respectful, traditionally feminine, quiet, studious, and disinterested in sports. Not Meera. She was always noisy and rambunctious. In high school, she stood out as a gifted lacrosse player, captain of her team. Unlike her sisters, Meera was casual about her studies, always leaving things to the last minute, getting good grades but only with the least amount of effort necessary. And her behavior drove her parents nuts. While her sisters were always “proper,” Meera snuck out on dates; tried cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana; and listened to music her parents considered tasteless and probably immoral. When they let her (or when she snuck out), she wore clothes that appalled everyone in her family. Definitely a handful. But she also knew how to get her way, partly because she was all things her father had yearned to be as a boy. He had always been an obedient son. But also, because Meera had a thing for technology. It started when she got her hands on her first computer game. She wasn’t supposed to have it. She pirated it and played it when she was supposed to be studying. It took her two tries to beat the game consistently. Then, bored with playing it, she took its programming apart, figured out what made it tick, and, in the process, taught herself to be a game developer. It just came to her. Her father couldn’t believe it. “This is not supposed to happen. It took me years to be a programmer.” Her mother was convinced that this was the beginning of the end for Meera. “What man would marry such as her?” But of course, it was anything but the end. Meera began picking up freelance jobs on the internet. Who knew she was a fourteen-year-old brat without any formal training? Then, she got a full-time job with a game development boutique, that is, until they figured out that she was too young to work without parental permission. But by then, she had applied for and been granted early admission to college with a dual major in finance and computer sciences. And she quickly learned that while she could handle the academics, she had no idea what to do about college social life. She got badly drunk at a sorority rush party. She went on a few disastrous dates and learned a few lessons that 16-year-old kids shouldn’t have to learn so soon. Her solution was to do well in class, take on freelance game development projects, and keep to herself. After two years of this, she was so lonely she was on the verge of dropping out of school. That is, until she saw this shy, goofy, disheveled kid coming across campus, hauling a cello case on his back. It seemed two sizes too big for him. Meera thought him cuter than any puppy she’d ever seen. She didn’t waste time. She stood right in his path until he, oblivious to what was going on, almost crashed into her. His name: Norwood T. Rossiter IV, “Nobby” to his friends. Brilliant and even more talented than Meera in his own way, he was otherwise almost her exact opposite. Very shy. Very quiet. Totally disorganized. Incurably shaggy. Illiterate in anything technological. Focused on music written 300 years ago and ignorant of music that Meera loved. And able to count founding fathers as ancestors, Nobby’s family was bemused by Meera and figured it wouldn’t last. On hearing about Nobby, Meera’s family ordered her home where she was to stay in her room until she came to her senses. It had never dawned on them that, unlike her dutiful sisters, Meera would fall for a non-Desi. Or that she would not give him up. Meera never did what she was told. And this time was no different. Now, three children and a very large house in Palo Alto later, it is seven-thirty in the morning and Meera is getting into an outrageously long stretch-limo and looking tough, dressed in one of her “killer” suits. There’s a meeting of her company’s executive committee, during which she will once again get her way, despite several nasty individuals who – like Meera’s parents – have no idea what they are in for. The nanny will see that the kids get to school. Nobby gets home tomorrow from his most recent European tour. Lately, he’s been getting rave reviews for his Prokofiev Cello Concerto, a piece that has been called, “rarely performed and deservedly so.”

76. Marjorie “Mags” Svensen

Her Father’s Son

In more ways that she could realize, she is her father’s son. As a girl, even in her teenage years, she loved being with him. They played tennis. They camped in the roughest conditions. Later, she went her father’s alma mater. And then, into her father’s profession, chemical engineering. Along the way, he always encouraged her to do one better than he did. She never let him down. After getting a master’s in chemical engineering, Mags took a job with an international chemical company and quickly moved up the ranks, not only nailing a couple of patents but also showing unusual leadership and sales skills. Even when it came to a husband, she excelled in her father’s eyes. Ronnie is tall, good-looking, good company, and a great doubles partner. But even better, he is very smart. Who could ask for anything more? Before meeting Mags, Ronnie took a law degree and became a partner in a very prestigious law firm. His clients have included some of the most socially prominent people in the country and – in more than a few instances – the corporations that account for their wealth. And that has been a bit of a problem. In that circle, Mags is supposed to be a “proper wife,” a complement to and an ornament for her husband, an expert at charming small talk, a good mother, and an even better hostess. She is not supposed to have muscles, is definitely not supposed to drink beer with the boys, or to laugh too loudly. Or swear. Or tell amazingly filthy jokes. Or, even worse, to flirt. Mags gets enormous amusement from her flirting. She loves how it drives the women in her husband’s client circle insane. And how it drives their husbands even crazier as they realize that Mag’s flirting is just her way of making fun of them. It used to be far worse but, after Ronnie asked her to cut it out, Mags took on a more “corporate” demeanor and “behaved like a lady.” She even stopped making snide comments about conservative politics. But just lately, things have taken a bit of a different turn. First, her mother died and her father went into a deep depression. Then, Ronnie’s father broke his hip. Next, Mags got a big promotion. It meant that as an EVP she is being groomed to be President and CEO of her company. And finally, Ronnie announced that he hated his job, couldn’t stand his clients, and wanted to start a woodworking company. To which, Marjorie said, “You mean we can finally stop the bullshit with those awful clients of yours and have a real life?” Ronnie’s answer was, “Yes, yes, and yes.” They put a bottle of Champagne in the refrigerator and had a little party, all by themselves. She knows it will not be easy. As a lawyer, Ronnie made a ton of money; woodworking is not quite as lucrative. So, their income will come down a bit. She knows that her new job will mean a lot of time on the road. And she expects that their two boy-crazy, prep-school daughters will a bit upset about some of the changes ahead. But those camping trips with her father – sleeping in a tent in the middle of Maine winters – prepared Mags for anything. Maybe those two little overly-delicate girls needed a bit of that sort of experience themselves.