It was early December 1996 and I was a young 30-year-old girl looking for a new job. I was still working for the Romanian operation of the Amoco Corporation, but I knew that my job would not exist for long because Amoco had already announced it was going to withdraw all its Eastern Europe Operations (in Romania, Bulgaria and Poland). Actually, at that time, the very few employees left in the office were preparing the documentation for the bid organized in London in January 1997. I was one of those very few people involved in these preparations for the bid and, like everybody else, I was promised a bonus of $2000 US if I stayed with the company until the end of February 1997. For the post-communist Romania of 1996, this was a lot of money.

Well, I didn’t need to look far because one day, a very nice English-speaking lady, Penny Cavanagh, came to our office located in the Union building downtown Bucharest and asked for the CVs of all our employees. She said her company was looking to employ young people with previous experience working with Western companies.

Only later, we found out that she represented a newcomer in the Romanian market, a Canadian company which has just won the license for mobile telecommunications. This was a completely new industry, and nobody knew anything about it.

Hence, soon after Penny’s visit, I was called for an interview with the Marketing VP of this new company. 

So, here I was, sitting in the lobby of the Sofitel Hotel, considered a very posh place at that time, waiting for my turn. I had no idea who the Marketing VP was.  However, the situation was already very unusual because job interviews didn’t usually happen in the lobby of a hotel. All of a sudden, a very young girl, very thin, not very tall, with her blonde hair cut “a la garcon”, casually dressed, comes to me and invites me to follow her into the bar. “Really! Is this the Marketing VP?” I thought, “She must be what? 18 or 20?” I was puzzled. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of job she was interviewing me for. “Weirder and weirder”, says Alice, just came to my mind. (Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite Disney animations.)

As we walked toward a table in the bar of the hotel, the young lady, who didn’t introduce herself, asked me “Do you have English?” I assumed she was asking me if I spoke English well and I said, “Yes, of course.”

We arrived at the table and, as we sat down, she continued “Have you worked for foreign companies before?” “Yes, two of them,” I replied.

The next question was, “When can you start?” “Whenever you want,” I said in an instant, not even thinking that I was giving up a $2000 US bonus in a blink of an eye.

I liked the fact the she was asking very short questions, looking for very short answers.

“Do you have any question for me?” she said next. I had a hundred questions to ask but I said, “what would be my job?” 

“I don’t know yet”, the answer came, “but I’ll be in contact with you soon”.

This was the whole interview, less than 3 minutes.

After that, she took me to another table where a good-looking man was sitting, having lunch.  “This is our CEO, Al Tolstoy”, she said. I was quite embarrassed because the poor chap had his mouth full and he was making efforts to swallow quickly in order to be able to greet me.  “This is Ioana” (badly pronounced), she said, “and she’ll be working with us soon”. He stood up and shook my hand and said something I couldn’t figure out but I guess it was “good to meet you” or something like this.

On January 3rd, 1997, I was the 35th employee of what was going to become CONNEX GSM, one of the most important companies in Romania.

What followed was a decade of laughter and tears, of hard work and extraordinary achievements, of making the impossible possible, of incredible adventures and exponential learning curve, of insane risk taking, of building trust and friendship beyond words, of boundless creativity. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times….

That day I met the person who would transform my life beyond imagination, who would help me grow up and become the brave and unique woman I am today, who would mean a world to me and who would show me the world as I never dreamed it can be.

Karla and I became so close that we didn’t even need to speak to each other; we just knew what each other needed.  The bond between us can be easily seen in the photo attached, which was taken on November 21st, 2005 at the Dobris Castle in Prague.

The 5 years we have worked together in Prague were the best of my life. My heart stayed in Prague for ever. After that, working for Vodafone in England was a huge disappointment. The only remarkable thing that happened there in 2 years was the visit of The Queen at the VF HQ (Vodafone Headquarters) in Newbury on November 14th, 2008.

Thank you, Karla, for everything!!!

About The Author

A few months ago, I was told that my boobs are trying to kill me and being misdiagnosed for two years allowed them to recruit throughout the rest of my body by way of my spine. Before this, I knew f*ck all about cancer. Now, between sipping chemo cocktails, I want to talk about the truth of living with Stage 4 Breast Cancer with my support system and people I have met along the way to recovery.

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