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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cowboys in the Boardroom

Two weeks ago I met a stranger for lunch. I had come across a link to his site on the American Cowgirl magazine site and was intrigued. A few years ago, Jim Owen wrote the book Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. I sent Jim a note and the next day he picked up the phone and called. As synchronicity would have it, he was flying into Denver the next day and offered to buy me lunch. Jim's a happily married man - this was not a rendezvous, but a reaching out of like-minded souls.

Life is often a journey of trust, where we make a conscious decision to "go with the flow" and trust the unfolding of our lives. When I met Jim, the first thing he said to me was, "I'm not a cowboy." Obviously, he wasn't. That was immediately apparent. James P. Owen is the Managing Director of Austin Capital Management and serves as the firms Director of Corporate Values. At the restaurant, he set a copy of Cowboy Ethics on the table and started telling me about himself. As I flipped through the beautiful photographs, I quickly found a stunning one taken by my friend Kathleen Jo Ryan (photographer and producer of Writing Down the River: Into the Heart of the Grand Canyon). It's a small world out there in ranching country.

Listed on the back of the business card Jim gave me is the Code of the West. Live each day with courage. Take pride in your work. Always finish what you start. Do what has to be done. Be tough, but be fair. When you make a promise, keep it. Ride for the brand. Talk less and say more. Remember that some things aren't for sale. Know where to draw the line.

I thought of the ranchers with whom I had spent so much time in Wyoming, and the old-timers in Douglas County whom I had gotten to know when I was a young wife and mother. I thought of the upcoming election and wondered how McCain and Obama would measure up against this Code of the West. I thought of my own life - the stories left unwritten, the promises broken, occasions when I didn't know when to draw the line. The times I talked far more than I listened.

Jim may not be a cowboy, or a rancher but he is a maverick, an original and generous thinker. And for that, I admire him. We had a great lunch and he gave me some sound business advice. We shook hands when we parted and if he'd been wearing a hat, I'm sure he would've tipped it as he said good-bye.

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