Hiring Greatness

All In: Touched by Greatness


There is a very simple reason why I believe in the power of greatness. It’s because I was touched by greatness firsthand. It saved—and changed—my life on April 13th, 1971…

The urgent rhythm of the approaching medical transport helicopter shattered the calm of the thin Colorado air. I always had mixed feelings whenever I heard such helicopters in the night: a foreboding concern for whomever might need that immediate medical attention, partially offset by guilt-ridden relief that at least “it wasn’t me.” 

But this time, it was for me…

Drifting in and out of medicated sedation, I was amused as the bright lights overhead seemed to swirl around the hospital’s surgical amphitheater. Over 100 visiting doctors were crammed into the upper surgical observatory. The pre-op support team was bustling with activity, in anticipation of the imminent arrival of the distinguished team of surgeons disembarking from the helicopter. 

The military surgeons at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver had been blunt with my father: no one had ever survived the heart operation I was about to undergo. The attending nurse whispered compassionately to my father, “You need to say good-bye now.” My dad squeezed my hand and, in a soft tone percolating with hope, he looked into my eyes, smiled bravely, and said, “You’ll be alright, Dave. I love you son,” as the cluster of doctors arrived.

My father was assured these doctors were among the greatest team of heart surgeons in the world. That claim was validated when I went through 12 hours of open-heart surgery, and beat the overwhelming odds to survive. Seven months of rehab later and I was back to 100 percent. I’ve never met the U.S. Army surgical team that performed that miracle on me that day, but there’s no question I owe my life to the collective greatness of their divinely guided hands.

Looking back, I was eight years old in 1968 when my family—mother, father, two sisters, and I—moved from Royal Roads Military College in Victoria, British Columbia to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We were the only Canadians on the base. Tragedy struck within days of our arrival when my mother, Coleen, suffered a stroke while my parents were attending their very first dinner at the new boss’s house. 

My mother subsequently spent many months in hospital and, since my father worked such long hours, my two baby sisters were temporarily sent to live with relatives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I stayed on the base under the ever-watchful eye of an extended community of caring neighbors. I was in essence “functionally adopted” by several families in our cluster and was welcomed into their homes to eat, sleep, and play. 

The genuine concern and collaborative culture of the base remains fondly etched in my memory. People were passionately engaged in trying to build a better world for themselves and others. On weekends, while my father was visiting my mother in the hospital, I gladly participated in community work, joining my “adopted families” in goodwill exploits like painting the school, repairing the church, or helping neighbors with heavy yardwork. 

 Those gestures—big or small—were sincere, executed with love, and had immense impact on those we assisted. It felt good to be part of that. I witnessed the power of the greatness that was America. I liked it. 

In the summer of 1971 my father was posted to Toronto and we returned to Canada. I didn’t want to leave. I will forever hold the deepest appreciation for America and the unbridled kindness and genuine care our American friends extended to my entire family. A nation’s greatness is distinguished by its compassion, and we certainly felt the full measure of America’s greatness.

Eleven years later, in 1982, I graduated with an economics degree from McGill University. After working for several recruiting firms for a few years, I started my own executive search firm, Perry-Martel International, in 1988. Over 1,000 successful searches later, here we are.

It vexes me to see the unprecedented pressures on the American psyche including the bludgeoning national debt, perennial trade deficit, alarming decline in the labor force participation rate, escalating future unfunded liabilities, and increased social welfare costs. The impact on the social and political fabric of the country are apparent. Yes, greatness is once again being summoned from the resourceful imperative embodied in the American spirit of defiance, compassion, and resolve. 

It’s on. 

The current conditions are an insult to tolerance and an unsavory challenge to endure. We need all cylinders firing—or at least more of them. Ignoring the micro/macro influences for the moment, and just focusing on scale, consider that in terms of the number of cylinders firing America can dramatically improve the number of people contributing to the bottom line. 

Consider that out of an estimated population of 318 million Americans:

  • 61 million can’t work—under 16, and too young. 
  • 102 million don’t work—of working age, but not in the labor force or unemployed. 
  • 104 million are not fully engaged and productive at their jobs (70 percent of the 148 million that don’t work).

Accordingly, out of 318 million Americans, only 51 million work at or near full capacity: 267 million do not. That’s difficult to sustain in any economic climate, let alone an economy already overburdened by the mammoth challenges already mentioned.

In the years since we left Colorado, my affinity and admiration for America has never wavered. Nor has my belief in her capacity for greatness. America has accomplished many great things in its illustrious history. I’ll forego trite recaps of such triumphs, and instead say I think it’s imperative for the country’s exceptional leadership to undertake what must be done now and in the future. Cliché as it sounds, the need for greatness has never been more pronounced in America and, indeed, throughout the world. 

My concern for America’s well-being is sincere, as is my belief in her ability to meet the challenges confronting her.

“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

So be it. 

David Perry

PS. What really impressed me – more than landing a man on the moon—was bringing him back!


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