The question seemed innocuous, but general contractor Angelo Perryman fought back tears as he made his way through his answer.
Are there any questions, I wondered during our Executive Q&A interview, that you ask job applicants, questions that you find especially revealing? Perryman, who owns Perryman Building and Construction Services Inc. in Philadelphia, said he asks applicants to tell him their favorite movie, and why.
Question: Why is that a revealing question?
Answer: You see what they dream about. For me, my favorite movie was The Wizard of Oz.
A: At the end of the movie when they finally pulled the curtain back and the Wizard is now starting to talk to each individual, Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and he told them how to get over their problems. Whenever I am my most confused, I will replay that scene.
Q: In your mind?
A: I've got it off of YouTube. So I watch it.
Q: So what does it tell you?
A: The Scarecrow, he described to the Scarecrow: You think that running away is a bad thing. He says many heroes ran away, but what they didn't understand was is that that was not a crazy thing to do. The Cowardly Lion, he just gave him a medal. He said, you didn't realize you were already brave. Did you know you beat the witch? He didn't know that, so he gave him the medal. Dorothy said, `There's nothing you can do for me.' He said, `Well, it's not who loves you, it's how much you are loved.'
Q: Which of those characters do you relate to the most?
Q: Really? Why?
A: All of them are a little different, but Dorothy was making a lot of assumptions. What she really just wanted was people that care about you.
Q: And to go home to where she was cared about?
Q: How is that you?
A: Oh, tough one. I have to think on that one a minute.
Q: Oh no. You can think of that one right now.
A: Oh man. Let me think. Let me think. Let me think. Coming from my small town, they had to let you leave.
(And right here is where Perryman paused, trying to regain control. His eyes watered and he fell into silence. If he had been a friend as opposed to someone I interview, I might have held his hand. But, I also sensed that something like that would have been too intimate, even if we were friends. Even with me sitting in the room, he needed his private space. I sent his daughter, who was sitting in on the interview, to get her father a tissue. I waited a moment, and then followed up.)
Q: What do you mean by that? They had to let you leave?
A: I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. Well, let's see. Growing up in a small town, you're surrounded by people that didn't have anything, and you were the smart one. They weren't going to hold you back.
Q: Even though they wanted you to stay there?
A: So whatever I do, I think about that.
Q: That they let you go, even though, maybe, they needed you there?
A: Well, they thought I was bigger than that: That I can make a greater impact somewhere else.
Q: Is it their faith in you that makes you feel loved like Dorothy?
A: Yeah. Those are folks that didn't really have anything, but they knew there was more out there for me to do then there was for me where I was from. They still track what I do now, and that's why I never not say where I'm from.
(For the record, Perryman grew up in the small town of Evergreen, Alabama. His father started the Perryman construction business there. Perryman funds a scholarship fund for youngsters from that community to study construction related topics, such as engineering or project management.)
Time to lighten it up, I thought:
Q: So people having faith in you makes a difference. And you are grateful they had faith in you. Am I getting that right? But I thought you were going to mention something about red shoes! Do you have any?
A: No, I don't have any of those.
Q: How about a little dog?
A: I always had a dog. We tried to run away a bunch of times.
Q: You and the dog?
P.S. The Wizard of Oz actually told the Tin Man that part about being loved. My take is that Perryman, like Dorothy, feels a strong pull towards home. But, like Perryman, Dorothy had to leave home to accomplish her great triumph, overthrowing the Wicked Witch of the West and bringing her friends fulfillment.
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