As corporate directors and executives, most of us don’t wake up in the morning expecting to save someone’s life. The extent of our reach into medicine is more likely about maintaining the health of our boards and companies. But Tom Bakewell, president of Thomas Bakewell Consulting, may have done just that during an NACD Director Professionalism program in Charlotte, N.C.
Bakewell was the dinner speaker during the second session of the day. About 40 people were gathered around a large table to hear his talk about private company boards while also engaging in informal conversation. As Bakewell neared the end of his comments, he noticed a man he had met earlier that day—Robert Barnwell, a professor at CUNY Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business who teaches competitive strategy—looking distressed. It appeared he was choking.
Bakewell started toward Barnwell, who was leaving the room, and asked if he was able to speak. Barnwell made an attempt, but he couldn’t. Bakewell “gently” attempted the Heimlich maneuver three times. “I had never done it before, and nothing was happening,” Bakewell said. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t want him to go down. I’ve got one shot to get this right.’”
Recalling information he had read not long before in his doctor’s office, public service announcements he had heard and his experience working in the health care industry, Bakewell then exerted as much force as he could and managed to dislodge the food object and clear Barnwell’s breathing passageway.
Other NACD members came to help, as well, including Bill Geary, president of Clean Harbors Development, and Kent Kelly, CFO of PowerPlan, followed by the Ritz-Carlton staff. Barnwell said he was grateful that the incident happened where and with whom it did.
“Tom knew what needed to be done, and he administered the Heimlich and got it right exactly when I needed him,” Barnwell said. “Other NACD members were right there and were concerned about my health as well. Had I been anywhere else, I’m skeptical I would have gotten the assistance I needed.”
After ensuring that Barnwell was OK, Bakewell returned to the dinner and finished his remarks. Bakewell said he was incredibly pleased that Barnwell was able to go home to his wife that night. “I was truly thrilled to make a difference and to make this right,” he said afterward. “You act in the moment.” Barnwell returned to the Director Professionalism program early the next morning and noted later that many members inquired about his health. “It was gratifying to see the amount of companionship and caring from NACD, not only as an organization, but as human beings,” Barnwell said. “There was a sincere feeling of caring, and I think it speaks to the closeness of the relationships that are formed through NACD.”
This example of quick-thinking and caring individuals coming to help another is just one illustration of the extraordinary character of our members. The actions of NACD members speak volumes about who we are as an organization. Not only do our members make professional connections, but they also forge genuine relationships through shared concerns and interests. The voice of the director goes beyond business— it’s also the voice of a thoughtful and considerate community. While we have always known that NACD members are exemplary board leaders, we can take pride in knowing they are exemplary citizens as well.