Barry Boyce

Gracious and Audacious I met Michael in the early 70s in New York, when he was running the Dharmadhatu on Fifth Avenue (which included being the landlord for some sangha members crashing there), but I really got to know him when I went to work for Metals Economics Group (MEG) in 1988. I did a four year-stint there. I won’t lie. I often found researching and writing about metals drudgery, but I came out of it with a deep friendship with Michael, and was asked to return many times to do work for MEG, frequently directly with him. Michael did something alchemical with MEG, and he did it at least twice. He first took hippie buddhists and turned them into mining industry information professionals, and then in Nova Scotia he created a company blended from come- from-aways and Maritimers, some of whom actually knew something about mining before they came to MEG. One of Michael’s great legacies is how much employment and livelihood he created for so many people, how many careers he launched and boosted. For Michael his buddhist understanding and his work interpenetrated. He believed that meditation sharpened your perceptiveness and made for good information handlers and editors. I still follow what I call the Chender Rule: When you’re reading something you intend to publish, whatever stops you requires investigation, and may need to be changed. The signal feature of Michael at work, though, was his presence. He carried himself with a grace that I think he partly inherited from his father, and an infectious cheerfulness. When he invited you into his office, he most often made you feel like a colleague. I can still see him rising from behind his desk, striding over to greet me, and escorting me to the good seat at the circular glass-topped table by the window. While gracious, Michael was also a no BS kind of guy, down to earth, and he could take any ribbing and teasing you offered. That’s how New Yorkers show the love. While mostly down to earth, he could drift off into an ozone of his own making, which is why it was great if Julie or one of his children could be around. They had his number. Michael excelled at lunch. Though he liked good food well prepared, it was the ritual of it that he was so good at. A good conversationalist, the lunch didn’t drag on, but it was never hurried. He listened well, he scribbled his notes—always with the notes—and shared what was on his mind: sometimes brilliant, sometimes wacky, but never old hat. His mind was constantly generating, like a fireworks display. Sometimes you’d think it was at an end and then another blast of sound and light would spring forth. And yes, it could be annoying, sometimes more than you could handle, maybe more than he could handle. Finally, Michael was audacious. He would stake a lot on a lark. And I’ll end with a little story that illustrates that. Michael concocted the idea of a Titanium Study (this is where Dominique, his indomitable business manager will cringe at the memory). I was put on the case. Honestly, I had to look up “titanium” in the dictionary. It’s mainly used as a pigment, to make things like lines on airport runways shine super bright, and it’s in kind of limited supply. To make this study worth the huge price tag we attached to it, we needed to know the production capacity of the small number of titanium processing plants across the world owned by an even smaller number of producers. This information was closely guarded. After months of digging and prodding, I had nothing. When it was clear we were screwed, Michael sent me on the road. I would have to channel his audacity. Despite being in my early thirties and a total titanium neophyte, I would have to look like someone who knew something that you didn’t. Michael taught me that you don’t pretend to know something you don’t; you simply don’t make a big showing of what you don’t know. Lead with curiosity, learn as you go, fill in the blanks. OK, boss, here I go. My first meeting was at a conference in St. Louis. I had to buttonhole a senior British executive (in a Saville Row bespoke suit as it turned out) and persuade him to have lunch with me, try to get him to share his information, not let on how little we knew. On top of that, I had to persuade him that he ought to buy the study. I ushered him into a limo from the airport hotel the conference was at and took him downtown to the best restaurant in St. Louis, with a view of the Gateway Arch. Michael was in my ear the whole time, figuratively. I channeled his chutzpah. Mr. Saville Row was way too canny, though. He did not budge an inch. No info from him and no purchase, but we got noticed: who are these guys from Nova Scotia? Next and last stop, an actual titanium plant in Baltimore. Here I was to see the supposed guru of the titanium industry, the production manager at this producer, the person everyone said had the numbers. After my meeting with Saville Row, I was not optimistic, but Michael was still in my ear, ever cheerful. I arrive at the plant, ready to meet Bill the Guru, and they let me know I’m going to start with a plant tour. They give me a hard hat and before I know it, I’m wending my way through pipes and vats intermingling in every direction with people yelling over the din, in an impenetrable jargon. They think I know something. Michael in my ear: “Barry, you got this.” The tour ends, I’m escorted into Bill’s office. After the small talk, letting him know how respected he is, etc., I ask for his numbers. “Sure,” he says. “I’m retiring. This is my last day here.” I call Michael. After we share a laugh, he says, “Great,” as if he expected it, as if we had never been an inch away from it all going to hell. “Let’s get him up here. He’s our new titanium consultant.” When I brought Bill in from the airport and into Michael’s office, he rose from his chair, strode across the room, greeted Bill warmly, and escorted him to the place of honour at the circular table. After some small talk and some big talk, we went to lunch.