Get Big Fast – Grounded at the Airport

Posted in Get Big Fast at 5:38 pm by The Layman

(Summer 2000)

The US Airways Club at Pittsburgh International Airport was often crowded, but never more so than early on a Monday morning.  The energetic activity defied the aura of exclusivity hinted at by a space dominated by dark wood paneling, marble floors, and soft, indirect lighting.  In reality, with so many travelers armed with expense accounts looking for a place to connect their laptops and make phone calls, the Club offered scant refuge from the frenzied crowds in the terminal.

In the bustling lobby of the Club stood a middle-aged man outfitted in the full regalia of the road warrior.  Wearing a dark navy blue suit and subdued tie, with a black leather laptop briefcase slung over his shoulder and a black 22-inch wheeled carry-on luggage at his side, he did not stand out among the masses of anonymous businesspeople moving uninterrupted around him like water flowing over a rock in a running stream.  Slightly taller than average at a shade under six feet, he appeared younger than his forty-one years, with a full head of light brown hair and slightly puffy chipmunk cheeks.  He walked with the bouncy stride of a former athlete, having played football and run track at a small Pennsylvania college.

However, at the moment, Joseph Gallano was not moving a muscle, because he was staring in disbelief at a bank of video monitors on the wall, specifically the top left monitor labeled DEPARTURES.  The fourth flight listed, US456, from Pittsburgh to New York City’s La Guardia Airport, just had its status changed from DELAYED to CANCELLED.  It was only 7:32 AM, but the day was already starting to look like it would only get worse.  This was the third straight flight to New York City the airline had cancelled this morning.  A cold front was finishing its sweep across the eastern seaboard, dumping a hard, steady rain along the way and wreaking havoc on east coast flight operations.

As a seasoned national account salesman, Gallano held no illusions about modern air travel in this surging economy.  The romance of the dawn of jet service, when folks dressed up in their Sunday-best suits and hats to regally board shiny new jetliners, had long since faded away like the contrails of a high-flying jet.  Commercial airliners had evolved through the years into modern-day express buses, overcrowded with harried business travelers and rowdy vacationers.  Record load factors moving through the hub-and-spoke route system resulted in frequent delays and cancellations.  And that was under ideal weather conditions – add the chaotic whims of Mother Nature’s storms to the mix and whatever benefits gained from speedy jets was outweighed by frustrating delays in the system.

After seventeen years crisscrossing the country selling software, Gallano had learned to take all of this in stride.  But not today, not on the day he was scheduled to make some of the most important sales calls of his professional life.

Gallano was the Senior Vice President of Sales for Atomasis, a young internet software startup company based in New York City.  After weeks of phone calls between executive assistants, emails, and painstaking coordination of multiple calendars, Atomasis had finally secured an opportunity to deliver a presentation before key executives at Goldman Sachs and General Electric.  These meetings represented critical early milestones in the long and complex software sales cycle.  An account executive, or AE, could spend weeks beating the bushes at a sales prospect to arrange this type of meeting and have no success.  Achieving this milestone bestowed greater visibility on a prospect, and sent the sales process into high gear.  High-level executive support did not ensure a sale, but no sale ever closed without executive support.  Most companies did not make multi-million dollar purchase decisions without the approval of some type of executive steering committee.

Therefore, securing this meeting instantly moved this sales prospect into a more visible part of the sales pipeline, and Atomasis increased its attention and effort accordingly.  The Atomasis sales team was even more revved up than usual for these upcoming meetings, because they would be bringing their own heavy hitter, Erskine T. Howell, the Chairman of the Board of Atomasis.

However, everything could all fall apart if Gallano did not make it to New York on time.

But before Gallano could sort out the flight situation, he had to call for backup.  He wedged his mobile phone earpiece into his right ear and punched a button for a preset phone number.

“Joe!” answered a slightly breathless voice into his right ear.

This shorthand, familiar greeting was something his subordinates had picked up from Gallano.  With caller ID on cell phones, they knew when Gallano was calling, and greeted him by name, dispensing with any generally accepted office protocol greeting.  Since they all spoke to Gallano at least ten times a day, wherever they were, a superfluous greeting such as even “Hi” served no purpose.  Once they reached each other, they quickly got to the point, sometimes continuing conversations from earlier calls.

“Eric!”  Gallano replied.

Eric Reidel was the Area Vice President (AVP) of Sales in charge of the Northeast region.  These important accounts were smack in the middle of his area of responsibility, and even though he had assigned an AE to work with them, it was ultimately his responsibility to close the sale.  In other words, “kill it and drag it home,” as the sales guys loved to say.

“Where are you?”  Reidel asked.  It sounded like he was walking around in the city somewhere, judging from the horns blaring in the background.

“I’m at the Pittsburgh airport.  It’s all fucked up here.  I’m not going to make it to New York on time.  They’ve cancelled three of my flights already.”

“Ah, shit.”

“I know.  Where are you?”

“I’m just walking into the lobby of our building.”

“Good.  Look, you’re going to have to do the Goldman call without me.  I should make it there on time to go to GE.”

“OK, no problem Joe.  I’m all over it.”  Reidel’s confident reply effectively masked his apprehension.  He was well aware that Howell, the Chairman of the Board of Atomasis, as well as a General Partner of Kraftmark Littles, was accompanying the sales team to the meetings.  Reidel had heard the stories, as they all had, about how the former White House Chief of Staff whipped the current President’s administration into shape during its first term.  However, he had never actually talked at length with Howell, outside a brief introduction and chat at the sales kickoff event in January.

“Howell will be waiting in the lobby of Goldman’s building.  I was supposed to meet him there at 10:00 am.  Swing by a little early and meet him.  Let him know I’m on my way, that my flights got cancelled.  I’ll call Betsy over at his office and try to get through to him.  He doesn’t carry a fucking cell phone.”

“I guess when you’re a guy like him you don’t need to.”

“Yeah, right,” Gallano chuckled.

“OK, I’ll print out some last minute copies of the presentation deck and head on over to Goldman,” Eric assured Joe.

“Thanks Eric.  Call me when you get there.”

“OK, will do,” Reidel replied as he heard the connection click off.

Once again, Eric was there for Joe when he really needed him.  As he walked up to the front desk to find out what was going on with the flights, Gallano took a moment to congratulate himself on bringing Reidel aboard.  He was one of Gallano’s first hires, an experienced sales manager, polished and smooth.

“Hi, I’m Joe Gallano, I was on 456,” Joe said to the desk agent.

“Oh, I’m sorry about that Mr. Gallano.  Our next flight is US534, departing 8:45 am, arriving 9:30 am.”

“Great, put me on that one please,” Gallano replied resignedly.  What he did not bother to tell the agent was that if this flight did not take off on time, he would probably no longer have a need to show up in New York.


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