Considering the pre-meeting pyrotechnics in the lobby, the sales presentation actually unfolded without a hitch. The account executive (AE) and presales consultant had already set up the presentation equipment in the conference room. The audience consisted of senior business unit leaders who knew the drill. This was an opportunity for the potential customer to gauge the long-term viability of a potential business partner and take the first steps toward acquiring a comfort level with the Atomasis team. Howell shined in these types of situations and today performed at his charming best. First, he put everyone at ease by telling some White House stories to open the meeting. He then recounted the story of how Kraftmark Littles arrived at the decision to invest in Atomasis, and hammered home the point that KL believed and, more importantly, would do everything in its power to ensure that Atomasis would succeed.
The AE and presales consultant followed with a brief, high-level demonstration, or demo, of the key features of the software. This was purely for gee-whiz purposes; the technical selection team would spend many more hours in detailed meetings poring through the capabilities of the product, asking the really hard questions. After agreeing on some details regarding the overall direction of the sales effort, and a round of handshakes, Howell, Reidel and the rest of the team walked towards the elevator bank for the trip back down to the lobby.
As the team departed the elevator and rounded the corner, they found Joe Gallano standing in the cavernous lobby. As usual, Gallano was talking on his cell phone, but his gaze remained fixed in the direction of the elevator banks, like a hunter waiting for the retriever to flush the game birds from the bushes. The phone calls deserved his full attention, but the meeting occurring upstairs never strayed far from his thoughts.
Despite these weighty thoughts looming in his mind, Gallano could not help but notice his surroundings. Glossy marble lined every visible surface, enclosing a space seemingly large enough to house a jumbo jet. Presumably, the architects and decorators intended the marble to project strength, stability and longevity, desirable attributes for a global financial services firm. Even though Gallano’s faith in Reidel’s abilities never wavered, given the misunderstanding this morning in the lobby Gallano hoped that the marble did not hint of a tomb at the site of one of Atomasis’ big sales failures.
Howell led the way as the team approached Gallano. Gallano disconnected his phone call and stood chastised, like a mischievous child waiting for his scolding.
“Joe, how nice of you to join us. I understand you encountered some travel difficulties this morning?” Howell asked lightly, but with a noticeable hint of sarcasm, by way of greeting. Howell’s mood had improved significantly after the positive meeting with the bankers, but he was not smiling. He was still clearly furious about being kept waiting earlier in the morning.
“Erskine, I’m very sorry, three of my flights got cancelled. I got here as fast as I could,” Gallano said, steeling himself for the return blast.
“That’s because you live in a backwoods city with shitty air service,” Howell accused. Pittsburgh’s airport was one of the busiest in the nation, and served as the main domestic and international hub of US Airways.
Gallano glanced over at Reidel with a helpless shrug. Reidel grimaced in reply.
“Well, good thing Eric showed up and picked up the ball. He did a great job, and I think we accomplished what we needed to here,” Howell continued with a satisfied smile – finally.
Gallano again glanced over at Reidel and poured out his gratitude, pride and relief with a barely perceptible wink. Reidel tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement.
“OK, let’s go. On to the next one,” Howell commanded as he again led the way towards his waiting limousine. Gallano and Reidel nodded to the AE and presales consultant, who then walked towards the street to take the subway back to the office.
A shiny black Lincoln Town Car waited at the curb with its engine idling, perched to whisk Howell, Gallano and Reidel to the midtown heliport, where the KL helicopter would be waiting to take them on the short flight to GE’s headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut. Dan Gallano, Joe’s younger brother, was waiting at the heliport. The younger Gallano managed the presales consulting team for the Mid-Atlantic region. Reidel had not yet assigned an AE to the GE account; he would handle this one himself.
“Joe, you’re moving to New York. This is bullshit, we can’t have you missing meetings with key clients because your flights got cancelled,” Howell said as he slid into the back seat through the open door held by the driver. Gallano followed, and Reidel rode shotgun in the front seat.
It had been a running joke, Howell teasing Gallano about when he would be moving to New York. Gallano had always held his ground and resisted uprooting his family. It would have been suicidal to renew the debate at this point, but Gallano sensed that Howell had just made his decision for him. Howell quickly shifted his focus back to the business matters at hand, and to Reidel’s immense relief, they debriefed the Goldman meeting on the way to the heliport.
Dan Gallano waited nervously in the office at the heliport, unsure of what to expect. His brother Joe had managed to call and warn him that the Chairman was on the warpath, and suggested he had better be at the top of his game. Dan, at 6-foot in height, stood an inch taller than his oldest brother, and carried a similar athletic frame. In his late twenties, he was successfully fighting off the middle-aged paunch that his brother carried, and wore a neatly trimmed goatee. A seasoned presales consultant, this was the first time he had worked directly with his brother in the same company. Although he reported to the AVP of the Mid-Atlantic, he ultimately reported up into his brother. There were snickers around the company about nepotism when he was first hired, but the fact of the matter was he had proven himself as a damn good presales consultant on several key accounts. He was picked to do the GE demo because Atomasis needed the best resources on the team.
The KL helicopter’s rotor blades were already spinning, and the pilots were ready for takeoff. The chopper was a sleek, late-model Sikorsky S-76, painted a light tan, with KL painted in dark navy blue on each of the sides. It was one of two executive helicopters in the KL air fleet, which also included three Gulfstream G-V business jets that sold for about $40 million each. KL spent another $10 million per plane outfitting the lavish interior with the finest leather, wood, and wool trimmings, in addition to the state-of-the-art communications suite.
Each of the pilots wore navy blue cotton bomber jackets with KL embroidered in white on the left breast. Although the pilots and crew enjoyed the above-industry-standard pay, turnover among the flight crews was high due to the demanding flight schedules of the hard-charging KL bankers. A KL partner could fly anywhere in the world with three hours notice, while within the continental United States, the window was reduced to one hour’s notice. While onboard, the partner could remain in constant voice and Internet contact via the satellite communications system, while a flight attendant served food and drinks.
“So, this is the little Gallano,” greeted Howell with a smile as he approached Dan.
“Mr. Chairman, nice to meet you, sir,” replied Dan as he stood up and returned Howell’s firm handshake.
“All right, let’s get this show on the road.” Howell led the way toward the waiting helicopter.
During the brief flight they reviewed their roles for the upcoming meeting. After Dan finished summarizing his role, Howell looked directly into his eyes, shot him an easy grin, and said, “Danny, if you fuck this up, I’m going to fire you.” Danny’s eyes widened and his face reddened as Howell continued, “If you really fuck it up, I’m going to fire you and your brother.”
Not knowing whether Howell was joking or not, and not willing to venture a guess, Dan nodded solemnly as the color drained from his face. He turned to the window and watched as the helicopter approached the landing pad. His thoughts were interrupted by the slight jolt as the wheels touched down.