The nondescript address of 100 Water Street represented a soaring, monolithic skyscraper in lower Manhattan; an imposing structure befitting the headquarters of BancManhattan, one of the oldest, most established banks in this city of banks. If a visitor were to enter the lobby, board an elevator in the elevator bank dedicated to the middle floors, and push a button for the 32nd floor, a high-speed elevator would efficiently send her on a short, stomach-twisting ride up into the heart of the building. Once the doors opened, she would step out into an anonymous, barren hallway lined with threadbare carpeting and light green painted walls. On either side of the elevator, the hallway stretched out, turning into various branches which led further into the floor.
At seemingly random intervals along the hallways stood heavy, locked, metal doors bordered by substantial steel frames, painted a sickly pale green, with access controlled by key card readers. Conspicuously missing were number plates or any other signage to indicate the occupants or function barred by the doors. Perhaps the occupants of the floor belonged to some super-secret government agency which did not wish to call attention to its presence. Or maybe it was home to the bank’s Human Resources department. The last thing anyone would imagine was that behind the pale green doors toiled the employees of a young and trendy internet startup company.
Atomasis was a creature peculiar to the dot-com boom, one of the thousands of companies hastily formed in the rush to cash in on stock market’s insatiable appetite for new internet companies. Therefore, the location of the company’s offices seemed curiously out of place given the nature of its business. A large majority of internet startups established their offices in Silicon Valley, California; or if they were based on the east coast, in Boston, Massachusetts or Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
New York City served as the unquestioned financial capital of the world. Wall Street bankers created, managed, and traded wealth. Of course, one could easily imagine that the financial services titans of Wall Street employed huge information technology staffs and software developers to manage the massive data processing of daily operations as well as to bring to life the complex trading strategies developed by the rocket scientists on their staffs. However, the image-conscious firms carefully kept these techies hidden in their back offices, choosing instead to trot out their traders and bankers as the faces of the firm.
So how did Atomasis end up occupying the 32nd floor of 100 Water Street? Simply because it was a company hatched from BancManhattan’s imagination. And to minimize the startup costs, BancManhattan found some under-utilized office space within its vast tower on 100 Water Street. Since BancManhattan viewed this curious startup as a software company, the bankers treated it like they treated their own IT staffs. As a result, Atomasis’ cubicles, offices, and conference rooms came to reside behind the pale green doors on the 32nd floor of 100 Water Street.
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.
Eric Reidel marched his 6-foot, 1-inch frame purposefully toward the huge revolving door leading into the lobby of Goldman Sachs, the blue-chip investment bank. Tall and athletic, with a handsome face defined by a square jaw and small wire frame eyeglasses, he wore a black, three-button suit with starched white shirt and shimmering silver tie. Reidel had earned a reputation as the sharpest dresser among the five AVP’s who worked for Gallano, and even on the jaded streets of lower Manhattan he elicited more than a few sideward glances from admiring women as he strode smoothly down the wide, busy sidewalk. The former college ice hockey player took his appearance seriously, believing that the first step to attaining success was looking the part. Reidel had worked his way through college selling cars in his family’s automobile dealership; selling was not a mindset, it was a way of life.
Before these big sales calls, Reidel always felt the same potent brew of anxiety, excitement and anticipation bubbling in his core, as if he were back in college dressing in the locker room before taking the ice for a big game. Luckily, staying focused and maintaining intensity had long been a matter of routine for Reidel. When your hockey coach’s teaching philosophy included firing pucks directly at the heads of players who were not paying attention in practice, you quickly learned to maintain vigilance.
This morning, however, an added wrinkle awaited Reidel.
Not only was this a critical meeting at a major prospect, but it was the Chairman’s first big call with the sales team as well. Although his presence ratcheted up the intensity a couple notches, Reidel was secretly thrilled that the Chairman was going on his first calls with the sales team at one of his accounts, in his territory. His patch.
With his leather laptop briefcase slung over his right shoulder and a stack of glossy presentations cradled in his left hand, Reidel danced nimbly through the whirling door without breaking stride. Just before diving into the spinning door, he had dialed up Gallano, who at the moment was following the driver of his car service to the parking garage at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. The skies had finally cleared, and Gallano had cheated death once again, landing safely and – more incredibly – on time at LaGuardia.
Reidel also had an earpiece wedged into his right ear, with the phone securely clipped to his belt. “OK Joe, I’m in the lobby, looking for Howell. Oh, there he is, he’s sitting on a bench reading something.”
“Beautiful,” Gallano replied. Now he too sounded slightly breathless, as he negotiated the morning rush of passengers disgorging from the terminal.
“Hey, he doesn’t look too happy Joe,” Reidel remarked as he glanced at his watch and confirmed that he was ten minutes early.
Gallano grunted knowingly. “He gets ornery sometimes, but you’ll be fine,” Gallano replied without concern.
Reidel walked up to a tall, lanky man in his late fifties sitting on a leather bench against the marble lobby wall. He was dressed in a perfectly tailored, dark gray suit, with glossy black shoes, and had his head down reading a sheaf of documents. He looked up with a flat expression as Reidel approached. His face was narrow and long, set behind round eyeglasses with clear plastic frames resting on an aristocratic nose, and his lips seemed to be permanently pursed.
“Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I’m Eric Reidel, Area Vice President of the Northeast,” Reidel barked out by way of greeting and introduction.
“Where the fuck have you been?” hissed Erskine T. Howell, Chairman of the Board of Atomasis.
Normally, Howell spoke in a soft, lightly accented southern drawl of his native North Carolina, and rarely needed to raise his voice to get a point across. That did not mean he could not muster the ability to make subordinates cower in terror. Reidel was quickly learning that characteristic firsthand. At the moment, pure venom overwhelmed any hint of southern gentility.
“Sir? I was told to meet you here at 10:00 a.m. before we went up,” stammered Reidel. Howell’s opening salvo had caught him full force, and Reidel felt himself wavering like a sailor returning to sea after a long shore leave, struggling to regain his sea legs.
Reidel had intuitively recognized this call as an opportunity to make a positive impression with the chairman of the company. Sales folks were typically measured in the harsh light of numbers: did they make their sales goal, or not, that was all that mattered. Here was a rare opportunity for a board member to observe how Reidel actually operated in front of prospects, and he was already bathed in scathing fire.
Reidel frantically searched his memory for any forgotten instructions regarding the meeting time.
“You were supposed to be here an hour ago, at 9:00. We were supposed to pre-brief before going up. Didn’t anyone tell you?” Howell accused from the bench, like a judge admonishing an ill-prepared attorney.
“Oh, fuck…geez…I’m sorry, Eric,” Gallano whispered into Reidel’s ear. In the midst of his shock Reidel realized he still had Gallano on the line. Gallano was eavesdropping on the whole exchange via the microphone attached to Reidel’s dangling earpiece cord, an unseen witness to the Chairman’s wrath. The heat of the Chairman’s displeasure was no less tempered by the wireless airwaves.
“No, sir. Erskine, I’m truly sorry, I never got the word, otherwise I would’ve been here,” Reidel offered lamely.
“Where’s Joe?” demanded the Chairman, ignoring Reidel’s weak excuse.
“He just got into the city. His earlier flights were cancelled this morning,” Reidel replied.
“That’s great! You guys better get this bush league operation together if you expect me to come along on these calls,” Howell spit out with pure disgust.
“Oh, dear God,” Gallano moaned as Reidel stood frozen.
“Well, what are we standing around here for then? Let’s head upstairs!” Howell then shoved his papers into his brown leather briefcase, stood up to his full 6 foot, 3 inch height, and marched towards the elevator banks.
“Joe, I gotta run,” Reidel whispered tightly.
“I’ll wait for you in the lobby once I get there,” Gallano replied in a similarly strained voice. Reidel hung up on Gallano without another word and scurried to catch up to the Chairman.
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.”
“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.
Get Big Fast is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is coincidental.