01.11.10

Late Night Wars

Posted in January 2010 at 6:36 pm by The Layman

NBC wilted from the force of the rising crescendo of howls from its affiliates and pulled the plug on the great Leno Experiment, announcing proposed lineup changes that would move Leno back to the 11:35 PM time slot and bump Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight” show thirty minutes to 12:05 AM.  Apparently, NBC executives are now left waiting with baited breath while Leno and O’Brien mull over their options.

I am not shedding any tears for O’Brien. He muscled NBC to dislodge Leno from his throne, and now it’s blowing up in his face. Plus, he is unfunny to boot (but not as unfunny as the dreadful Jimmy Fallon). I tried to watch O’Brien’s show during its premiere. After watching him pause after every word to let the studio audience hoot and holler over his supposed “genius,” I had enough and turned the channel. O’Brien should just move to Fox and start with a clean slate.

I an not shedding any tears for Leno either. What goes around comes around, even if it takes almost 20 years after he muscled NBC to dislodge the late, great Johnny Carson. Leno, of all people, should have known that transitions in late night don’t occur without some bloodletting. He should have walked when NBC, cowed by O’Brien’s demands, yanked him from the “Tonight” show, although I don’t blame him now for sticking around and trying to get as much money as he can from the NBC Suits.

Speaking of the Suits, I thought TV executives were supposed to be some of the smartest people walking the Earth. The evidence appears to suggest otherwise.   Do you mean to tell me that an M.B.A. from a top-tier school does not guarantee TV programming genius??

Besides, who really watches TV anymore? TV is just something people have on in the background while they play Farmville and trade insults and catch up with their friends on Facebook.

10.14.09

Redskins Coaching Carousel

Posted in Redskins at 2:01 am by The Layman

Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”  This quote comes to mind as I follow the chaos that has roared throughout Redskins Park in Ashburn, VA like a California wildfire.  After lackluster performances to open the 2009-2010 season, including losses to the previously winless Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, it appears that Jim Zorn will only wear the maroon and black as head coach of the Washington Redskins for the two remaining games leading up to the bye week, during which time Snyder will presumably relieve Zorn of his duties.

While we may safely pencil in a loss to the divisional powerhouse Philadelphia Eagles during the Monday Night Football game on October 26, the scarier game looms this Sunday, October 18, at FedEx Field, against the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs will enter the game with a 0-5 record for the season.  Such a normally woeful record must surely cause the whole Redskins organization’s knees to wobble and buckle, like Superman standing before a glowing chunk of Kryptonite.  Lose to the Chiefs, and the fuming Snyder may not be able to arrest the guillotine until the bye week.

So for now, many names continue to emerge as potential head coaching candidates, men prominently wearing huge Super Bowl “table” rings on their fingers: Holmgren, Cowher, Shanahan, Gruden.  These former coaches all boast the sterling résumés with the sufficient cachet to capture Snyder’s attention and cause his purse strings to snap like strands of twine straining under an unbearable load.

However, as rumors emerge as to the parameters of a head coach relationship that Snyder desires, the words of Groucho Marx begin to echo loud and clear.  As a fan, I do not envision liking any head coach who would agree to come to DC to coach the Redskins under Snyder’s conditions.

Snyder wants to continue to remain heavily involved in personnel decisions and seems adamant in letting Vinny Cerrato continue his role as executive vice president of football operations; in reality, the de facto general manager.  In the best traditions of the city which gives the team its namesake, the town that invented and perfected the art of spin control, Snyder must leave Cerrato in place to provide cover as Snyder continues to experiment with the game he surely feels he can ultimately master.  Like a U.S. Secret Service agent leaping forth to absorb a bullet meant for the President of the United States, Cerrato will faithfully stand up and absorb the wrath and disdain of the fans and media as Snyder continues to accumulate expensive big-name free agents and overhyped draft choices like a fantasy football general manager.  For this, Snyder rewards Cerrato with his very own radio show on the team’s flagship radio station, and the opportunity to throw racquetball games against his magnanimous benefactor.

Thus, the next head coach will have to coax victories out of a team assembled by Cerrato (pssst, it’s really assembled by Snyder).  Why would a coach who has already risen to the top of his profession agree to return to the grueling grind of coaching an NFL team hamstrung by these untenable conditions?  Simply for a long, rewarding drink from the faucet of Snyder’s fortune.

Thus, the next head coach will fly into DC on Redskins One, the team’s private jet, with a hunger to win suppressed by the contentment of financial security for life, and a burning desire to once again climb to the mountaintop soothed by the cooling salve of Snyder’s millions.

The fans will have to deal with the specter of many more years of on-field mediocrity on their own.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

10.05.09

The Parkway

Posted in October 2009 at 11:19 pm by The Layman

Driving down the Parkway on a dark overcast night.  Twin cones of light suddenly knife upwards and rise in the sky.  In the glare of a million candles I watch clouds unfurl, like a motion picture playing on Mother Nature’s own big screen.  The deer continue grazing uninterrupted at road’s edge.  They have already seen this movie.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

Reminiscing

Posted in October 2009 at 11:10 pm by The Layman

Re-tracing a route which leads to a place that no longer demands my presence.  How easily the dormant emotions leap up and wash over me.  My stomach knots at the specter of a deadline which can now only beckon from within the confines of the past.

10.03.09

Get Big Fast – Behind the Pale Green Doors

Posted in Get Big Fast at 12:56 am by The Layman

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.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

10.01.09

Job posting for the next head coach of the Washington Redskins

Posted in Redskins at 5:09 pm by The Layman

Jim Zorn precariously occupies the head coach position for the Redskins.  If Dan Snyder were to fire Zorn and post a help wanted ad, I imagine it would look something like this.

The following represents, of course, a parody.  Because we know when it comes to matters pertaining to the Redskins under Snyder’s ownership, the truth is often stranger than fiction.

HEAD COACH, WASHINGTON REDSKINS (Immediate Availability)

OVERVIEW

Leap straight to the top.  Amaze yourself.  Join a small, elite fraternity of only 31 other NFL head coaches.  Earn more than you have ever imagined in your wildest dreams.

The Washington Redskins.  One of the most valuable sports franchises in the world.  A rich tradition of winning.  An ownership group which spares no expense in the relentless pursuit of excellence.  A front office at the vanguard of scouting, player personnel, and salary cap management.  A rabid, loyal fan base which blindly supports the team through thick and thin and would never boo the home team at FedEx Field.

As Head Coach, you will report directly to the majority owner of the franchise, Daniel M. Snyder.  Do you have what it takes to lead the Redskins to victory under the watchful eye and guiding hand of Mr. Snyder?

JOB DESCRIPTION

Be able to recite the correct team colors in public.

Provide leadership and development of the coaching staff, many members of which, to include the Offensive and Defensive Coordinators, may already be hired by Mr. Snyder.

Provide leadership and instruction on the athletic and personal development of NFL football players of questionable skill levels.  Tailor coaching philosophy and game plans to the strengths of existing players on the roster.

Effectively integrate newly-signed, overpaid free-agent football players on the downside of their careers with the remaining team members not yet eligible for free-agency.

Be able to recite the correct team colors in public.

Meet with Mr. Snyder on a regular and frequent basis to provide updates on the team’s progress and preparation for the upcoming game, to include a full briefing on the game plan.  Contribute to the football education of Mr. Snyder by explaining football terminology and strategies as needed.

Effectively respond to questions from media members, including cantankerous former Hall of Fame players on the flagship radio broadcast team.

Interact with the only two or three favored former players who are allowed around Redskins Park to build on the legacy of this great winning organization.

Be able to recite the correct team colors in public.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS

2 years experience as an offensive or defensive coordinator for an NFL team with a winning record.

DESIRED QUALIFICATIONS

Consistently mentioned as potential head coach material by nationally-recognized football analysts and commentators.  Minimum qualification requirements may be waived if the candidate has received significant buzz as a hot head coaching prospect.

Able to obtain the approval of the majority of posters on fan message boards.

INTERVIEW PROCESS

Suitable candidates identified by Mr. Snyder and the front office will be contacted for interviews.  Before beginning the process, candidates must first sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Candidates will be picked up as surreptitiously as possible at the nearest airport to their home by the team’s private jet, Redskins One.  Once onboard, the candidate will be served a delicious, nutritious meal consisting of selections from the full Johnny Rockets menu.  Due to FAA regulations, the flight attendant will not be allowed to sing and dance to selected musical highlights from the Johnny Rockets playlist.  Candidates are encouraged to visit a Johnny Rockets restaurant as many times as possible after their interviews to experience the full Johnny Rockets dining experience.

After landing at Washington Dulles International Airport, the candidate will be whisked to the Potomac, MD home of Mr. Snyder.  The candidate will stay overnight in the plush accommodations of the guest house on the grounds of the Snyder family’s estate, which offers sweeping, unrestricted views of the historic C&O Canal and Potomac River.  For the candidate’s entertainment and relaxation, the guest house is fully stocked with a complete Blu-Ray DVD collection of movies starring Tom Cruise, one of the most talented and bankable actors in Hollywood history.  In the case of a power failure, backup generators will ensure the grounds remain completely lit and powered so that the candidate may continue to enjoy uninterrupted entertainment.

For the candidate’s comfort and as a valuable souvenir, the candidate will be provided with a set of genuine Redskins pajamas.  Depending upon availability, the pajamas may come with white tops and burgundy pants, or the ever-popular white tops and white pants.  Candidates will also have a choice of pajamas with or without matching burgundy booties.  Candidates are welcome to take the pajamas home with them.  All towels and linens, however, must remain at the guest house.

Throughout the night, the candidate will be interviewed at the guest house by Mr. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the Executive Vice President of Football Operations.  Candidates are reminded to always refer to the owner as “Mr. Snyder.”  Messrs. Snyder and Cerrato will probe in-depth the candidate’s football background, knowledge and philosophy guided by the 30-page questionnaire for which the candidate is expected to have answers prepared in advance.

The following day, the candidate will be given a tour of the team headquarters and practice facility at Redskins Park in Ashburn, VA.  The tour may include a game of racquetball with Mr. Cerrato, subject to the EVP of Football Operations’ broadcast radio commitments.

The interview may also include a visit to FedEx Field, but only if the media has not yet discovered that the candidate is in town for interviews.  The candidate will be flown to FedEx Field on the team’s helicopter, avoiding the inconvenience of the gridlock traffic which fans have to endure on a typical game day.  Thus, the candidate will be able to focus his full attention on seeing firsthand how Mr. Snyder has extracted every possible penny of revenue from the stadium via expanded seating, concessions, and ticket and parking fees.

At the conclusion of the interview, the candidate will be flown home on Redskins One, with a farewell Johnny Rockets meal served in-flight.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

09.29.09

How badly does Dan Snyder want to win?

Posted in Redskins at 4:22 pm by The Layman

An outcome as fathomable as a politician declining a lobbyist’s invitation to lunch occurred for Redskins fans on Sunday, September 27, 2009 when the Detroit Lions defeated the Washington Redskins, 19-14, to snap a 19-game losing streak.  In the bewildering aftermath, the fans predictably rose as one to demand changes, starting with firing Jim Zorn and benching the starting quarterback, Jason Campbell, and not necessarily in that order.

No plausible alternatives appear on the horizon at this point in the season if Snyder were to decide to fire Zorn.  That inconvenient detail may not matter, however, if the Redskins lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home on Sunday, October 4, 2009.

But the swirling tempest emanating from Redskins Park in Ashburn, VA portends a new chapter in the fascinating evolution of Dan Snyder as an owner in the NFL.  Snyder wants to win, as he has repeatedly maintained.   The wrinkle lies in the fact that Snyder wants to win his way, with his hand firmly planted in every part of the process.  Therefore, he continues to dismiss the idea of hiring a proven “football executive” to run his franchise.  That would mean relinquishing control, and Snyder has been there, done that, although it’s unclear whether he still has the t-shirt to prove it.  Snyder granted Marty Schottenheimer complete control during the no-nonsense coach’s combustible tenure with the team.  Just as Coach “Yes, I said Oklahoma Drill” Schottenheimer appeared to turn the team’s fortunes around on the field, Snyder fired him, simply because he could no longer tolerate sitting on his hands and watching the team begin to win without him being directly involved.

So the franchise soldiers on with Vinny Cerrato as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations.  Cerrato boasts decades of experience in football, along with a budding career as a radio talk show host.  This varied résumé does not seem to help him overcome the fans’ suspicions that he earned the role based on his personal friendship with Snyder.

Amid this house that Snyder has built, the hiring of Jim Zorn, a coach borne of an opaque, convoluted search process, makes perfect sense.  First, Zorn was hired as the offensive coordinator, even before a head coach was named.  Two weeks later, Snyder then introduced Zorn as the next head coach of the Washington Redskins.  Perhaps at the time Snyder believed he had completed a master stroke comparable to Bobby Beathard’s hiring of a then-obscure assistant named Joe Gibbs.  But the hiring of Zorn now seems like an ill-fated decision, as it appears Zorn will need more time and seasoning to successfully make the transition from quarterbacks coach to the top spot.

Perhaps one day Zorn will blossom into a good NFL head coach.  But there’s more to being a head coach than play-calling, especially in Washington, DC, where even Senators and Congressman would concede that the Redskins are the only game in town.  The head coach of the Redskins must tread with care at Redskins Park, like a goat herder walking across an Afghanistan landscape littered with landmines buried from decades of conflict. It seems hard enough in today’s NFL to coax multi-millionaire athletes to strive for something beyond their paycheck; that task appears even harder when the players’ allegiance lie with the owner, the man who paid them top dollar.

Zorn seems to be a decent, honorable man, with a variety of interests beyond football.  However, only 32 head coaching jobs exist in the NFL.  At this rarified altitude only the strongest will succeed; those prepared and ready to assume the throne.  In the stodgy business world before the establishment of the World Wide Web, managers accepted the notion that employees got promoted once they have proven that they are capable of performing the bigger job.  That antiquated notion disappeared faster than the time it took for Snyder to offer Zorn the head coaching job.  Success in the NFL is measured in wins, not in how well-rounded, decent the man is, or how much he is able to mold the whole man.  The pinnacle of the profession cannot serve as a laboratory for on-the-job training or a testing ground for possible candidates.  The only person allowed to enjoy on-the-job training at Redskins Park occupies the spacious corner office.

Fans love to debate who among the many coaches wearing Super Bowl rings currently waiting on the sidelines for the next opportunity would best serve as the Redskins next head coach.  Before that happens, a sea change would have to wash over Redskins Park.  Presumable, a coach holding such unassailable credentials would demand some degree of control.  Additionally, any prospective head coach would have to sort out some thorny issues with Cerrato beyond racquetball court reservations and radio broadcast schedules.  And as always, the specter of “past performance does not predict future success” continues to linger over Redskins Park like an early-morning fog.

This convergence of events now brings us to the point where we can clearly see a possible inflection point in the evolution of Dan Snyder as an NFL owner.  How badly does he want to win?  Does he want it enough to give up the reins again and turn over his franchise to a proven winner?

The division of labor represents an economic theory as old as time.  Surely a businessman as astute as Snyder understands this.  Just as much as he likely also believes that he can handle a bigger share of the pie, even one shaped like a football.

How this scenario plays out should prove interesting.  Given the fact that the current team does not appear willing to compete on the field, watching Snyder’s next move remains the only game left in DC.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

09.25.09

Dan Snyder is the Google of the NFL

Posted in Redskins at 6:25 pm by The Layman

My business school finance professor, Dean R. Charles Moyer, once began a class by proclaiming, “Give a manager too much cash and he will do something stupid with it.”  This bold statement instantly captured the attention of a classroom of MBA students, and several lessons emerged over the next hour or so of Socratic discourse.

I recently recalled Charlie’s statement as I followed the turmoil swirling around the Washington Redskins just two games into the 2009-2010 season, several days before a must-win game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, September 27.  The Lions surely have reasons to believe that the team will finally break a 19-game losing streak by beating Washington this weekend at Ford Field.

Daniel M. Snyder, the majority owner of the Redskins, enters his 11th year at the helm of the franchise.  Over that time period, Snyder has hired six coaches, all of whom have achieved a cumulative record slightly under .500, which when viewed under the harsh light of numbers stands as a testament to mediocrity.  To his credit, Snyder has admitted that he made some mistakes early in his tenure, and that he has matured and evolved as an owner.  From a business standpoint, Snyder has done an admirable job for himself and his partners, building the franchise into one of the most valuable sports properties in the world.

Local sportscasters and sports talk radio hosts insist the fans are too harsh on Snyder, that the fans should rejoice over an owner who yearns to win and is willing to spend whatever it takes to achieve that goal, such as rewarding the most prized free agent of the last offseason, Albert Haynesworth, with a $100 million contract.

But thinking about Snyder’s proclivity to use cash as a hammer in search of a nail brought me back fifteen years ago to Charlie’s classroom as I once again ponder his lessons.  Has Snyder just foolishly spent money on a quixotic quest for the Vince Lombardi Trophy?  Is he simply operating with the bedrock conviction of a successful businessman who has built and sold a billion-dollar empire?  Or is Snyder acting more like a driver jumping behind the wheel of a rental car with his friends egging him on to “drive it like you stole it”?

As a fan, Snyder’s free-spending methods have certainly resulted in some unintended consequences.  This brings to mind another teacher, my old computer science professor Dr. Hanan Samet, who used to repeatedly declare in class, with a smile, “There’s no free lunch!”

All that cash Snyder has spent to lure free-agents and coaches to the team had to come from somewhere.

Well, long-suffering Redskins fans who have pored over the lunch bill with a pencil and calculator have found skyrocketing ticket and concession prices, stiff parking fees, and traffic gridlock at FedEx Field.  Add to those appetizers entrees such as filing lawsuits against defaulting season ticket holders, and you get fans who find themselves pushing away from the lunch table with more than a mild case of indigestion.

Some teams have built a culture of winning and stability, like the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.  Other teams have earned a reputation for frugality and mediocrity.  The Redskins under Snyder have developed a culture of money that would have made Gordon Gekko beam.  Players and coaches eagerly join the Redskins to secure a huge payday, not to win.  During the internet dot-com boom of the late 1990’s, the goal of every internet technology startup company was to make it to a successful IPO where billions awaited in a frothing stock market.  After the bubble burst and web businesses evolved into version 2.0, the goals of startup technology companies shifted to the similarly lucrative goal of getting on Google’s radar screen in the hopes that the cash-flush giant would swoop in and buy them up.

Snyder has become the Google of the NFL.

Every NFL player dreams of playing well enough to appear on Snyder’s radar screen and ultimately earning the reward of a rich free-agent contract to play for the burgundy and gold.  Only with the Redskins could a player, Robert Henson, respond to boos from fans by tweeting, “…I still made more than you in a year…”  This attitude starts with the man at the top.

I have moved beyond wishing that Snyder would relinquish control of the Redskins.  That scenario seems about as plausible as a Super Bowl victory at this moment in time.  Snyder is a young man, and fans should expect him to occupy the driver’s seat for the foreseeable future.  For sure, winning would quickly erase many of the fans’ complaints, and Snyder could yet still find himself –  if not adored – at least not continuously blamed for all that is wrong with the Redskins.

No one knows where this journey will end, we can only confidently predict that it will be an interesting ride.  Let’s just hope Snyder doesn’t wrap the jalopy around a tree or two along the way.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

09.18.09

Get Big Fast – Dan Meets the Chairman

Posted in Get Big Fast at 12:30 am by The Layman

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.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

09.16.09

Get Big Fast – Eric Meets the Chairman

Posted in Get Big Fast at 11:53 am by The Layman

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.

thelayman@thelaymansperch.com

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