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Mark Ruskin (MBA), a “Business Consultant” for GIP, stretched and twisted in his striped silk pajamas in front of the opened sliding glass door, and looked out into the morning darkness of his Pacific Ocean–facing Santa Monica condo. He had just taken a piss, but still had his morning woody, and he tried to remember the last time he had sex in the morning, and why it had been such a long time since it happened.
He knew there were two kinds of women in Santa Monica, or at least in his condo building. He was clear about which ones he wanted to sleep with. There were the needy ones that said hi to you and the other kind, usually thinner, more elegant and stylish, the ones that smiled slightly or only lifted their eyebrows. Those were the ones. That is what he wanted, that is what he was waiting for! He had seen them on the elevator, in the park, at Whole Foods, in the gym, they were everywhere. He dreamed about having a girlfriend who always looked gorgeous, whose hair was always perfect, yet natural, a woman with that perfect uplift on her breasts, but not too big. Cheekbones, he really wanted cheekbones. That is what he was waiting for.
He knew if he kept a clear head, didn’t compromise, didn’t fall for a needy girl, one that was too quick to say hi or who continued talking too much, those were the ones to avoid…if he could stick to his plan, eventually, when he mastered his professional life, the rest would fall into place. He knew that. It takes money to get a perfect woman and he knew he was on the right track.
5:55 A.M. Mark was getting ready for the call. It was starting to get light out and he saw a strange flash out over the water. A plane taking off from LAX, catching the sun? He reminded himself to take out the trash.
He dialed in. “Hello, who’s on?” It was his boss, a woman who he had never met in person. Her name was Persephone Jackson. The name Persephone was a clue, could she be Greek? Mark didn’t think she liked him. She might be black, he thought. But he couldn’t picture her as black. Persephone…in some Greek myth, didn’t she fuck the devil?
“Mark here,” he said.
“Hi Persi, it is John. Ken just texted me that he can’t make it. Suzanne will join later if she can.”
“OK, let’s get started,” Persephone directed.
Mark’s heart sank a little. Ken Oren was the VP in charge of BD Outsourcing. Big Data. He wanted to get connected with him. “John, why don’t you lay out the project?”
They heard a “BIP” on the line.
“Well, it is a small energy company up in Or-ee-gone…” John began.
“Hi, this is Suzanne, I just joined. I think we can say it is a mid-sized company, John…looking at the balance sheet, it doesn’t sound like much as these things go, but it is a chance to refine our approach, get requirements aligned with the model, analyze strategy. We want to go through the process on a small scale and figure out where we need to focus resources going forward. This could be a big play we use again and again. That being said, here are the main points.
“The company is Northwest Consolidated Electric and Gas. It is an old company, and they have a protected market, a franchise from Oregon to sell natural gas…and electric power. Electric co-ops compete in outlying areas. It is all one big valley up there, isn’t it? Great football team lately. Ducks, right? They are about to break into some new markets. Potential regulatory nightmare, but we have people working that and the state legislature is…”
“But,” John jumped in, “the price for expansion is that they might be losing the lock on their franchise. If they want to grow, they don’t have a choice. They have to take the risk. Furnaces and appliances have IP addresses now and power is getting managed down to the milliwatt. They want to start exporting gas across the Pacific. So they will be international soon and need to get ready for that. They have an LNG plant but no LNG. Can’t convince the regulators and politicians to let them turn it on. They have facilities for storage with a terminal being built on the Columbia, and a pipeline from Canada. They could really take off,” he paused. “Suzanne, what do you think?”
“If any of that is going to happen,” she paused, almost certainly, thought Mark, for effect, “they need to upgrade their whole way of doing business, and their IT department is a Mom and Pop operation.” She stopped. “Hang on, I have to take this…” There was some dead air.
“So what do you think, Mark?” Persephone asked. “Who joined?”
“It’s Ken.” The Big Data VP! Mark’s heart skipped.
“Hi, Ken. This is Mark Ruskin…”
“Oh, you’re the Scout on this project, right?” There was a collective nervous laugh.
“Yeah,” Mark laughed again, this time by himself. “I am going up there on Monday, Ken,” he paused then continued, "Scouting...so John...” Take charge! he thought. “…You were the primary for sales on the Northwest Energy Project?”
“I was not primary, but I am working on it…”
BIP! “Hi, it’s Suzanne again. Did Ken join?”
“OK, do we have a statement of work?” Mark asked.
“No…we have an understanding…” John sounded unsure.
“Do we have a contract?” Mark felt the power coming to him. Don’t let up!
“Oh yeah, yeah, we have you there for three months. But extending it should be doable, if we need to…”
Suzanne was good, Mark thought. She handled all the real work for clowns like John. He remained quiet. Clearly they didn’t know what he was supposed to do, which was fine with him. Mark thought the key was to give them as little as he could so they couldn’t micro-manage him. Let Ken know that he is in charge, not the Project Manglers or the Sales Monkeys. No milestones. The best plan was no plan.
“Our big goal is to provide them a path to migrate their IT services to our facilities offshore. When they grow, we grow with them. There are some other business angles to this but we don’t need to worry about that. There will be staff resistance. It could even get political because of the franchise, etc. They have a Utility Commission…” He wondered who Suzanne was, a business analyst obviously, but she didn’t seem like she was shilling for John like he first thought. “…that controls rates. So we need you on the ground to track all of it and help us come up with strategies to mitigate that resistance.”
“Got it,” said Mark emphatically.
“Excuse me a minute, Suzanne, hold the fort, I have to take this…” John’s phone BIPPed off again.
“In addition to your services, the contract includes the Social Cloud. We threw it in for a three-month trial. Don’t worry about licensing. Six months, even a year free, OK, as long as we make progress. The plan requires, absolutely requires, that they utilize our business tools. The collaborative tools will allow all activity by the entire company, both on and off the job if it really takes, to be tracked and directed to unified goals. All of it, the whole package, has to be implemented. That is your charge, Mark. The first thing is to get some beta testers happy.”
“I’ve heard that we don’t have a product yet,” said Mark, “Social Cloud is really that start-up…Jammit, right? I understand we are still in the process of re-badging it, but it hasn’t been through any integration testing…for smartphone data sharing…”
Shut up, he thought, realizing he was just digging a hole he would have to climb out of. He knew the “Social Cloud suite” or whatever it ended up getting called would get sucked into that massive Ooze that was GIP Software. It had to integrate with this, that, and all the other GIP products, most of which were acquired, none of which talked with each other, even though each of those other products had the same requirements when they were brought in, but none of them had really been brought up to snuff yet. What did work was slow and buggy.
More dead air, about 30 seconds. “I’m back.” It was John. “So where are we?”
“Well, Mark, we can take that offline, but the key thing to remember, ‘Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.’ I think we are done, John,” said Persephone. “Do you have any questions, Mark?”
“No.” Are you kidding, he thought? Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good? Mark looked up the quote on his iPhone. Voltaire? What did he know about software integration? Mark knew that none of the people on the call had any answers for his questions, so he kept silent. Questions would only make more work for him.
He got pinged on GIPtalk. IT WAS KEN!
KEN: Mark, great job! Call me when this ends.
“Mark, get us a plan as soon as you can. We told them we’d start Monday. Can you get up there by then?” Persephone asked.
“No problem.” It was Wednesday. “I’m going to drive my own car up. Any problem with reimbursement?” Mark had a Bimmer; he didn’t want to be driving a piece of shit rental for three months.
“Probably not. Copy me on your first expense report. One more thing,” it was John. “They recently hired a new Operations Manager. He was working for us until last month.”
“Really?” Persephone exclaimed.
“Came out of the blue. He didn’t tell us where he was going when he gave notice. We found out about it from their CFO.”
“What’s his name?” asked Mark.
“Jim Hunt,” said Suzanne. “He was in delivery, a Systems Management guy. Our internal people didn’t have a particularly high opinion of him.” Suzanne hesitated, “And, he used to work there, at the client’s, years ago. So he probably has friends.”
“Have we talked to him?”
“Mark, that would be wrong,” said Persephone, “As well as risky…”
“We have to be careful about tampering, it’s true,” said John. “But as things develop, in the right setting. This is your thing, Mark. Everyone says you know how to handle these situations.”
“So our angel there is the CFO, what’s his name?”
“DeFonzaro, Frank DeFonzaro. He is new to the company so he has to be careful. I understand he has some plans to push. ‘Bum’ Crockett is planning to set up a hostile takeover. Try to remember that we have a solid, long-term relationship with the Crockett Group. DeFonzaro thinks they would be a beneficial partner but he will need to bring his people along on that.”
“Like you say, John,” said Persephone, “we can’t…”
“I know, I know, but it is better to know what is going on across the field, right, Mark?”
“Just,” John hesitated…“Just…let this guy Hunt, Jim Hunt…you got to make sure he is still our guy. Feel him out and let him know if things go well, he will land on his feet. See that he understands the welcome mat is still out.”
“No problem.” Mark sensed an awkward silence. He heard a cough. It was probably Persephone. “I’ll see how it goes.” He knew that the other side of the coin held true too, that a company like GIP could remove a lot of welcome mats, not just at GIP.
“OK, any questions? No? I have another meeting, if anybody wants to stay on–” Persephone said. “No, thanks everyone!”
“Bye.” “Bye” “Thanks.” BIP – BIP – BIP – BIP – BIP – BIP.
Mark got up and walked to his balcony to breathe. Holy Wow! He was reeling and now he had to call the VP. This was becoming exactly what he wanted, MORE! Alright. Mark dialed.
“Ken, it’s Mark Ruskin.”
“Mark. Great job! You ready for this?”
“Absolutely! I think this is going to be a big play for us.” Mark was excited and he didn’t mind letting it show in his voice.
“I have something to add, which I didn’t want to say in front of the rest of the team. We might have another deal in Portland. It is more long term but maybe not. It is not related to the Energy Company play. It is a start-up, a Social Media Company. They are staying completely off radar. They are putting simulations out on the Web which are getting amazing amounts of traffic. It is becoming a bit of a cult phenomenon. You still can’t google them. I have a guy looking into some things and will send you the update as soon as I have it.”
“Great!” Mark was confused. Is this legit? Can’t google them?
“We want you to do some recon work while you are there. Just sniff around. Once you get something, we can darken the skies with people flying into Portland. But we want to know what we are dealing with. It is called SwiftPad. We don’t know what it means, but it looks like they might be doing a business collaborative deal, or even going after Facebook. I’ll send you the details, but it is really only one address and one name, which I do know, and we are looking into one other…Like I said, I’ll keep you posted…We’ve dealt with him before; he is kind of slippery so be on your toes. You will know him as ‘Lonnie Wolfe.’”
“OK, I’ll check it out.”
“For business, you can trust him, don’t be afraid to utilize him. Just…”
“Just what, Ken?” asked Mark.
“Keep on your toes around him, keep it low key. And keep us out of it for now.”
Us? Mark didn’t ask him who us was.
“Understood. Thanks, Ken.”