WORKING THE FILE
The office building was in Brookfield an upscale suburb of Milwaukee Wisconsin. It was a lone building on Bluemound Avenue surrounded by chain restaurants, hotels and a large office park to the rear. The building itself was noble. Although it was only five or six years old it was built to look like a bank from the forties. The interior was suitably luxurious. Designed to impress their rich clientele.
Brian Jensen pulled into the parking lot and parked in the back row where he always parked. He drove a Ford F-150 pick up truck. He got his brief case and pulled the collar of his top coat tight to his chest as the cold winter wind swirled through the parking lot. They were suffering through one of the snowiest winters in a long time in Wisconsin and he carefully avoided the drifts that redesigned themselves with each gust of wind. The nearer to the building he got the higher priced the rows of cars got. Where he parked there were mostly Fords and Chevy’s. They belonged to the clerks and secretaries. The closer rows were Audi’s and Acura’s. The first row was Infinities and BMW‘s. Of course Bills Porsche was in the reserved spot by the door.
Brian was a senior associate in sales. They sold internet management systems. This was his fourth job in the last ten years. Even though he was only thirty one it seemed at times that he had been working in this field for forty years. It was quite competitive. Everybody was doing it and the technology moved so fast that people came and went as fast as a new idea. The sales goals were brutal but the financial rewards were great as well. It was classic what have you done for me lately. The turnover was so fast that Brian with five years in was the most tenured salesperson there.
He went through the ornate lobby to his office that was back in the corner. He liked it that way. Under the radar. The offices along the front were where the clients were entertained and so they were the most opulent. There were at least twenty of them all glass walls and of course Bills was right in the middle. A giant room full of the latest technological gadgets including a 70 inch mondo-pad that they did their presentations on.
The back offices were for the support people. Accountants and clerks, a lunchroom, some storage and Brian. He ended up back there because when the building was first being built they finished the back first. Bill and the rest of the staff were still in the old much smaller building that they rented. Bill sent Brian over to keep an eye on the construction. He took the only office that was completed, it was probably meant for a support person, but he was still there. Bill had never invited him up to the front. Quietly Brian had become one of the top sales people, but he sold the smaller accounts. The small accounts were probably the back bone of the company but they weren’t as glamorous as the whales that the guys up front were after. The trouble with the whales as Brian saw it was that if you got one you were a hero. If you didn’t your were gone. He liked his little world in the back room. He worked hard and kept very connected to the social networks. Linked in and even the chambers of commerce. Almost every day and every night he was out meeting people at the smaller venues. After five years he had a massive tickle file that he worked it like good religion.
He opened his office door and went in. There was one window that looked out on and office park that was between them and the main freeway into Milwaukee. It wasn’t much of a view but it was much more peaceful than the front where the view was the frantic drivers on the always jammed Bluemound Ave. He shook the snow off of his top coat and hung it on the hook behind the door. He bent down with paper towel and wiped the few drips his coat left on the floor. You didn’t want to undersell and you didn’t want to smudge Bill’s floor.
His typical day would consist of getting his first cup of coffee and then hunkering down on his desk to work his files. He would be on the phone for hours and hours working it and working it for that one small sale.
Today was different though. Sarah Gibon’s, a girl he had actually went to high school with was suddenly in a position to make him very successful. They had been in high school together some fifteen years ago. They hadn’t been friends but they knew each of each other. She was more the cheerleader type, but smart. He was the computer nerd. She was very popular he was somewhat obscure but also very smart and so their paths had crossed in some of their mutual classes. He stood out because he had the highest GPA in the entire schools history. It wasn’t football.
When he ran across her at a small Chamber of commerce meeting ten years ago she was trying to get a foothold on a job at Western Mutual Insurance company. He knew a person in personnel there and he called her and she called Sarah. Sarah got the job and they had kept in touch since. She had married and had two kids while Brian was still single but dating a girl from work. He didn’t have much time. Her name was Paula. She was only 23 and she worked in the accounting department on the other side of the lunchroom. She was way underemployed. She was beautiful and brilliant. Something very new to Brian. She had a business degree but had to take the clerk position because of the poor employment market. They had only been dating for a few weeks and they kept the fact very quiet around the office.
At some point over the ten years Brian and Sarah became close friends. Over the years he moved around in tech sales finally landing with Bill. She, however worked her way up through the ranks and was just appointed head of the IT department.
When Sarah e-mailed Brian that she wanted to see him at her office for coffee he had no idea that she was going to give them a chance at their contract. It was a huge contract. Regional. It was big. It was so big that it was probably six to ten times bigger than the entire volume at Data Check, Bill’s company.
Brian was very financially conservative. Instead of having a fancy car he drove the used Ford pick-up and put his money away. When he thought of the staggering amount of commission he would get for this job he had a difficult time comprehending it. It had to be worked carefully though. He could easily go through the bid process by himself. Realistically, however it would be improbable to approach a company like Western Mutual alone. His first meeting there, the coffee one with Sarah, had twenty of their people and just him. Although he had presented himself well he had felt way under armed. Sarah had laughed and insisted that it was the Western Mutual way. Everything was committee. It was a culture that she was use to. She had advised him that everyone that worked at her company felt entitled. They liked to be impressed and felt that, even though no one could run a business as well as they did, they would never the less not deal with those that did not at least come close.
It was such an important deal though that even though he would have to bring Bill and his team in he wanted to run point. Bill was loud and self obsessed. Brian knew plenty of people in the community that didn’t think much of him as a person. The classic big fish in a little sea. He needed a good opening with Bill and it was dropped in his lap when the e-mail priority alert beeped behind him. The email was from Jane, Bill’s secretary and it asked him to come to Bill’s office right away. This was very common. Bill didn’t think that anything anyone else in the world could be doing would be more important than what he had in mind. Did you shovel the snow off the roof?
Brian grabbed his cup of coffee and left his office. He stopped by the lunchroom and filled his cup and slowly made his way to the front area of the offices. Facing the office the lobby was on the left of the building and it was like a small building of its own. If you went down the short hall to the large double wooden doors and went through you entered the fishbowl as it was called. It was all top of the line. Bills office was huge and in the middle with entirely glass lined offices going out like spokes around him. The offices nearest Bill were about half as large as his and they got significantly smaller as they got further from Bill. Bills secretary had an area in his office and when you were summoned you waited in a small waiting area just outside the big office until she came and got you. It wasn’t unheard of to sit there for a couple of hours.
As Brian walked through the hallway past the outer glass offices he marveled at how few of the associates he knew. If someone didn’t sell ,or for that matter fit in they didn’t last long. Brian had always been the exception. He knew that he sold enough to more than pay his way. He suspected that Bill also liked to tout his GPA.
He made his way to the waiting area and settled down on the couch. There was a constant buzzing in the area but all the glass offices were amazingly sound proof because most of the work was done on the phones.
Jane appeared almost immediately and she looked nervous and worried. She almost always looked nervous and worried working so close to Bill, but this was more.
“Jane,” Brian said as he stood.
“Hi Brian,” she said as she leaned towards him and added in a whisper, “he’s in s special mood today.”
“More special than usual?”
“You’ll see,” she said and turned on her heels and led him into the office.
Bill was sitting behind his large glass desk. The room almost looked like a NASA control room and Bill was staring at the large computer screen on his desk. A tall very well dressed man was looking at another screen on the wall behind the desk with his back to the Brian.
Bill looked up and looked at Brian as though he were surprised to see him.
“Brian, we don’t have much time. Take a seat,” he said gesturing towards the round conference table at the other end of the office.
Brian turned and went to the table and took the seat the farthest from the middle of the room. The man turned and looked at Brian. He was tall, at least 6 ft 3 in and very handsome. His hair was jet black and combed straight back with some kind of gel that made it flat and glistening. He walked over to stand beside Bill. Bill was a very short and somewhat paunchy man. He was in his early fifties. He was bald and his clothes didn‘t quite fit. The contrasts between Bill and the tall man were staggering..
“Brian this is Vince,” Bill said as he nodded towards the man standing beside him.
“Vince,” Brian said as he nodded in his direction.
They came and sat at the table. Bill at the head, and Vince just to his right.
“Vince was just hired to take over the operations of the company. See, were getting a little stale around here and we need to shake things up a little bit. Vince has an unbelievable pedigree and we were very fortunate to get him.”
Vince just sat beside Bill and stared at Brian.
“I of course will still be in charge, but I’m going to give Vince a lot of lee way. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m anxious to get some new ideas. Plus I need some time. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I am writing a book on my memoirs. The story of how I built this company. So were turning a new page so to speak.” He paused and folded his hands together in front of himself and looked at Vince.
“The biggest change we want to make,” he started as he leaned forward, “is that we don’t want to focus on the little sales that you do. It’s time for this company to take a step into the big leagues and we can’t waste time and money on little accounts. You know that one of the little accounts that you sell take almost as much support as a whale.”
“Am I being let go,” Brian asked?
Bill and Vince looked at each other.
“No,” Bill said, “you’ve been with me ever since we moved to the new building. What is that? Five years now. I’ll be blunt Brian. Vince has a stable of very hot salespeople he will be bringing in, but I told him you need to have a chance.”
“Thanks,” Brian said as he slumped slightly in his chair.
“We will keep your accounts and you can service them, but we won’t take on any more of that size. We will let them slowly disappear through attrition,” Vince said.
“You know some of the small accounts have become big over the years. You know, ah, as their company grows,” Brian said.
“Were not here to discuss the strategy. Were here so I can direct you on it. Is that clear,” Vince asked as the muscles in his forearms tensed?
Brian could see that Bill glanced at Vince at that point and smiled. Like a proud dad.
Vince stood and walked stiffly over to a spot closer to where Brian sat.
“Were moving you to twenty. Your office is going to one of our employees that we want to recognize for her achievements in operations Maybe train her in sales. The move will take place over night. So as of tomorrow morning you will be set up in twenty. You know the quota system here. You’ve got thirty days to make quota and stay on. Any questions?”
Brian hesitated. He looked around the room quickly. “I’m working on a big account, a whale” he said then paused before adding, “a really big account, probably the biggest available in the state.”
Bill and Vince looked at each other. Vince walked back around to his original seat and sat down.
Vince leaned forward putting his weight on his arms. “Tell us about it.”
“I have a business associate that just recently got promoted to the head of IT at Western Mutual. She’s talking of bidding it out.”
“That doesn’t seem to fit,” Bill said. “They are known for doing everything in house.”
“That’s just it,” Brian said as he sat up straighter and leaned over the table, “they are outsourcing everything they can. The new plan. Everything from janitorial to food service, and IT.”
“You could have something here Brian,” Vince said, “but let’s not jump the gun. If what you say is true this is going to take some thought.”
“They have quite a culture over there,” Bill said, “I met the President at a fund raiser once.”
“My uncle is best friends with the governor,” Vince said, “and the governor and the President of Mutual were neighbors.”
Brian took a deep breath. “I got the contact, I want the credit and the point on this.”
Bill looked at Vince.
“Look, you get back to your office and e-mail us everything you have on this and we will get back to you on the plan of attack. In the mean time get ready for your move.”
They both stood. Brian got slowly to his feet. He waited expecting one of them to add something. They didn’t and so he turned slowly and left.
He went back to his office and downloaded his entire Western Mutual file and reluctantly sent it to Bill.
He spent the rest of the afternoon packing his things and moving them up to the small glass enclosed office at the far end of the area. He could tell that everyone was watching him. The office was the smallest and the farthest from the lobby of any of the others. It was well known that the office was reserved for the newest guy. It was also known that very, very few made it from that office to the next. Typically they were unable to make there first months goals and that’s all it took for them to be let go. There was a never ending line of business graduates waiting to get a shot at number twenty.
Once settled he went to work like he always did. Working his files. He had a huge computerized file of his present customers. He called them at pre determined intervals. He also had a huge list of potential customers that he had gleaned from his social networking and he called them at pre determined intervals. As he was working he began to google the bigger business targets and build a new tickle file on them.
The week went by with no word from the big glass office.
Back at his apartment for the weekend he called Paula and for the second time she made some excuse for not seeing him. He figured it out that Monday at work. She had been moved into his old office. Vince seemed to be back there more than he was in his own office next to Bill’s.
Brian started to skip getting coffee in the lunch room in order to avoid them both. He worked his files. Three weeks left to make quota and still no word back on the plan of attack on Western Mutual.
His text message alert went off on his private phone. He hoped it would be Paula . It was a text from Sarah.
“Could we meet for coffee this afternoon. Very important.”
He read it twice and then typed back. “Sure, where?”
“Coffee shop at the Phister. Two o’clock?”
“See you there.”
At one o’clock he went through the email protocol that was required for a sales call outside the office.
The other sales people had quit watching him. Now their eyes avoided him as if he had the plague. After all, he was next. He walked out to his pick up truck and drove down town. He parked outside the Phister. He was about a half hour early so he went on line with his phone to research a couple of the whales that had actually showed some interest. He had a chance to make that first month quota.
At five minutes to two he found a booth and ordered a coffee. She came in about two thirty.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said as she slid into the booth without taking her top coat off. She ordered her coffee and then rethought the coat and got up and quickly took it off and hung it up.
“There,” she said as she clasped her hands on the table in front of her and sighed.
“So, how are you doing Brian,” she asked?
“Just fair,” he returned, “things are a little weird right now.”
“I’m very disappointed in you,” she said her eyes boring into his.
He looked at her in surprise and took a tentative sip of his coffee. “What, uhm, what do you mean Sarah?”
She looked down at her hands as she spoke, “I got a visit from my boss today. Your dog and pony show, the one behind my back, had a meeting with Johnson, our company president. They asked if he would help them get the contract. Friend of a friend thing.”
“Oh no,” Brian said. “Sarah, I’m sorry . You have to believe me. I knew nothing about it.”
“So it makess me look really bad. Here I am giving you information about a bid before I’ve even sent an RFI.”
“Sarah, all I did was tell them about the opportunity. They said the next step was to put together a plan. I was waiting to hear from them. I had no idea.”
“Well, your owner and some black haired vampire and his little black haired butter cup gave Johnson the schmeel,” she said.
“Paula,” he said.
“What,” she asked?
“So my boss comes to me, and I’m ok, but here’s how it works at Western Mutual. Mr. Johnson does not interfere with our decisions and told my boss that he would actually be happy if I chose to not let them bid at all. Think about it. They go over my head. Already? What makes me think your company will listen to me when I try to implement the program?”
“Sarah, I’m so sorry.”
“So, I’ve decided to not let you guys bid. You won’t be on the bid list.”
“Do you want to tell them or would you rather I did,” she asked?
“I’ll call Bill later today.”
She slid out of the seat without ever having taken a drink of her coffee and put her coat on.
“I wish this would have worked out better.”
“Can I call you next week?”
She stood there thinking. “Give it a little longer than a week.” A small smile snuck onto the corner of her mouth. “I do believe you, but I can’t afford this kind of thing on my record. It will take them a long time at that company to forget it.” She turned and walked out.
Brian drove back to his office and went in. Bill was in the lobby talking and laughing quietly with the receptionist. He turned and looked at Brian.
“Hey Brian,” he said as he walked over to where Brian stood. “I want you to know that I do appreciate the tip you gave us. We had a great meeting with Johnson last week. I have to tell you if I can read anything, anything at all I would say we got that account,” he said barely able to contain his excitement.
He looked at Brian for and uncomfortably long time.
“Good,” Brian muttererd.
“Listen Brian,” he continued, “I don’t want you to worry. No matter what Vince thinks there is going to be a little something, something in this for you.” He smiled broadly as he delivered the information.
After a long pause Brian said, “thanks, Bill, thanks.” Brian turned and walked down the long hall to twenty. He sat staring at the bumper to bumper traffic lurching its way down Bluemound Ave. Finally he reached over and turned on his computer. He brought up the tickle file for prospective accounts and reached for the phone and started working the files.
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