In Renaissance's first excursion into the serial world, we meet Kurt Smith, consultant. The following is his story - the first in a five part series. Sit back and enjoy.
JON MICHAEL WARSHAWSKY is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. "Carpe Per Diem" and Kurt Smith are products of the author's imagination.
Lipstick and Coffee
"When you don't have the slightest clue what someone is saying, stop nodding your head."
Anders & Yount occupied floors 17 through 20 of the Iowa Gas Building in Cedar Rapids, about an hour drive from the Yukon campus. It was one of those buildings that had been pretty trendsetting in the 1960s, and not a hell of a lot had been done since then. The Iowa Gas Company had this museum in the lobby, which featured early color photographs of their overweight employees, many of whom sported short polyester ties and tremendous tufts of arm hair. The Iowa Gas Company had garnered more than its share of bowling trophies over the years, many of which had been generously donated to the museum so that they could be shared with visitors forever.
I was wearing my one and only Armani, my $180 Italian tie and about a quart of cologne. I brought an extra copy of my resume in this beat up leather portfolio I had borrowed from my roommate Steve, although it seemed a lot to lug around to carry one sheet of paper. I didn't want to look like an idiot fresh out of school, so I picked up a copy of Forbes at the magazine stand out front before I hopped the next elevator.
Anders & Yount had an impressive lobby with a slate floor, huge modern watercolors on oak block walls, and an abstract bronze sculpture that was supposed to represent war heroes in battle but ended up looking like four monkeys in helmets having sex in a Jeep. Whatever it was, it was unattractive.
The receptionist, a sultry brunette in her late twenties, was on the phone, one of those headsets that are the rage on late night television ads for fitness equipment. She had on about a quarter of an inch of Where's-the-Fire red lipstick and made a big point out of puckering whenever she said the letter O. Apparently someone had seen the value in having all the male visitors thoroughly hot and bothered by the time they had checked their coat and signed in. I saw the consulting firm's logo in polished brass letters on the wall, so I was pretty sure that I hadn't accidentally walked into some phone sex outfit that shared the floor with A&Y.
"Good morning," she said. I was picturing her throwing a sheet back as she said it. "Who are you here to see?"
"I'm here for an interview with - wait a second." I pulled the dog-eared envelope out of my portfolio and found the interview schedule. "Stacy Horney."
I checked again.
"Stacy Horne," I said. "Must have been a typo."
"Have a seat and I'll let Stacy know you're here."
The waiting area consisted of four art deco chairs, about three feet away from the receptionist's desk, surrounding a low glass table filled with Anders & Yount brochures. The managing partner, a smug-looking guy whose eyes always seemed to be saying "don't fuck with me - I make an incredible amount of money and fire fresh college grads like you more often than I take a piss," looked up at you from the inside cover of every brochure. Every brochure talked about architecting the future, leveraging knowledge capital, and a slew of other expressions that basically meant that the firm dealt in abstractions and didn't really make anything. Except for boatloads of cash. They definitely made that.
About half an hour later Stacy Horne arrived. She had been on an incredibly important conference call that had started at eight in the morning and had just ended. Stacy wore a tight red suit coat and a skirt so perfectly pleated that you could seriously injure yourself by brushing against it. She was athletic, blonde and about my height, maybe an inch shorter. I weighed the risks. Brushing against her skirt wouldn't be the worst experience.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," she said. "Do you need coffee?"
I hated coffee. It was bitter, it stained your teeth and it was supposed to ruin your brain after a while. I always thought of coffee as a lousy national bad habit left over from the Leave it to Beaver era.
"Coffee'd be great."
We walked down to the coffee room. There was a big stainless steel machine with fake wood stickers on the side that looked like it would be the coffee maker. There were a bunch of stained mugs around it and a nasty-looking glass pot sitting in the machine, with a repulsive stream of dark liquid dripping into it. It reminded me of the urinal ritual at Yukon U. I finally figured out how to dispense coffee from the machine, poured several gallons of milk into an Anders & Yount coffee mug and ended up with some combination of sugar and milk that obliterated whatever kind of coffee I had initially poured. I tried to stand between Stacy and the coffee maker the whole time. Any idiot who couldn't serve himself some coffee could never cut it at a big name firm like Anders & Yount, which had 38 percent annual growth and dominated the market in 41 countries.
We walked back down to Stacy Horne's office, where she sat behind her desk and crossed her legs. Then she slipped a manila folder out of an Anders & Yount portfolio and started reading while I watched her legs. She passed a visitor schedule over the desk.
"We've arranged for you to meet a few people from our practice today," she said. "After our session this morning, you'll talk to Craig Bendermore, a manager in our consumer bath products service line. Then you'll have lunch with David Lotz and Reinhard Stosselberger, two consultants. After that, we'll give you a brief tour of the office, then you meet with Mark Bradstreet, the HR guy - he's always on the phone - and finally you'll chat with Greg Oz, the office managing partner.
"You look very professional," she said, nodding at my suit.
She knew I hadn't worn a suit since I was twelve.
We sat in Stacy's office for about an hour. She uncrossed and re-crossed her legs six times. It sounded like Anders & Yount was growing faster than anyone had imagined. The firm was desperately short of the skilled people who would help the practice grow and continue to dominate the world. There was no way in hell I could ever hope to contribute to such a technology-oriented business.
"It sounds like I'd fit in pretty well," I said. "I'd like to be part of a growing company."
Christ, I might as well have dumped the milk-coffee mixture over my head right there. I continued to say stupid things for another forty five minutes, but most of the time I sat there watching Stacy's legs while she talked about how she had been in consulting for a couple of months before switching to the human resources side about nine years ago.
"We work with a lot of leading edge technology companies," she said. "Our clients expect a lot out of our consultants."
Not the one where I'd be working.
"I've always thrived on challenges and new experiences."
I just hoped like hell I didn't vomit all over my brand new Armani. It was getting pretty thick in that office. I was glad when the hour was up and some low-level analyst stuck his head in the office walked me down to Craig Bendermore's office.
Bendermore was a snotty-looking, brown-haired guy who had played a lot of college sports before moving on to the hard-drinking, frequent-flier world of systems consulting where he had become more mature and in addition acquired a noticeable beer gut. He was well over six feet tall and had the grace of a guy who had once played a lot of college sports and was used to high-fiving everybody before he started drinking and flying all the time. He had a couple dozen plaques on his office walls celebrating his software sales achievements. Pretty exciting stuff, this. Something to tell the grandchildren about, when they're laid up with the flu and can't go anywhere.
We talked for about an hour, mostly about Anders & Yount's remarkable growth and how you could be all that you wanted to be at the firm. He spent a few minutes talking about the equal opportunity aspects of the firm, which was pretty important until you noticed we were a couple of college-educated white men, then talked about himself for a while. I nodded and tried to slip a word in every once in a while.
"Travel's a big part of the job," he said. "How do you feel about travel?"
"It would be exciting," I said mechanically. I really could have slept through the interview and played a tape of answers. "I think travel is broadening."
"That's good, because you can expect to be out of town often, maybe as much as seventy five percent of the time. Some guys are out of town one hundred percent of the time, and it can get higher than that for the real road warriors."
"I've always said you can't have a serious career without getting on a plane," I said.
"You may hear some negatives about Anders & Yount," Bendermore said. "Especially the article in the most recent issue of Forbes. It's a lot of crap, if you ask me. I found a copy of the article in the lunchroom the other day and was just about ready to pummel the guy who brought it up here. We damn well take care of our people and our clients." He shook his head violently. "Have you seen the article?"
"No." I kicked the leather portfolio back behind my chair. "It's not my kind of journalism." Bendermore smiled and shook his head.
"There's always a headstrong young writer eager to make a name at the firm's expense."
We wrapped up the interview right at lunchtime, when two much younger guys in suits stopped by to escort me to lunch. I shook hands with Bendermore, who introduced me to Lotz and Stosselberger.
David Lotz had a hip haircut, cropped short underneath but long and floppy on top. Someone had broken his nose a few times when he was younger, so he looked tough despite being blond and tan. Reinhard Stosselberger was a dark German whose English was awful. He could have walked out of a mediocre car ad or a late night World War II syndicated television series. I kept waiting for Vic Morrow to walk into office with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and bullets flying. Stosselberger had written his first operating system in junior high, created his first web site a year later, written his first artificial intelligence application in high school while his classmates were struggling with BASIC and finally, five years later, had lost his virginity with some exchange student at engineering school.
Lotz and Stosselberger weren't the happiest guys on the planet, but they figured to get a free lunch out of the whole arrangement and led me over to the Pasquetti is Retti, a painfully hip pasta and salad place on the top floor of this office building overlooking a big, flat part of Iowa. I definitely was not in New York.
Lotz and Stosselberger were especially qualified to take me out to lunch, because they happened to be the only guys who were not working on anything at the moment. Other than that, however, we had nothing in common and I could tell our hour together would rate no higher than a one-visit root canal and wisdom-tooth extraction under local anesthesia.
"So you're at Yukon University?" Lotz had read my resume. Stosselberger ordered this heavy European beer that looked like it could have come out of a Pennzoil bottle and downed it before I had gone through the menu. I had taken a bite of the hard-crusted bread, which refused to be broken even after a minute of spirited chewing.
"Yes," I said, trying desperately to swallow at least a bit of the elastic bread.
"That's great. You know, I had a buddy who did the Iditarod in school. Nome to Anchorage on a goddam sled, can you believe it?"
YUI wasn't a big name school, and Lotz was from the west coast.
"Actually it's Yukon University of Iowa," I said. "It's about an hour and a half drive from here. But I saw part of the race on ESPN."
We all ordered the obligatory pasta dish, which came on huge purple and blue plates. It was basically boiled pasta with some tomato sauce and a really arty splash of parmesan cheese that covered the plate. My food preparation skills ranged from almost anything that came in a can to almost anything that came dehydrated in a cardboard box, but even a complete kitchen-disabled moron like me could have assembled the ten-dollar production on my plate. At least the waiter was attentive. "More drinks for any of you gentleman?"
"Ja. Schnell," Stosselberger mumbled impatiently. He was on his second by the time I started eating.
"So, how long have you worked at A&Y?" I figured I should at least try to act interested.
"Two years," Lotz spat out between bites. He had sharper teeth than I had and finished his piece of elastic bread before I could tear off another corner. "Started in the Business Process Reengineering Group, moved over Business Process Methodology Realignment, then about a month ago I went to the Advanced Business Process Realignment Implementation service line, but it's all part of the Business Process competency line within Process Deployment."
"That's great," I said. I took another sip of my Diet Fresca. I don't know how the hell I got a Diet Fresca. I had asked for a Diet Sprite. They might as well have brought me a goddam Tab. "Sounds like you can move around within the firm to find what you like."
"Absolutely," he said, twirling his spaghetti. "Where I really want to go is the Business Application Systems Group that's based out of Tucson. That's where the serious action is. That's Danny Pei's group. Heard of Danny Pei?"
I shook my head.
"Guy's amazing. Ten years out of school, yacht the size of the Titanic."
It was basically a stupid analogy, but I was still working on the elastic bread and it was a minute before I could talk and many more minutes before I said anything intelligent. "You want to move to Tucson?"
He shook his head as if I had said something incredibly stupid. "No, I want to transfer to Boston," he said. "I'm seeing this girl back there who I used to go to school with at UCLA. You can live anywhere you want when you work for the firm. You'll just be on a plane more."
Stosselberger barked something else in German to the waiter, who didn't understand until the stern consultant made some kind of gesture with his pasta-stained napkin and waved his half-empty beer bottle in the air. "You fly a lot?"
"I'm Presidential Platinum Premier Plus on Iowa Air."
"This girl I know, Stephanie, she looks like Cleopatra - we're going to Corfu next weekend on free flights. Last week we went to Morocco."
"Month ago we flew out to LA, hit Venice Beach for the afternoon, then flew back to Boston for dinner Sunday. Then I went back out to Buffalo for work Monday."
We finished lunch. I still didn't know much about Anders & Yount, but I really needed a job, and it was somehow reassuring to talk to a firm that seemed more confused about what it did than I was about what I wanted to do.
Lotz and Stosselberger brought me back 15 minutes late for my one o'clock appointment, which turned out to be okay, because the HR guy I was supposed to talk with before my office tour was on the phone and had been all morning. He just stood there with the phone on his shoulder, facing out the window, taking in all of Iowa while he crossed his arms. My lunch companions had left me in the lobby near the coat closet, where I might have stayed for months, except that a portly girl named Claire stopped by and asked if I was one of the recruits. I told her I was, and this bought me a worthless tour of the office. Claire told me it would be worthless before we started, so at least I wasn't disappointed.
"So, these are the filing cabinets where the partners keep their stuff," she said as I watched her back. "And over here are the managers' files. Lot of files in the office. We have a lot of manila envelopes in the supply room, so people usually take a bunch of those, write on the tabs and keep them in their files."
The office was set up with individual executive offices around the perimeter and cramped, dark cubicles packed into the middle section. There were a lot of cardboard boxes stacked in the cubicles, and almost no one used them. They were pretty depressing anyway, waiting rooms with the simple kind of telephone you would have seen in a house ten years ago.
"I'm in this cubicle over here," Claire continued. Then she turned to me and apologized. "I know, this is so boring. But we've got another twenty minutes until you're supposed to see Mark Bradstreet, and he's always on the phone."
By three o'clock I had been back in the reception area reading magazines for over an hour before the HR guy came out all flustered. Some important-looking guy named Greg had left for an urgent client meeting, so I figured I had seen all I was going see of the great Greg Oz. The HR guy was going to be my last interview of the day. He was the walking dress code for the firm, with a white shirt, navy blue suit pants, black wingtips that held a surreal shine and a tie so conservative you had to look at it about six times before you remembered whether there was a pattern on it and what the pattern was. It was kind of a geometric design, with dark green squares with some kind of beige prism things floating over the squares, and kind of a textured cross-hatching behind them, which you could hardly see because the texture blended in with the gold background. The squares actually started to look like rhombuses after a while.
"Kurt, sorry to keep you waiting, but I'm always on the phone" the HR guy said. "Mark Bradstreet. Neat tie, isn't it?"
"It's great," I said, amazed at how idiotic the conversation had become.
I followed Mark Bradstreet back to his window office and sat down across from him. He had quite a large number of paperweight clocks. I could hardly stop counting long enough to look intelligent.
"Lot of clocks," he smiled. "I tell you what, you've been with the firm long enough and they really stack up. Kurt, can I get you some coffee?"
"No, thanks, I'm fine."
After a few more minutes of meaningless banter, we finally started what seemed like an interview.
"Kurt, Anders & Yount is growing rapidly. We're looking for team players who can deliver the kind of knowledge capital our clients need to achieve a more value-added position in their industry. You'll have the opportunity to leverage the worldwide experience of a global organization to help our clients realize the potential of emerging technologies to attain a sustainable position of leadership in an increasingly global market."
"That's kind of what I'm looking for," I said, leaning forward until I thought I would hit my chin against the edge of the desk. "I want to work for a firm that builds integrated solutions for global clients, understanding the synergies between their global value and core competencies while unleashing their emerging technology potential."
|Copyright ©1998 Jon Michael Warshawsky. Reprinted by permission of the author.|