I met Matt in the lobby of the Accipiter headquarters. We sat in a corner in expensive replicas of post modernist furniture, sterile, uncomfortable benches made of steel and leather. Marketed by IKEA, designed by Torquemada.
Matt glanced around and then gave me the eye. “So, what’s the approach?”
I looked him over. For an early morning meeting he seemed unusually rumpled. I got the sense he was here more for the excitement of the meeting than on the basis of his expectation of any profitable work. “Nothing else better on the platter this morning?”
“You call and I deliver” he said.
Matt is the Mutt to my Jeff, and if you don’t understand that reference then you’d better ask your grandpa to explain the funny papers to you. While I’m dark and stocky, with a terrible disposition and a wicked sense of humor, Matt’s tall, funny and has a winning way with people. That’s why he goes on all the sales calls, while I do all the heavy lifting. From a distance you’d swear that Matt recently stepped off the boat from Northern Scandinavia. His blonde hair and blue eyes win over all the women, and his “hale fellow, well met” attitude and deep knowledge of the local sports teams always impresses the guys. Me, I have to drink them under the table to wow them, both the men and the women. Unlikely a pair as we are, we became fast friends at a previous employer and grabbed hands and jumped together into this crazy existence as innovation consultants.
“Here’s the straight dope. Accipiter has gotten the new old time religion. The CEO is tired of reading about Tynder and is putting pressure on his team to do something that will demonstrate that Accipiter is innovative.”
“But…” He let it hang there like a smoke ring.
“But nothing. But everything. You know the drill. CEO wants big change, right now. Other executives have other plans, other goals. It’s not clear how this request fits in with the annual plan. A big innovation – that means risk and change. So, we meet with the COO to decide how committed they are to innovation.”
“So, is this more like MedicalTech or ChemStarch?”
We’d been working the innovation angle so long we’d categorized our prospects and customers by our past successes and failures. Simply labeling a client ChemStarch was a death sentence to anyone at Marlow Innovation. ChemStarch had talked the good game, from the CEO on down, about the need for innovation. Yet no one was willing to lift a finger to create change. There were no resources, no budgets and no people. The ChemStarch CEO was convinced he could jawbone the markets into believing his firm was innovative, and in the short term he was correct. After a couple of weeks of fruitless sales meetings, we’d gotten the hint that ChemStarch was very interested in talking about innovation, but had no intention of actually doing anything. I’d made a killing in the market shorting ChemStarch after that. MedicalTech, on the other hand, had been a difficult first sale but had demonstrated a real willingness to incorporate innovation across the board. Within a few months of working with MedicalTech we’d generated several new product and service concepts and trained an internal innovation team. A year later, MedicalTech was now receiving the kind of press most firms could only pay for.
“It has the distinct possibility of being both” I said.
“Here’s the way we’ll play it. I’ll be the sales guy – outlining what we do, our methodology and the effort and costs involved. You, your role is to provide color. Talk about our successes and experiences. MedicalTech would be a good story to tell these guys.”
“Who are we meeting with? Are they the right people?”
“Bill Thompson is the COO of Accipiter. He’s been handed the tablets by the CEO. What we don’t yet know is what’s written on those tablets. Does it say ‘go forth and do innovation and here’s the funds’ or does it say ‘make some noise about innovation but don’t actually do anything’. That’s what we want to find out today. Bill will have a couple of people with him, including one guy who contacted me earlier but couldn’t commit the time to meet. I told Bill we’d only come in if he – Bill that is – was in the meeting.”
“I see the wise grasshopper learned from his ChemStarch experience. Wise innovation leader knows only senior executives able to make key decisions.”
He grinned at me and I made a gesture usually reserved for inconsiderate drivers on the freeway. He shrugged and said, a little more meekly “It’s true.”
We talked about the meeting and the information we felt it was important to provide to Accipiter, and ran down a list of our clients to determine which would be the best references if it came to that. Ten o’clock rolled around and ticked past.
“Mr. Marlow” a voice called out in the lobby.
“I’m Marlow” I said.
A petite brunette in a business suite strode up. She had the carriage of an angry Chihuahua but a bright smile meant to soothe the savage beast. She spoke apologies with her eyes.
“Mr. Marlow, I’m Carol, Bill Thompson’s assistant. He has asked me to let you know he is in a meeting that is running late. I’ll take you to his office and introduce you to the innovation team.”
Matt eyeballed me and mouthed “ChemStarch” under his breath. I nodded.
“Carol, any idea how long Bill will be detained?”
“Hopefully no more than 30 minutes.”
“Is there anyone available we can talk to who can decide if we’ll move forward today if Bill won’t be available?”
“Oh, at this point I’d expect only Bill would be able to determine if we will do business with you Mr. Marlow.”
At this point Matt appeared to have lost control of his eye functions. They were whirling back in an almost exact replica of what I’d received from June at my suggestion that we go away together for the weekend. In for dime, in for a dollar.
“Please show us to Bill’s office” I said to Carol, and elbowed Matt in the side as she turned away.