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Post Carly Fiorina and Ross Perot
Created by John Eipper on 11/27/14 9:43 AM

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Carly Fiorina and Ross Perot (Randy Black, USA, 11/27/14 9:43 am)

Per John Eipper's question as who among us might have met Carly Fiorina (see Ric Mauricio, 25 November), I've only had the opportunity to hear her speak on one occasion in about 2000 when she was CEO at Hewlett-Packard. I was working as the director of video production for a firm that handled the special event at which she spoke.

She was powerful presence in the room and was well received. However, while I've not met her, I've worked for a CEO whose ego is at least as big but who has a human touch despite the mischaracterization of the media.

From 1982, I worked for H. Ross Perot for about three years when he was CEO of EDS, the company he founded in 1962. During that time, I had fairly regular exposure to the man. He did not "tell" us what to do; he asked (demanded really) what we were doing and did we need additional tools and provided them. He'd scold people who asked him to make a decision that he expected them to make. I got one of those scoldings and it was brief and respectful but believe me, I did not make such a mistake again.

We were expected to get the job done "come hell or high water." The biggest sin was missing a deadline. Virtually nothing else could get you terminated, except perhaps drug abuse.

On the matter of formalities, he was "Ross" first, last and always to his troops. You were allowed one "Mr. Perot" and he'd gently correct you with "Call me Ross." It took getting used to. The next time you called him Mister, he'd get angry. You did not want that kind of attention.

Hard work was not reason for a raise or bonus, according to one of the HR persons. "Great work is the standard," she once told me. "Anything less is substandard and might get you run off," she added. However, he did reward his troops in ways that no one in the outside world ever heard of.

In the early years, he once discovered that a key person on a major project was absent from work because the man's wife was facing a difficult birth and needed her husband by her bed. Complicating the issue was that the key absent employee had been with EDS only two weeks and his medical insurance had not kicked in.

Ross called the US Surgeon General and asked who the best OB/GYN was in that part of the EDS world. Ross called the physician and told him "go fix the problem and send me the bill." I know this because that EDSer told me about it for a story that I wrote about Ross Perot years after the fact. I also met the man's young son who almost did not get born. I still have the photos that I took to go with the story. A few years later, when Ross asked for volunteers to form a team to extract two EDSers from that the Tehran prison during the 1979 revolution, that EDS employee who almost lost his son at birth was at the head of the line of volunteers. That's the kind of loyalty that Ross inspires.

He donated hundreds of millions to charities and expected no recognition. More often than not, he'd make donation and then put another EDSer's name on the building. He never asked for a "thank you."

Away from the office, I found his nature humble and warm. He drove himself everywhere he went in a Chevrolet sedan, despite the threats to his life from everyone from the drug cartels in Texas that he at one time helped dismantle via his work for the Governor's War on Drugs campaign or the leaders of Iran after Ross personally helped rescue two of his employees who were imprisoned and threatened with execution by the revolutionary guard.

The man listened to his staff, the guards at the door, the custodians, the systems engineers, and all the rest. His sons and daughters all had summer jobs at EDS working the chow line in the employee cafeteria or washing dishes in the back. Nothing was plastic except the flowers on each table, which we joked was where security planted the microphones.

Once, when the publications staff had finished and published the annual reports and the 10-Ks that had to be mailed to the stockholders by a certain date, we found that our in-house automated envelope stuffing machine was broken down.

On a Friday at 3 PM, our 9-person communications staff started stuffing. When the boss said that no one goes home until this is done, someone said they'd order pizza delivered later. Wives, husbands and significant others were called and told not to expect any of us home anytime soon.

11,000+ annual reports, cover letters and 10-Ks were the task and the many boxes of 8.5x14 inch, pre-addressed and pre-stamped envelopes seemed to never get smaller. About 5 PM, Ross strolled in, asked what was going one and took off his business suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves and stuffed envelopes with us with few words. We got the job done as a team. That was his mantra.

I've got dozens of stories of Ross's ability to motivate and nurture people around the world but you'd be asleep before I'd finish. It's safe to say that there are many like me who share our feelings of respect for the man's integrity, skills, patriotism and foresight. He's an American classic. I wish we had more like him in our nation's government.

JE comments:  A great, inspirational story for Thanksgiving. 

Now, it's time to feast.

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  • Ross Perot (Tor Guimaraes, USA 11/28/14 2:40 PM)
    I read with interest Randy Black's glowing opinion of Ross Perot (27 November), an IBM salesperson who learned that good, useful, well serviced application software could easily become a gold mine: EDS. Sometime in the 1990s Mr. Perot came to Fleetguard IT headquarters in little Cookeville TN. As a consultant to Fleetguard, I was invited to the meetings where EDS was trying to sell a contract for software services to Fleetguard. Mr. Perot was there providing "moral" support to his company's sales team.

    Needless to say in the 1990s Perot was already a positive celebrity for many of the things that Randy described. For those of us comfortable with strong domineering personalities, Perot was a very powerful yet down-to-earth leader. He was able to project an image combining the personalities of a super wealthy powerful uncle with one of a goal-oriented military leader. Indeed it was hard not to admire the man.

    On the other hand, Mr. Perot's resources and capabilities were so impressive that I began to study him not for his and EDS's many successes, but for the failures. For example, why did EDS failed to get the Fleetguard contract, important enough to get the master's personal attention? More important, what really happened in Mr. Perot's campaign for the Presidency? The first question will always be hidden from the public due to business confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, but can Randy Black shed some factual light on the second question?

    JE comments:  Well, Mr Perot was swimming against 150 years of US political history with his independent presidential bid.  The biggest takeaway from his two runs for the White House:  a business maverick does not have the skill set required for national politics.

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    • Ross Perot and Presidential Politics (Randy Black, USA 11/29/14 3:52 PM)
      Regarding Tor Guimaraes's comments on Ross Perot (28 November), John Eipper's comments and questions about Perot's presidential campaigns, and John Heelan's follow-on comments about EDS post-Perot:

      I offer the following narration from memory and from a few related publications, some that I wrote then and perhaps some from other sources that may have strayed into my own thoughts.

      Perot left IBM where he was Big Blue's number 1 salesman in the early 1960s and started his EDS in 1962 over two conflicts with his employer IBM.

      As a 100% commission salesman, he earned more in commissions than the IBM CEO's base salary that year. The CEO decided that was professionally embarrassing and put a limit on the total commissions that could be earned by any salesman at IBM in 1962. Lore has it that Ross hit that limit by the end of February.

      "I was not going to work the next ten months for nothing so I quit," he told me and others. At least that's my recollection of his off-the-cuff conversation/presentation where I was present.

      Contributing to his decision to move on was that IBM made its living off the sale of mainframe computers and related hardware peripherals. Ross figured that future successes in the information processing industry would be dependent on "computer operators and systems engineers," more so than on the actual hardware.

      Ross was correct, but IBM would have nothing to do with the concept of emphasizing people over machine. By mid-1962, as the lone salesman of his own firm, he made 77 unsuccessful calls in a row before landing Collins Radio. He sub-leased time on an IBM 7070 machine that was owned by a Dallas firm, but which sat unused at night.

      Other larger-than-Collins customers, including Frito-Lay and Mercantile Life, came along.

      In the 1962-5 era, Ross and eventually other EDSers would drive to various clients, pick up the computer tapes at the end of each business day that were to be processed at night by EDSer number 2, Tom Marquez, on the leased mainframes.

      I recall that Tom was a Notre Dame grad in mechanical engineering but liked Ross because he was all about solving people problems and was always honorable.

      In my 1983 interview with Tom for the EDS employee newspaper, he told me that he quit his day job on a Friday afternoon and went to work at the same building on the same mainframe on Monday night for EDS as employee number 2. Because EDS was short of capital early on, Tom took half of his salary in stock options for the first few years on a gamble that it would pay off. In short, Tom trusted Ross.

      By the time Tom retired in about 1984, he was the highest paid Hispanic in the USA, according to a national magazine. Tom soon became a trustee of the Perot Foundation, a philanthropic organization. Clearly the issue of trust was a two-way street between Tom and Ross since Tom was responsible for the Perot family's growing fortune and its philanthropy.

      Which brings me to Tor's question: "why did EDS fail? to get the Fleetguard contract..."

      Personally, I have no clue. EDS did not win every contract that they tried to win. It might have been the length of the proposed contract. EDS liked long-term contracts. Many firms did not. Mine is just speculation based on experience with EDS's practices before EDS was bought out by General Motors.

      Everything was probably honorably carried out but in the end, the two sides were not ready to come together.

      On John's question about Ross's political campaigns. Why, when his campaign was gaining momentum, did he quit and then re-enter the race a few weeks later?

      No one really knows the details outside of a very small inner circle that I never was part of. My best bet, if I had to make a wager, from a very few tidbits of gossip and that's all it was-gossip--is that someone got a note delivered to Ross that threatened his family. There was never anything in the media on this rumor, but it was definitely part of the scuttlebutt in the Dallas area.  Ross Perot is about family first, then honor, loyalty, integrity, ethics and all the other clichés pretty much in that order.

      As a follow on comment John Heelan's 28 November post on the flaws and failures in the UK in later years, I personally don't believe those negative outcomes would have come to pass had Ross been leading the EDS team.

      No matter what you think about these matters, Ross was and is the real deal. So is Ross, Jr., who now runs the family's companies under the Perot Systems banner.

      Finally, I agree with John E's comment that (Ross is) "a business maverick (who did) not have the skill set required for national politics." The "pros" in DC would have eaten him alive.

      JE comments:  How many of you would have made 77 phone calls and not given up?  Fortunately, tenacity of this sort is not in the WAIS job description, although here's a small warning:  WAIS Wednesday, our last fundraising drive of the year, is in four days!  If you've been shirking your 2014 obligation, prepare to be pestered (PayPal at donate@waisworld.org; snail-mail address available on request).

      Calvin Coolidge pointed out nearly a century ago that the business of America is business.  Still, business acumen does not parlay well to the White House.  Who was the last private-sector executive to become president?  I'm thinking of Herbert Hoover, peanut farmer Jimmy Carter, or oilman George H. W. Bush.  And none are remembered as great presidents.  Conversely, Harry Truman was a failed haberdasher.

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      • Ross Perot, EDS, GM (John Heelan, UK 11/30/14 7:09 AM)
        Randy Black wrote on 30 November: "As a follow-on comment to John Heelan's 28 November post on the flaws and failures in the UK in later years, I personally don't believe those negative outcomes would have come to pass had Ross been leading the EDS team."

        Randy is probably correct. Ross Perot was a maverick in the high-tech world of that time, but one that recruited good people around him who were loyal to him. The GM stewardship of EDS--providing a vital cash-cow for GM--became something of a fiasco with a cultural clash of management styles. The LA Times described it thus: "Early on, the relationship was overshadowed by a public clash of egos--GM's pugnacious Roger Smith vs. EDS's loquacious Perot--and the difficulty of meshing disparate cultures" (3 November 2000).

        The project failures in the UK and US often led to lengthy court cases resulting in substantial penalties.

        JE comments:  Pugnacious vs loquacious says it all--but isn't Ross Perot both?

        All this gets me thinking:  what's ol' Ross up to these days?

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        • More on Ross Perot (Randy Black, USA 12/02/14 7:54 AM)
          John Heelan's response (30 November) to my post about Ross Perot is spot on. John correctly surmises that Perot would not have "allowed" EDS to fail to the extent that it did under General Motors' watch regarding its UK operations.

          When you were hired at EDS, new employees signed employment agreements that spelled out the expectations regarding honesty, honor, integrity, ethical behavior, grooming and dress code. I still have my signed employment agreement. By the way, contrary to lore, white dress shirts were not required. I even had a mustache in those days.

          In the 1982-83 era, I was invited to lunch in suburban Washington by one of our new clients. I was in the area for three days of shooting an industrial video for that client. My video would target the client's 20,000 employees from the leadership to the clerk typists. Many, well nearly all, were skeptical about an outside-their-system contractor doing such work.

          Ours was groundbreaking in concept, and the old-time, inside operators were downright hostile early on. I'd written the scripts, managed them through the approvals at both ends--in Dallas and in Washington--hired the talent, ordered the plane tickets, and now it was time to shine.

          My leader in Dallas encouraged me to sit in in his place with this important client at lunch. The contract was in the near billion dollar range. We had beaten out IBM for the deal, so the pressure was on.

          What should have been a low-risk PR luncheon turned out to be in an "adult-themed" bar and grill, if you get my drift. The client was driving, thus we were at his mercy. He ordered pitchers of beer for his six or seven underlings and me and my cameraman.

          As EDSers, we were under the employment agreement that forbids the consumption of any kinds of alcohol during business hours, or in the presence of clients or potential clients. There was no exception allowed, and I knew it.

          I whispered to my camera operator, a contractor not under the same restrictions, to "tread very lightly" on the glasses of beer put in front of us by some very lightly dressed waitresses. He took the hint and ordered tea.

          We both managed to avoid the issue when I explained that booze combined with the afternoon's camera work at their nearby offices might hamper our ability to function at 100%.

          The client scoffed and ordered us to "drink up." "At the risk of offending you," I said, "we are charging you way too much to risk not providing our very best effort and product. Please understand the position that you are putting us in. Surely you don't want anything but the best from us do you?"

          The client relented but it didn't slow down him and his colleagues. Whew, I thought. By the way, my video production was awarded "Best in World" that year by the International Television Association in the industrial category.

          I found out later that the client ratted me out to my boss in Dallas and complained that "Randy doesn't know how to have fun when his clients are picking up the tab." My boss quietly commended me later for my tact and let me keep the trophy that came later.

          On John Eipper's comment on the Perot-Roger Smith dust-up, John is probably referring to the "700 million dollar bonus" as I called it when he noted that "Perot came out the winner, to the tune of at least $700 million."

          On the front end of the GM buy-out, Perot sold EDS for something like $3.5 billion, which netted Ross about $1.2 billion, plus a seat on the GM Board of Directors. Readers should understand that for years, Ross took most of his EDS salary as stock options and really only drew a modest salary of about $100,000 annually, as we were reminded from time to time.

          Later, after Ross shot off his mouth in the media one too many times about GM's management style and practices, Smith strong-armed the Board into "buying out Ross" to the tune of an additional $700,000,000.

          What did Ross say to the media and the public that got Smith so riled up?

          "Revitalizing General Motors was like teaching an elephant to tap dance," Ross said in an interview. That was the quote that made the evening news.

          Below are a few more Perot thoughts back then that might have irritated Smith and GM:

          "I come from an environment where, if you see a snake, you kill it. At GM, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is go hire a consultant on snakes. Then you get a committee on snakes, and then you discuss it for a couple of years. The most likely course of action is--nothing. You figure, the snake hasn't bitten anybody yet, so you just let him crawl around on the factory floor. We need to build an environment where the first guy who sees the snake kills it. (My favorite.)

          "I told General Motors very openly that the only reason I was selling my company to them is that I couldn't think of anything more interesting to do with my life than to work night and day to help revitalize one of the world's great corporations and help it achieve its full potential.

          "One day I made a speech to some senior executives. I said, 'Okay, guys, I'm going to give you the whole code on what's wrong. You don't like your customers. You don't like your dealers. You don't like the people who make your cars. You don't like your stockholders. And, to a large extent, you don't like one another. For this company to win, we're going to have to love our customers.'

          "One old guy stood up and said, 'Ross, I've been a Cadillac dealer for 35 years, and this is the first time anybody has ever given us an opportunity to tell them what is wrong.' I said, ‘What about the surveys?' He said, 'There are no surveys.'

          "Two top (EDS) managers, who were already rich before the GM merger, refused to accept any shares because they wanted them to go to the younger people who didn't have any. The General Motors guys went crazy. They said, 'It must be nice to be so rich that you thumb your nose at several million dollars' worth of stock.' I said, 'No, you're missing the point. It goes to the troops. That's what leadership is.' By contrast, the General Motors guys closed the plants, said no profit sharing, and the next day gave themselves a $1 million bonus.

          "You should walk around the 25th floor of the General Motors Building in New York. An entire teak forest must have been decimated for that floor--and this is something they use one afternoon a month.

          "What is an EDSer? An EDSer is a person that goes anywhere, anytime, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to make sure that EDS is the finest computer company in the world and that nobody beats us in the competition."

          In case you're wondering, I'll be 69 next Sunday, December 7, and I'd go back to work for Ross early on Monday.

          JE comments: Not a Day of Infamy for Randy Black! Happy imminent 69th, Randy!

          Randy has given us a thorough portrait of an American icon. I wonder if anyone at GM, c. 2009, regretted ignoring Ross Perot's advice.  Probably not--but they could have used the $700 mil.

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  • Carly Fiorina and Ross Perot (John Heelan, UK 11/29/14 5:10 AM)
    In my high-tech world, both Perot and Fiorina were either legendary or infamous depending on your point of view.

    Perot's EDS had good powerful kit in its early days and were a strong competitor against the mainframe manufacturers of the day (IBM, ICL, etc.) until it was taken over by HP. The EDS Service industry was not as successful, failing in several major projects around the world including the UK. HP a few decades ago was another company that produced good kit and operated employee-friendly policies as good as those of Digital Equipment Corp under Ken Olsen. But the high-tech world changed, resulting in a flurry of takeovers (some unwise) and the influx of bean counters determining company product strategies.

    Compaq took over Digital not having any real experience of big kit, and thus failed, eventually being taken over in its own time by HP. Employee-friendly policies became a thing of the past--e.g. there has been no annual discretionary increase to my DEC pension for the the eight or nine years of Carly Fiorina's stewardship that some described as having failed.

    JE comments:  This was certainly the appraisal of the HP Board when they ousted Fiorina in 2005.  What is it about CEOs who prefer the sport of takeovers to the nuts and bolts of actually making a good product?

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    • on Takeovers; What are CEOs Supposed to be Doing? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 11/30/14 5:39 AM)
      When commenting John Heelan's post of 29 November, JE asked: "What is it about CEOs who prefer the sport of takeovers to the nuts and bolts of actually making a good product?"

      Takeovers are also an essential part of an efficient public capital markets. They are an essential check and balance against the power of management versus shareholders--if management can't create value for shareholders, then shareholders have a chance to sell to someone who is willing to pay more.

      Even "Larry the Liquidator" type takeovers have a beneficial role to play in the markets--if the company is functioning so badly that its assets are more valuable in liquidation, then it often means that those assets are not being used appropriately.

      So when company CEOs can create value for their shareholders by taking over other companies--why not? Takeovers and mergers are just restructuring of the deployment of productive assets, intellectual capital, and human resources. A certain amount of this needs to take place constantly, in order to avoid our economy from sinking into Soviet rigidity and inefficiency. A certain number of weak companies need to fail, and a certain number of industries need reorganization, every year, to keep the economy healthy.

      Of course there are many abuses of the system--manipulation of share prices, raiding, deception of shareholders, abuse of market power to reduce competition, etc., etc., etc. That's why the system needs a certain amount of intelligent regulation. And how to regulate it in an enlightened way so that abuses are curbed without inhibiting valuable economic activity is something no one knows exactly.

      "Making good products" sounds almost quaint in this day and age. Manufacturing amounts to only 12% of US economic output, about the same as retail and wholesale trade (12%), less than real estate and construction (17%), and a bit more than arts, entertainment and information services (8%). Agriculture, thought by many in the 19th century to be the only "real" sector of the economy (the Corn Law debates in the UK are a good example), is now less than 1%. See: http://www.bea.gov/industry/gdpbyind_data.htm

      In those days, "making stuff to eat" seemed like the core function of the economy. But technological and economic progress has made "making stuff to eat" an almost trivial task for a modern economy. An 18th-century Englishman would be amazed to see an American family budget from the 21st century, where more money is spent on utilities than on groceries, and nearly as much is spent on entertainment, and all dwarfed by expenses on housing. See: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/how-the-average-american-family-spends-their-income-and-how-to-trim-it/

      Likewise, these days, making "stuff" has ceased to be the main or even a really major part of what the economy does. As the economy grows and we become wealthier, we don't need all that much more "stuff"--"stuff" becomes a smaller and smaller part of our budgets. We spend more on housing (look at the real estate and construction sector, compared to manufacturing), more on entertainment, far more on travel, and far more on education, while "stuff" remains fairly stagnant.

      The process of "making stuff" has also profoundly changed. It used to be that we thought that "stuff"--products--were something entirely physical. And this was reflected in the way they were made--one company dreamed them up, designed them, engineered them, then bought plant and equipment to make them. That is, by and large, not the way it's done today. And that's because they physical thing is not really the important part of a product for which people are willing to pay money to acquire--it's the idea of it, and the design, and the marketing, all of which functions are increasingly separated from the commoditized and actually banal function of turning the design into a physical thing. This is why it is so profoundly wrong-headed to be fixated on where the factories are--it doesn't matter. Putting up a factory and turning designs into things is a banal, commoditized, lower economic function. The higher function, where nearly all of the value is created, where the highly paid jobs exist (by the way), is in the conception, design, and marketing.

      And that should put into perspective what CEOs are supposed to be doing.

      JE comments:  But the stories of ill-conceived takeovers are legion--take the example that started our discussion, General Motors' purchase of EDS in 1984.  That event unleashed the clash of two oversized egos--that of Mr Perot and the infamous Roger Smith.  Perot came out the winner, to the tune of at least $700 million, but I am left with the question:  are the textbook notions of efficiency and shareholder value the principal motivators for these imperial deals?  What about the more Shakespearean elements--megalomania and hubris?

      To cite another local example, Kmart bought Borders in 1992, and it effectively killed both companies.  (I know, Kmart is still clinging to life, more or less.  Less more than more.)

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      • What are CEOs Supposed to be Doing? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/01/14 2:04 AM)
        Ric Mauricio sends this response to Cameron Sawyer (30 November):

        I would agree with Cameron's take on what CEOs are supposed to do. But as John E. comments, ill-conceived takeovers are legion. John commented that Kmart bought Borders, but Sears bought Kmart, and that effectively killed both companies as well. I sold my Sears stock, now called Sears Holding (symbol SHLD) when that happened.

        Hewlett Packard's purchase of Compaq was a great example of megalomania and hubris. Under Ms. Fiorina's leadership, she almost single-handedly destroyed the icon of Silicon Valley's founding. At the time, I asked myself, "how in the world can you blend a company whose instrumentation and printer products were second to none with a company whose computers were merely pedestrian at best?" Of course, by doing so, she attempted to enter the highly commoditized world of computers. And to compete on a price-to-price basis can be deadly. In the world of computers, you must offer value for the cost. If you took manufacturing shortcuts to cut prices, you run the risk of inferior products. And this is what happened at Hewlett Packard. During Ms. Fiorina's administration, HP Computers would literally have fatal errors if you tried to upgrade your Microsoft operating system.

        But before this, I questioned Hewlett Packard's choice of Fiorina as CEO, not just because of my experience, but because I had asked people, "Do you know what Lucent Technologies does?" 99.9% of people I asked looked at me with a blank look. Wow, Carly sure did a great job at marketing when people don't know what the company does. And with Lucent failing, why would you hire her as CEO? I know, I know. Past performance is no indication of future performance...

        As to John's question, "how many of you would make 77 unsuccessful calls?" Well, this is a salesperson's life. When I was a stockbroker, we had to cold call (I can tell you that not many people enjoy that). But I soon realized it is a numbers game. You see, I figured out that if I made 300 dials a day, connected with 100 people, and 15 people were interested, that I would end up with one client per day, or 20 clients per month, or 240 clients per year, and nearly 500 clients in 2 years.

        And one also develops quite a tough skin when making these cold calls. I had one guy who started screaming and yelling at me that I had the gall to call him to make a sale. I calmly waited for him to run out of energy, then apologized. I told him that the reason I call people is to educate them that investing in the stock market is good way to build wealth and retirement accounts. I told him that the New York Stock Exchange exists to provide liquidity for stocks and by doing that, his company was able to go public (I knew that he worked for a company that was public, I was calling from a corporate directory... shhh), and was able to expand and hire people like him. Then I shut up. Pause. Then he said, "oh, you're good." I started laughing. "Let me show you how good I am. Let's get together and do some financial planning." He did.

        Once I accidentally called the CEO of the company. Oops! Of course, the secretary screened my call. She actually got ahold of the CEO of my brokerage firm to complain. The CEO, in turn, called my manager, who called me into his office. My manager laughed, like, what does the CEO think we do to earn him his bonus? We make cold calls. Maybe I can change corporate directories for awhile. By the way, that CEO became the President and CEO of Sears. Enough said.

        JE comments: I enjoy Ric Mauricio's stories from the front lines of capitalism.  Cold-calling would never be my cup of tea, but Ric has put the whole thing into marvelous perspective:  persistence is key.

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