The Naked Holiday

Ides_HeadingIt was raining in Sequim the morning Julie called, raining with the dank relentlessness of a sodden bill collector. The dog run was half under water, the slugs had downed a deer and were enjoying a gastropod banquet out by the pergola, and a heavy green carpet of moss clung to everything in sight like wet velour blankets on a chain link fence. The phone rang again and I was the man to answer it.

Julie was tough. She had to be, growing up the way we did on Chicago’s south side. There were three of us in those days: Julie, Mary, and me. We were tight, and together we roamed the streets at night rolling punks and robbing hoods. How we managed to turn out okay I couldn’t tell you. Mary was hard too, and went to work for Mayor Daysbe, Richard J. that is. I turned to consulting, a more or less legal form of the larceny to which I was bred. Julie was the grittiest of all; she set up shop in Chicago as a private dick. Like I said, she was tough – double tough – but I could tell a cookie that was about to crumble.

When I picked up the blower, her voice was quivering like the low d on a grand piano with no damper. She was in a bad state, so bad it might have been New Jersey. In gasps and sobs she told me that she had just returned from Miami where she’d put the pinch on the Pompey mob. It had been a hard gig and she’d taken a couple of slugs doing it, but managed to come out of it still able to take a long drag on a Lucky Strike.

Long story short, she had just claimed her duffle at O’Hare when a tall dude in a black hoodie approached her. “He was gibberish’n on and on about Ides March. Beware of Ides March! I thought that foul witch had rotted in prison years ago. If she’s alive and out of stir, I’m in a world of trouble.”

My mind was a whirl of cheap music and junkyard images as I thought back to those terrible times. I hadn’t thought of Ides March in years, and the memory swept over me like the stink of week-old mackerel on a sunny rock. She’d been the silent partner behind Decius, Casca, and Ligarius, that now infamous Chicago accounting firm with ties to organized crime. She was also reputed to have had influence inside the mayor’s office. That was never proven and Mary still denies it. Nevertheless, Daysbe and his staff supported the defense when March was indicted for ordering the murder of a sanitation worker who refused to set his rig on fire to help DC&L with a little “housecleaning.”

I won’t comment publicly on whether or not I thought Ides March was guilty. My momma didn’t raise stupid children. The jury convicted March based on the testimony of three Māori tourists who overheard her ordering the hit in a downtown Chicago restaurant. The defense argued that the witnesses had been intoxicated and therefore unreliable. Even the restaurant’s owner, a little Mexican pipsqueak named Digby Brighte, testified to their insobriety. But Julie helped the D.A. uncover evidence suggesting they’d ordered their drinks after Ides March gave the order. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get March sent up for life and in everyone’s eyes Julie was responsible for making a patsy out of her. Julie and Mary never spoke a civil word to each other again. Now March was out.

“So, Rick, you gotta help me. She’s out of the slammer and gunning for me. She’s got the whole firm still behind her and my life insurance ain’t worth owl snot on a Ritz cracker.”

“This isn’t my kind of racket, Julie, but I’ll do what I can. And it’s Steve, Sugar, not Rick. My name is Steve, remember?”

“Whatever you say, Rick. What am I gonna do?”

“Sounds like you need to lay low for awhile, Sister. Say, don’t you have a little place up near Lake Geneva?”

“You mean The Forum?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Only you and I know about it, right? Why don’t you go there and stay out of sight until this potato cools off?”

“Sure, Rick. Sure! I could do that. And thanks, Rick.”

“Glad to help, Julie. And Julie, it’s Steve, dammit.”

Life turns on a dime, and my advice had been the worst I’d ever given, even pro bono. Three days later I opened the newspaper and saw the headline glaring at me like the spectral headlamp of an oncoming Studebaker. Julie was dead. The morning before, on March 15th, the eight remaining partners of Decius, Casca, and Ligarius had visited her at The Forum and gunned her down. What we hadn’t counted on was the firm being able to find The Forum. What they hadn’t counted on was that Julie was a professional dick right to the end. She had caught the massacre on hidden camera and the images had streamed out to the Internet faster than the sleazebags could slither back to their limousines with their smoking pieces.

The aftermath was about as much fun as poison ivy in your boxers. While the assassins got what was coming to them in the end, Julie’s sister filed a lawsuit against my firm, Cinna and Parnassus, on the grounds that I was in cahoots with the conspirators from the start. The suit’s been dragging on for years now and I’ve been unable to convince either the plaintiff or the blockheaded court that the Cinna in my firm is unrelated to Cinna the convicted assassin. Needless to say, my company has about as much credibility as the village wino these days. And old Ides March is having a long and hearty laugh over that ironic mote, you bet, which just about makes my crap sandwich complete.

I spent the years following Julie’s death trying to divine some meaning or sense in all of it.   Is life really so random and pointless?   Is there nothing to tie all of this together in a nice neat package like the lyrics of an Irving Berlin song? Was there no wisdom to be gained or perspective to be achieved from all this misery? And why did Julie have to die? The answer came by special messenger.

It was raining in Sequim, raining with the dull monotonous persistence of a high school algebra teacher. The north meadow had turned to a bog, the slugs had turned to larger prey, and the moss now lay even thicker than a salesman’s pitch. What I’m saying is that it was no white Christmas. In fact, it was March 15th, five years to the day since Julie’s death and I had stepped out onto the moss-grown, rain soaked patio for a quick smoke. Unexpectedly, a tall, dark figure in a black hoodie glided from the foggy woods, accompanied by the sound of screeching violins. He stopped just ten feet in front of me and we stared at each other for what seemed like ages. At last I mastered myself and addressed the mysterious visitor.

“Are you here to bring me enlightenment that I may at last understand Julie’s death?”

The stranger spoke not a word, but bowed his head as if in assent to my question. The movement was attended by another bewildering screech of violins as if all of the school children on the planet had been given a math quiz at the same moment.

“Speak, then, good friend, that I may find peace.”

The messenger moved closer to me, bending his head. This time the music was not strident at all but almost lovely – comforting, in fact, like a familiar carol. As he faded from sight, he crooned to me in a melody I almost knew, “Mayor Daysbe, Mary and Brighte, had made all her witnesses be tight.”

 

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Can anyone name the three literary works (author and title) alluded to in the story? Did you all get the shaggy dog pun? No? Try saying it out loud a couple of times. Happy Ides of March!

#TheBIMuse

 

March Madness

Gulch_HeaderMarch is one of my favorite months.  There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is that it contains my favorite holiday.  No, it is not St. Patrick’s Day.  That prize goes to the Ides of March. I recognize that the Ides of March is not really an official holiday.  I can tell this because the US postal workers do not get the day off (unless of course March 15 happens to fall on a weekend). The banking industry – seemingly incapable of any original thinking – slavishly follows suit.  The most significant indicator that the Ides of March has not made it into the pantheon of holidays is that Hallmark has not yet capitalized on the significance of the day.  Nevertheless, I celebrate it religiously and each year when it rolls around I know that I am destined for a day of prosperity and good fun.

I suppose I should mention that my wife warned me not to write this article, much less post it to the Forum on my website.  She is a woman of temperate habits, cheerful disposition, and sound judgment and I follow her advice implicitly.  To date, she has been universally supportive of my publishing efforts.  To have her suddenly withdraw that encouragement filled me – at least initially – with more than a little foreboding.  Nevertheless, John insists that this is an important next step for Parnassus Analytics and he being the expert, I really must defer to his advice.  “Who is John?” you ask.  John is a BI industry colleague and the President of JGCG, Inc.  He is also presently a business mentor for my firm.

I met John during a breakout session at a BI conference some years back. This was my first time at an industry convention in spite of the fact that I had been consulting for many years.  John is a regular at these forums and has attracted a large following.  Consequently, a significant number of his industry colleagues – many of them very well known in that arena – were in the room that day.  I remember that Mark Brutus was there, as was Trebon from IUS Associates.  Cymber Casca from Metellus Consulting sat in as well, and I recall that Lee Garius from the Cassius Group attended that year.  Everyone seemed to know each other personally, but most of the participants deferred to John.  That was not without cause, of course, because he is extremely personable, one might almost say charismatic.   I was the newcomer to the circle and John put me instantly at ease.  In no time I was a contributing member of that august gathering.

It was the beginning of a long professional relationship.  We have stayed in touch over the years and I would like to think that I have become part of his select following.  He has been a veritable font of advice and encouragement for me personally, and I have been gratified as our friendship flourished to watch his firm prosper over the years.  I think it was in 2010 that Mark made his brief move to JGCG.  I know for certain that the merger with Metellus Consulting occurred in 2011, although Cymber disappeared from the industry soon afterward.  Therefore, it seemed only natural that I should reach out to John when I struck out on my own in 2012 and hung up my shingle as Parnassus Analytics.

Actually, John seemed to be aware of my decision almost before the ink was dry on the incorporation papers.  He called me the next day to congratulate me and offer some advice for the independent practitioner.  I must confess that he was none too keen on my choice of name.

“It’s just too flowery, Steve, too poetic or something,” he said.  “Hell, nobody’s going to know what a Parnassus even is.”

“They could Google it, couldn’t they?” I asked meekly.

“Steve, nobody has time – let alone the inclination – to look up unfamiliar words, especially if they aren’t business words.  My advice is to pick random letters.  They don’t even have to stand for anything.  For instance, XIT Analytics or The ZDR Group sound professional and they have crackle.  People won’t care that they don’t know what the initials stand for because nobody can ever remember them anyway.  See?”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.  I wish I had thought of that sooner.  Unfortunately, I have already filed the paperwork and ordered business cards.  I can’t afford to go back and do it all again.”

“Well, suit yourself, Steve.  There’s no point in crying over spilled milk, I suppose.  Still, it seems like a perfectly witless way for a bright fellow like you to be starting out.”

After such an initial blunder, I made it a point to seek advice from John before making key business decisions.  I was astonished at how naïve my business instincts were and how flawed my logic. For months I seemed incapable of managing even the simplest situation and I despaired of ever exhibiting even marginally sound judgment.  It was providential to have such an experienced counselor in my corner.  That was no more apparent than on the day we had the conversation about billing rates.  The incredulity in his voice belied his natural charm.

“You are charging what?” he shouted. “You are a top flight consultant and you are charging that?  Steve, your rate should be three times that.  These are contractor rates.  For goodness sake get the pudding out of your head.”

“But John, my firm is still relatively unknown.  The brand has no recognition yet.  When starting out in a highly competitive market, conventional wisdom suggests that I may have to win a few clients on price until I establish a reputation.”

“Poppycock!  Conventional wisdom is wrong and I am beginning to wonder if there isn’t a village somewhere that’s missing its idiot.  If you want people to value your time, they need to see from your rate that your time has value.  Not only that, they need to realize that you can deliver more value in five minutes than the average schmoe can in an hour.  The rate is your way to accomplish that.  Low five’s, Steve.  Low five’s.”

This was a difficult lesson for me, and it didn’t merely slow down the rate at which I was signing new clients; it brought business development to a lifeless standstill. Business was so dead that I double-checked to be certain that the company tag line did not read “Inspired Leprosy.” But if there is one thing that I had learned from John it was the need for patience.  Well, the need for patience and insurance.

“Of course I have insurance, John.  I have an umbrella policy. It was the first thing I did.”

“No, no, no.  I don’t mean liability insurance.  Of course you have that.  I’m talking about a life insurance policy with the company as beneficiary.”

“Why would Parnassus Analytics need a policy on my life?”

“Because Parnassus Analytics is you, Steve.  You are the brand.  Your clients come to Parnassus Analytics because of you.”

“Well, not lately…” I began.

“If anything should happen to you, it would take a great deal for the firm to recover”

“If anything were to happen to me, why would it matter in the slightest to the firm at that point?”

“Because it would matter to your clients.”

“What clients?”

John ignored my observation.  “It’s just good business, Steve.  Protect your firm so that your firm can protect your clients.  Seven million dollars is the lowest it should be.”

I admit that my ego approved of his logic despite my simple-minded inclination not to buy into it.  And I still had some lingering doubts about the soundness of John’s advice later on.  The monthly premium was a challenge, particularly given the paucity of clients after I raised my rates.  Still, I knew that my patience would be rewarded if I stayed the course and looked to the advice of a seasoned business Sensei like John.

Staying the course was difficult and I faltered once by taking a client at a significantly reduced rate.  Not only that, I declined to recommend a specific BI platform for the client.  Instead, I led them through an impartial selection process that addressed their specific requirements.  My client was delighted with the results, but John sounded distinctly disappointed in me.

“Don’t you understand what you just did, Steve?”

“Yes, John, I do.  I thrilled my client.”

“Of course they’re thrilled.  They received your services practically for free.  Who wouldn’t be thrilled?  In the first place, you could have made substantially more money by recommending the platform right off the bat and then taken the commission from the vendor.  Instead, you threw away the commission (along with the vendor relationship) and still sold yourself to the client like a common street trollop.”

“Gosh, John.  I’m sorry.  I see what you mean, though.  The client might have been just as satisfied had I done it the other way.”

“Exactly.  In addition, they would probably have purchased additional bells and whistles (think bigger commission) instead of confining themselves to just their requirements.  Clients like things that go ding and tweet if you don’t teach them otherwise, and you can bill for the time.”

I have to say this for John.  He has stuck right there with me.  In fact, he has been there for me all the way right up to the end.  The end is at midnight tomorrow morning, March 15.  At that time, Parnassus Analytics will officially become part of JGCG, Inc.  The paperwork is signed and the transfer will occur automatically.

I never did have another client after the software selection debacle.  The insurance premiums have continued to drain the remaining resources, leaving the company with a negative P&L for the third straight quarter.  Still, John promises to keep the Parnassus Analytics brand alive, at least for a while.  JGCG will assume the modest debt, which amounts to only a few hundred dollars.  Of course, they will retain all of the assets including the considerable library of intellectual property. I don’t know what will happen to this blog site. I know John has disapproved of it from the beginning, but maybe he will find another home for the articles.  Who knows?  In the end, though, he has encouraged me to make this final post in these pages.  It is a shame that he won’t have an opportunity to review it before I publish.

So there it is.  I begin work as a Principal Consultant at JGCG, Inc. on Monday morning.  But in the meantime, John has come out to Sequim for the weekend to show that there are no hard feelings.  We will meet for breakfast in the morning and then disappear up into the Olympic Mountains for a day of hiking.  With all the snow, it should be most exhilarating.  John mentioned something about a particular gulch he wanted us to visit.  Inexplicably, my wife has entreated me to stay close to home tomorrow.   I can tell that she is definitely worried about something. I shall have to ask her what is on her mind when I get back.  In the meantime, you may wish to check out my new firm. You can learn everything you need to know at J Galt Consulting Group.