Sam was making good time. He was cruising down interstate 94 ahead of schedule to meet his daughter in college. If he could keep up at this rate, he would be there by six o’clock to take her to dinner.
And then it hit.
He saw up in the distance that cars were stopped, lined up for as long as he could see.
“Damn it!” he said to no one else in the car.
He turned on a local AM news radio station as his car crawled with the line of traffic.
After about twenty minutes, there was a report that a fuel tanker had tipped over, blocking all traffic on the east-bound lanes. All cars were being diverted at exit number two-fourteen.
Sam looked over and saw that he was at mile marker two-thirteen. How long will it take me to get another mile, he wondered. He called his daughter and explained the situation. “Go ahead and have dinner without me. I’ll get there as soon as I can.” He told her in a disappointed voice.
A chance meeting
Twenty-five minutes later, he made it to exit two-fourteen. The exit ramp led to a small town. Traffic was being detoured for ten miles on a county highway to the next on-ramp of the interstate.
He had to go to the restroom and saw ‘Mary Lou’s Diner’. He decided to stop there and get a cup of coffee.
Parking on a side street, he hurried into the front door. He ordered a cup of coffee at the counter and without stopping, continued his power walk to the back hallway following the neon restroom sign.
He exited a few minutes later a little more relaxed. As he emerged from the back hallway into the main dining room, there was a man standing there as if he had been waiting for him.
He looked at Sam and said “Are you Sam Roberts?”
Sam paused for a moment wondering if anyone had need to serve him with a summons. Finally he weakly replied, “Yes?”
The stranger stuck out his hand and with a hearty smile said, “Charley Westfall.”
“Holy crap! Charley, I haven’t seen you in…what…twenty years?”
“At least.” Charley replied. “Have we seen each other since we graduated college?”
“I don’t think so.”
Sam and Charley had been friends in college. Although it was a close friendship, Sam moved off to Chicago for his job and Charley accepted a job in Boston. Over the first year or so, they talked on the phone occasionally. Each one was invited to the other’s wedding, but the distance proved to be too difficult to maintain the friendship. In those pre-internet, pre-social media days, they just mutually accepted it and moved on with their lives.
“I recognized you the minute you walked in the door. What have you been up to?” Charlie asked.
Sam paid for his coffee and sat down with Charlie. They took turns catching each other up on their life stories over the past twenty years. After fifteen years of marriage, Charlie had recently divorced and was setting up life back in their home state. He had just accepted the job as an IT director at a local manufacturing company and didn’t see himself coming up for air for a couple more months. “There’s a lot to do to help turn this company around.”
Sam caught Charley up on his life, how his daughter was now going to their alma mater and how exciting that was to relive his youth again. He told Charley about his career in consulting and how he had seen many new IT directors go through the same thing. He reassured him that it would get better.
“You sound like you speak from experience Sam.” Charlie replied.
“I’ve seen it a several times, especially when you take over for someone who held that position for years. Maybe they didn’t keep up on technology or the latest business trends and now you have to revamp a lot of outdated hardware and software.”
“It’s like you’ve been spying on me the past three months.” Charlie said, somewhat astonished.
A business opportunity
Sam asked him more about the company, their lines of business, other manufacturing locations, sales revenues and how many employees they had. He listened closely to Charlie’s answers and gave him some names of software and hardware vendors that might be able to help him.
Finally Charlie said “Say, Sam, would your company be able to help us sort this all out?”
“It’s possible.” Sam replied. “I could come out and visit your company, do a site visit and maybe make and assessment of your current state.”
“I’d like that.” Charlie replied.
They pulled out their iPads and scheduled a time to meet the following week.
The next week, Sam paid his visit to Charlie’s company. He spent the entire afternoon touring the plant and the IT department. Charlie shared with him their current inventory of hardware, software and general infrastructure. At the end of the day, they sat down and Sam gave him a high-level assessment.
Sam told Charlie some of the things they should do immediately to stop the bleeding. He also gave some suggestions for some low-hanging fruit as well as some medium- and long-term options.
By the end of the day, they had hammered out the framework of an agreement for Sam’s firm to provide consulting services to help Charlie’s company with the short-term solution, with the option to extend the contract for the longer term work.
As Sam stood up to leave, he turned to Charlie and said, “You know, a week ago, I was cursing that fuel tanker and the traffic and the detour. Now…well I don’t want to say I’m glad it happened. But it turned out alright for the two of us didn’t it?”
“It sure did.” Charlie replied.
When expectations and reality collide
About a week later, Sam was at his desk getting ready to leave for the airport. He had a big presentation to a new prospective client. His cell phone vibrated in his pocket.
“Hi Sam. It’s Ryan Madison. You haven’t left for the airport yet, have you?”
“I’m just walking out now.” Sam replied.
“Well, I’m glad I caught you. I’m going to have to cancel our meeting. Our CEO has resigned and we have some emergency meetings scheduled for the rest of the week.”
After the call Sam stood there wanting to curse. This was going to be one of the biggest meetings he had had in a long time. Then a thought struck him. I wonder what will happen instead now.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.