Cockroaches and Hand Grenades

When I was a young man, my first job out of Sales and Sales Management, was National Sales Operations Manager, which basically meant I was the VP of Sales, executive assistant (National Sales Operations Manager is to the Executive Assistant to the VP of Sales as the Chief of Staff is the Executive Assistant to the CEO. Its title inflation). Now, this VP was a former senior manager at Xerox, a notorious hyper-political organization and this guy, let’s call him Jeff because Jeff was and probably still is his name was a puppet master extraordinaire. He would take a circuitous path to any goal… even if a more direct path took less effort with a higher probability of success. Jeff just loved the game.

I would sit in on staff meetings with Jeff and the CEO and all his direct reports and marvel as Jeff plied his Machiavellian craft. Jeff would say something provocative, and then sit back unscathed and watch as others take shrapnel wounds. Usually, someone around the table would end up with mortal wounds while few if any noticed Jeff put that grenade on the table. With a just an obsequious comment, all the chess pieces would move around the conference table as if they were autonomous AI-driven chess pieces under the power of Jeff’s Jedi Mindtrick.

After one meeting I asked him about his methodology and Jeff said, I just pull the pin of the grenade and set it on the table and see what happens. It was amazing.

There was a reason why people would use a simple acronym DFWTFM to describe working with Jeff… “Don’t F&#k with the Fat Man.”

He once said to me,

“Never be near the smoking gun. In fact when you get someone shot (fired), you want them to come into your office and fall into your arms and say, “look what they did to me.”

See! DFWTFM

Jeff was a devotee of Niccolò Machiavelli. He had me read The Prince, Machiavelli’s book (a good read).

Needless to say, the numerous lessons I learned from Jeff proved valuable. Many of them, what not to do. how not to show up in business and in life. Knowing Jeff, made me a better man as often I ask myself, What Would Jeff do.. and do the opposite.

But as Sun Tzu said,

“Has anyone seen my cell phone?”

Oh, wait, wrong quote. He said,

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Jeff taught me how cockroaches think and act and live. He offered me the opportunity to study a roach up close in laboratory conditions. In turn, I learned how to spot cockroaches and similar to Jeff’s grenade strategy, I now utilize my own version. I call it the cockroach strategy.

For instance, when I wrote this story, “Stick A Fork In 1776 DC… It’s Done,” I had no idea the company was for sale. I just knew that conditions had deteriorated to a point where something was going to happen. I knew the inmates were unhappy and paranoid. I possessed a collection of facts. I knew with a little pressure this pimple would pop.

Behaviors had changed. Many senior people left the company. I heard an unconfirmed rumor that one of the few competent people I respected was looking for work. More and more residents, clients of 1776 were reaching out and complaining about deteriorating conditions. They closed the Hattery (a bay area coworking accelerator space. Oh, the hubris of Evan Burfield, a guy with multiple DC-based startup failures and no wins, thinking he could turn around a startup in the epicenter of startupatude). There were rumors of financial trouble with the project in Brooklyn. Andy Medici (a very Machiavellian name) wrote a great article detailing the company’s financial woes. As Scotty from Star Trek would say, “the engines are about to blow, Captain.”

Most importantly, I knew Evan. I knew that he was a Jeff. I knew he was transactional. That he was all ideas and no strategy. All talk and no action. All big words and no execution. All hat and no cattle. I knew that he had never maintained a long-term business relationship with anyone I respected. You can tell a lot about a person when you judge their long-term associations. Evan has few if any wise, competent, loyal confidants of high character. His ratio of people who would like to step on him like a roach to people who would bet their careers on him is low. You can tell a lot about a person by looking at the character, experience, and intelligence of their entourage.

It was time for the wheels to come off. All these breadcrumbs seemed to be leading somewhere.

You ever live in a roach infested apartment? I have. You walk into the kitchen and turn on the lights, and the roaches scurry for cover. I looked at all these breadcrumbs in the kitchen and turned on the light. I wrote that Stick A Fork In It article and all of a sudden my phone started ringing. By the way, not one of those tipsters was an employee then or ever at 1776. That didn’t stop Evan from blaming and damaging the reputation of 1776 employees who he claimed were leakers. I called and asked Donna and she politely told me she couldn’t comment. She was obviously under an NDA. I didn’t know anyone else who worked for the company. But people in town knew what was happening. As soon as three people know something there are no secrets.

The day I wrote that article, I got a call,

“How did you know about this Benjamin’s Desk thing?”
“I can’t tell you,” I replied

I immediately googled “Benjamin’s Desk” because I never heard of them. I thought 1776 was going out of business. I now had a story about a dumpster fire sale. The rest is history.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a story about Communiclique. Communiclique wasn’t a company, it was a roach infestation. In DC there are no bigger king of the roaches than Andy Powers and Danny Boice. If any company needed an Orkin man it is that company. When I wrote my Communiclique story, I turned on the light and the roaches went scurrying. Usually, where there is one roach, there are many. Soon I had the Tim Lee story. People who felt burned by Tim Lee came out of the woodwork. Another cockroach outed. I don’t think we found the last roach at Communiclique or the Sabotage Institute.

Jeff taught me a lot about cockroaches. How to spot them and how they operate. He taught me that cockroaches are cannibals. They will eat each other. When you turn the light on a cockroach, they panic. They scurry. When they feel a little heat, they turn on each other. Let me be clear, many of my sources are cockroaches turning on other cockroaches. But many of my sources are also people of character or victims who hate roaches. They see me as the Orkin man and they point out to the exterminator where those roaches ran when the light turned on.

Anyone know of any roach infested DC-based companies that could use an Orkin man?