Dust to Rust

​Business is Business     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

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When designing a computer system, it is prudent to begin with the business processes to understand what a company does and how it operates. National Steel invited me to referee a series of meetings between their operations and marketing teams to first determine each group’s pain points then find some kind of mutual floating surfboard they could all stand on.

My knowledge of the steel process was a bit shaky at the time. I assumed some guys threw a bunch of rocks into a big fire and out waltzed automobiles and skyscrapers. However, there actually was much more to the lifecycle of steel that was born in dirt and died when the metal returned to the earth. The process was proudly called “dust to rust”.

I assured the company I knew all about the steel industry and had performed this process for their competitors a number of times. The number happened to be zero, but it was still a number. And so we set up camp outside the small town of Portage, Indiana. The conference room laid behind a glass wall in full view of the swimming pool.at their executive conference center.

I gave the teams a few minutes to settle in, dig trenches on respective sides, and erect an invisible six-foot wall that held immovable on the table between them. To a person, each sat cross-armed in a show of pretend peace, while their minds prepared for war. Ah, business as usual. It didn’t take long before grenades were lobed and initial taunts spilled over into an all-out global conflict.

“If you could sell what we build, we would be a better company,” screamed the operations lead.

“If you could build what we sell, we would be more profitable,” retorted marketing.

And the marathon was underway with neck-and-neck sabotage down the obstacle course. None ran in a straight line. They were all afraid to step in what the other side was dropping. The encounter reminded me of a foot race between Jerry Lewis and Mr. Bean.

The morning break was mercifully a mutually agreed Christmas cease-file. The meeting participants were kissing cousins down on the Bob Evans farm. That is until they returned to their seats. Bombing immediately resumed. It was sometimes difficult to prevent two or three from double-loading the cannons.

Just before noon, I noticed the marketing side of the table was losing interest in the conversation. A few were drooling and staring out the window. I shifted my gaze poolside and saw a small crowd of executives’ housewives and teenaged daughters milling around. Some had discarded outerwear for very skinny bikinis, while others were sporting revealing thongs.

After lunch, the meeting participants played musical chairs on the marketing side of the table until they realized I had closed the drapes. Marketing joined operations with penetrating glares, letting me know without a doubt the enemy of my enemy is their real enemy. The meeting just got as hard as the participants.