Sunday - August 11, 1996
33,000 feet above the Caribbean and I quit reading the Novell weekly news clips long enough to look out the window. Unbelievably spectacular! The water below is a vibrant turquoise and completely clear to the ocean floor. I can see the riverlets of sand forming herringbone patterns off into the distance. The small puffy clouds cast shadows that dont reflect off the surface but go clear to the bottom. Threads and patches of dark blue weave through the green. Coral, aquatic vegetation, and deep water.
A winding pattern of small islands is laid out below. Each are encircled with white sand borders that blend gradually into the deep green of the sea. Some islands appear to be covered with palm trees, others are sand, whitish rock, and brush. No roads, no houses, no cell phone towers.
Beyond the chain of islands, the water appears black. No islands, or turquoise water in that direction. Just the dark deep.
One quick glimpse of the Amazon. The carpet of dark green rain forest stretches off in all directions. No changes in terrain, no roads or signs of manmade geometric patterns. Just flat, lush, dark green for minute after minute at 600 miles an hour. Then a glassy ribbon of river stretching off into the distance. For a while, its a single channel and then it breaks into multiple strands that appear to cross over each other, spreading out and then back into one large meandering channel that stretches into the distance and is swallowed up in the green.
I finished up arranging the layout of the fixtures and appliances for the apartment over the garage and marked them in orange spray paint for the electrician. He would be working on it while I was away. I showered and was trying to get my computer mouse to work when it occurred to me to check my flight schedule for the exact departure time. I thought it was around 7 pm ----- aaahhhhhhhhh!!!! The flight was at 3:45! That sick panic hit as I looked at my watch; it was already after 4. I picked up the phone and called the American Express emergency hotline at the same time pondering my bosses recommendation to conveniently lose my passport so I wouldnt have to be away from the office - it was a very busy time and he didnt approve of me going but forces higher than him had mandated it.
After a few minutes of looking, the agent told that there was another way to get to Brasilia by Sunday night. "Book it!" I said and he put me on hold while he went to linking up connecting flights. He didnt say when the flight left Salt Lake so I scrambled to iron my clothes and get dressed while on hold. Thank goodness I was already packed. After several numbers of hold music, he came back to say that he was still trying to cancel the hotel in Sao Paulo but that everything else was confirmed. The flight out of Salt Lake was at 12:10 a.m. so I had plenty of time.
All-night flights are not my favorite. Fortunately, there was a first class seat left and I had upgrade coupons. That natural takeoff drug took effect. For some reason, as soon as the plane is rolled away from the gate, I start to get drowsy. The gentle rocking of the plane as it taxis to the runway has an almost hypnotic effect. I vaguely remember the press of the engines as we started takeoff but I was asleep before the plane left the ground. Next thing I knew, the seat belt tone was sounding and we were on descent into Atlanta.
I had to purchase a new ticket from Salt Lake to Atlanta and once there had to have the other one completely rewritten. International ticket rewrites are such a hassle. It cost me another $89 but then I had included the flight from Sao Paulo to Brasilia which was not in the original. Back at the gate, I put my roll case against the wall and my computer next to it. I then stretched out on the floor and slept for a while. We had arrived at 5:15 and the flight to Miami was not until 8:20.
In Miami, I noticed an older gentleman dressed in a suit and reading his scriptures (the Mormon cross references were at the bottom of the page). His name was Ted Simmons and he was on his way to Sao Paulo as well. He worked for the church and was over the building program worldwide. He had been on the same flight from Salt Lake and classified the night as pretty miserable. He said he was going to visit six Brazilian cities in five days to oversee church construction projects. A new temple in Recefe, a missionary training center for Brazil and Portugal in Sao Paulo, and several of the nearly 100 new chapels that were being built around the country. He has been doing this for the church since he retired from IBM five years ago.
The sight out the window right now is beautiful. Its three quarters past sunset. The sky to the east is dark blue above, blending into a misty gray at the skyline and then dark below. The sun is almost set on the other side of the plane and the only portion of the wing that is not cast in shadows is just the tip of the wing. The silhouetted outline of the 767's wing foils stand out as hilighted silver on the gray background. At the very tip of the wing a white light is visible. Through a window on the far side of the plane I can see only the flaming orange of sunset flatly underlined with darkness on the horizon.
Somewhere in the flight we must have gone through a time warp. As we took off, the captain said that we would be arriving in Sao Paulo at 8:40 pm - flight time of 7 hours and 57 minutes. After the landing, I glanced at my watch and noticed that if my calculations were correct, it was 9:15 - I hoped I was wrong and looked around to catch a glimpse at someones watch standing beside me in the customs line. Theirs said 9:15 also. Panic again as my flight to Brasilia was to leave at 9:30.
By the time I cleared customs and ran to the next terminal it was already 9:30. The ticket said, check-in required and I was stopped by security at the gate. Back to the ticket counter and the agent gave me a little hope. "Wait one minute", he said and went into the back. He emerged several times only to disappear again. Finally he came out and explained that I had missed my flight and that the next one wasnt until 7:00 am the next morning. This was turning out to be the trip from hell.
Back at American Airlines, they shuffled me around to a couple of counters till I got the problems office. The agent checked all airlines and could not find an open flight until 11:30 the next morning. I could try standby if I wanted. They put me up at a hotel close to the airport. I called the hotel in Brasilia and left Fabio, the Novell Technical Manager for Brazil, a message to call me. Not much of an image of Brazil yet as it was all dark. Airport was nice, hotel was high class, and everyone I met spoke English. Hotel TV had CNN, HBO, and the Weather Channel all in English.
Fabio called and said that even if I made the 11:30 flight the next morning he thought I would be alright for time. I changed the wake up call from 4:15 am to 5:15 so I could catch the shuttle. Short night and strange dreams but that always happens when I am away from home and under stress. I had that dream about being in a large skyscraper and having it fall over.
I made standby on the 7:00 am flight. I had to check my bag because it was too big. I am enjoying that bag purchase. Chip gave me the number of a company that produces rolling flight bags for airline captains and I ordered one. Industrial strength, good material, sturdy zippers, and big rubber wheels that roll without making obnoxious noises. Running through the terminal was easy with everything trailing behind me on wheels.
The flight wasnt full even though it had been sold out. On board were several of the Olympic athletes from Brazil. I think it was the women's volleyball or basketball team. I felt pretty short walking next to them down the ramp to the plane. The women were dressed in brightly colored athletic suits and the men (probably managers) were in blue blazers and bright yellow pants.
The Brazilian features and characteristics are very diverse. Hair color was generally dark but some light blond and dark blond. Eye colors range from dark to hazel to an occasionally light blue. Features range from western European to native Indian to oriental. I was surprised at the number of people with oriental features.
As we circled the city for landing, I noticed that the main roads were paved but many of the side roads were not. Houses were orderly and looked modern with block construction. As we landed, the airport seemed rather small for a city the size of Brasilia. There was a reason for that - this wasnt Brasilia. Thank goodness I asked stewardess before I got off. The flight had a stopover in Giuando. Part of the plane got off and more people got on. Now the plane was sold out.
The landing into Brasilia started the adrenaline pumping. About 20 feet above the ground the pilot threw the throttle to the blasters. The plane lurched forward but had already stalled to the point where it dropped to the ground. It then sort of submarined up, listed to one side, and the nosed down with another hard bump. I seemed more startled by it than most - maybe its a common Brasilia landing maneuver.
At the entrance to the airport were hundreds of school children dressed in tee-shirts with Olympic symbols waiting for the return of the athletes. I changed some money at the Banco do Brazil - the company that we came to meet. Long lines and the bank didnt appear to have much automation at the teller site. The teller didnt even give me a receipt with the exchange rate on it. Money here is Haul and is almost a one for one trade for the dollar. I got 195 for $200.
Countryside from the airport was interesting. It is dead of winter here and from what I understand has been very dry. Up until the day before I arrived, there had been no rain for 90 days. Red dirt was everywhere with little grass, a few palm trees, some sparse brush, and occasional patches of flowers. Driving around one night, we noticed a horse in the middle of the flower patch munching away. Lizandro said, "The horse is eating the government flowers."
We found the hotel easily without being stuck in any traffic; it was located on a rise looking over the center of the city. I went to my room and called Gustavo, the local systems engineer, on his cellular. Fabio was with him - it turned out they were two doors down on the same floor (15th and top). We talked for a few minutes and they updated me on the account. Both were very nice and understood the Novell product very well. Fabio is tall and skinny while Gustavo is shorter and more healthy. Both spoke good English and usually did so while I was around.
The account we came to meet with was Banco do Brazil - The Bank of Brazil. It is wholly owned by the government and is the largest bank in the country. They are in the midst of completely automating their process and will be rolling out the solution that they pick to over 4000 branches. The total deal is worth about $600,000,000 and Novells (or the lucky winners) cut could be about $60-100 million. Lots of stress on the local account team around this process and making a good showing.
I sent my suit down for an urgent press (pronounced yougent). It was back in 30 minutes and I was dressed and ready to go. A third person, Lizandro joined us for lunch. He was a consultant with another company that was implementing part of the solution at Banco do Brazil and was there to give us ideas on how to win the account. Kind of quiet but a great guy.
We all four piled in Gustavos car for a ride to the bank. It was a small red Fiat (built in Brazil) and was basic transportation. The bank reminded me of banks in Thailand. There were guards outside and inside and all were dressed in official looking uniforms. Dark grey and black with black berets. We had to go through a rigorous sign in with them writing down our passport numbers and all the serial numbers for our computers.
The format of the day was that each company had two hours to present. Microsoft went first, IBM second, Novell, and then Santa Cruz Operation (SCO for short). Our session was supposed to start at 2:00 pm but Fabio said that no one ever comes back from lunch on time. We had some technical difficulties in setting up the two screens and getting the computers to work but it was done and everyone was there at 2:30.
Fabio made a quick introduction and handed it over to me. As we entered, we were given small headsets with what looked like transistor radios. In the back of the room was a portable booth with a glass window in front. We had two translators that would switch between Portuguese and English depending on who was talking. Paulo was the name of one of them. He was a very fast speaker and knew lots of English. I was impressed at how much they knew about the computer lingo - I guess they do this often.
My pitch only lasted about 30 minutes and was to set up the market tendencies or current market trends. Fabio had the presentation in Portuguese and I had a version in English. I worked of my English laptop and Gustavo advanced the Portuguese slides. I think it went well but it is hard to get any type of rhythm going and rapport with the translation delay - jokes are definitely out.
Fabio took over and had 4 hours worth of material to present in an hour and a half. He went through everything and did a very good job. He was talking so fast and was so excited about the technology. As the country manager said, This is not a war of technology. Its a war of marketing."
After we finished, we headed back to the Novell office. Not far from the city center is a new office building where the office is located. The local sales manager was in the hospital for a tumor removal so we didnt have a chance to meet her but Gustavo gave us the tour of the new office and showed us where everything was going to be. We settled into the empty conference room to strategize about the presentation for Wednesday. The drank Brazilian coffee and told me how bad and weak the coffee was in the America. They drink small amounts but it is very strong. The sunset was beautiful over the city through the full length windows. Some clouds in the distance and the haze over the city created a beautiful orange and red setting.
We went through several papers, talked about some good ideas for competing with the evil empire Microsoft, and then decided it was time for dinner. Gustavo was chauffeur and gave us a royal tour of the capital city Brasilia. "The city is laid out like an airplane," he said. "And the president lives in the cockpit." I couldnt actually see it until I bought a map as I was leaving but he was right. Brasilia new city that is only 36 years old. Before that, nothing. It was a decision of the president at that time to make a city that was in the center of Brazil; 1000 meters from everywhere. It is located in a basin plain and is normally very dry. It was hot and this was the dead of winter.
A kind of U-shaped lake surrounds the cockpit. The wings are laid out to the north and south in rectangular quads. The entire city was designed to be organized. Lizandro said the city designer was a communist. Quads are numbered to the north and south in sequential numbers. Each quad has buildings that are lettered. In the main part of town, there are no houses, only 6 story apartments and many of them look the same. Every fifth or sixth quad is designated for shopping and is supposed to have stores supplying everything people in the surrounding apartments would need. The stores all appear the same but are set off with different signs and neon.
Certain quads are dedicated to specific community needs. There is a hospital area with a drug store quad across the street. All of the churches are in the same area. All the hotels were in a couple of quads. The city center complex houses the government for the entire nation. Again it was laid out very orderly with a modern geometric architecture. There was a huge cathedral that was cone shaped with floating cross above. The congress building was collection of glass, steel, and marble rectangles interwoven with fountains and pools of water. Over the top of the senate was a half dome opening down over the house was a half dome opening up. The one congress building was flat and long while the other was a tall and narrow building.
We passed each of the ministries that lined the outside of the center mall area. They were all exactly alike with their names in big gold letters. The Ministry of Agriculture, Transportation, Aeronautics, Marine, Defense, Army, Navy, Air force, Sports, etc. Gustavo told us the status of most of them and where they were in regards to buying NetWare for their networking software. It sounded like there was a degree of corruption and a lot of politics as to who was buying what. As we drove past the Ministry of Information Technology, they all had a good laugh saying that department was a joke.
We drove on out to the cockpit and past the vice presidents house. Rather a remote area on the lake and surrounded by a high fence. The presidents house was a palace but of the same modern architecture. There was a big paved area in the front that people could drive around looking but couldnt stop. Guards in special uniforms stood at the guard posts. A small moat separated the drive from the front lawn but from there in, it was a straight shot to the house with no fence in between. Gustavo said signs indicated anyone attempting to cross the moat would be shot. They debated as to whether there were alligators in the moat or not.
Not far away was the Tennis Academy where we had dinner. For the first time since arriving, I could hear no traffic. The academy was a resort with condos, hotel, swimming pools, and 54 tennis courts with all different types of surfaces. As we walked in, we could see people playing on lighted clay surface courts and several swimmers were doing laps in the Olympic size pool.
Dinner started off with a drink the guys had introduced me to earlier in the day, Guarina. It comes from some type of fruit from the north and was a mix of orange and some other tropical fruit soda. Supposedly it is available in Utah, provides an extra shot of energy, and is a natural aphrodisiac. Next was a Brazilian salad - actually it was a half salad because a full salad would feed 8 people. Salads come with beets, olives, tuna and anchovies plus all the regular greens and vegetables topped off with palm hearts.
Main course was a special Brazilian steak, barbequed in a tangy sauce with broccolied rice and something I couldnt pronounce. It was some type of ground root that had the consistency of cornmeal but tasted like it had a little curry in it - pretty good. We were too full for desert until he ran through the list and I thought I heard papaya. Brazil has the same size papayas as Thailand - big squash like things that are so flavorful. The desert was a papaya cream with a vanilla ice cream blended with the fresh fruit.
Back home to e-mail. I thought I could be in bed by 10:30 but no! Picking up voice mail I found there was a problem with revenue deferral on the new product - that is a problem that just cant seem to get resolved. Several phone calls later and I still didnt have a good answer why it was holding things up. E-mail worked. With AT&T, its pretty easy to be in touch everywhere. I got a flaming e-mail blaming me for leaking to the field the fact that the product ship would be delayed. Last week I couldnt get a reasonable straight answer so I did an informal poll and came up with probabilities for dates. No one was confident we would be on time but no one would admit it openly. I used the results in a communication to the VP of sales and someone was bent out of shape that the word was out. Sometimes I think that engineering does more internal marketing than marketing does in creating stories that hide the actual facts. Anyway, I was upset and when I finally finished e-mail at half past midnight couldnt go to sleep for another hour.
I got up and wrote up the latest press clips that outlined the flaws of Microsofts new product for Wednesdays presentation and then rebuilt the demos for the afternoon. Gustavo had invited in about 50 resellers, education centers, and key customers for a presentation. They said the big draw was the guy from America. The locals were just as qualified as I was to make the presentation but if they hadnt played the American card only about 10 people would have shown up - 41 did. It was at the hotel next door and just before going over we were joined by Badgin.
Badgin is his last name but thats what he goes by. He is the national sales manager for Brazil. Very nice guy but didnt say much and kept a pretty low profile throughout the day. Over another glass of Guarina, we talked about families. Fabio - married with two beautiful daughters. Lizandro - married with two beautiful daughters. Badgin - married with two beautiful daughters. Gustavo - married but no kids yet. All the married men had on wedding bands. I dont know if it is Brazilian style but they wear very thin, narrow gold bands.
The afternoon session was more of a challenge for me. Another booth with translators. I had to speak slowly and it is difficult to really communicate. It was dark in the room and hot and I could see several of them nod off. I was supposed to take 2 hours but wrapped it up in a little over an hour after going through market trends and then talking about the upcoming product. We had tea - bread pieces, cakes, and drinks and then Fabio did some demos that woke people up. It ended well and several of them came up after and said in English, "Good presentation."
Back to e-mail and voice mail which kept me busy till after 9 pm. We then went down to the restaurant and waited for Umberto to show up. Umberto is the Brazilian country manager and the father of four - two girls and two boys which, from the way he referred to them, must have been teenagers. Dinner was something that I havent had the pleasure of ever before - all you can eat sushi bar. It was really very good Japanese food - here in the middle of the Brazilian plain.
We talked over plans for Wednesdays ordeal and then got to bed by midnight. The format of the day was unknown until we arrived at 8 am. We were informed that we could only have five people from the company in the room at one time. As we entered the main conference room there were four sets of chairs with our company names on them. Two sets were facing each other. It was the closest thing to a court or tribunal Ive seen. The other 40-50 chairs were set up as an audience and were filled with bank people from around the country and consultants that had been brought in to help with the evaluation. Some were wearing headphones so I assumed they were from the states.
We were given three sheets of paper with a detailed list of questions that were grouped in six categories. Some had only one company name next to them but most were to be addressed by all. The rules were explained. We were to be given two hours to find answers to the questions and then 40 minutes each to present them. We were then led to a conference room with blank sheets of paper, a phone and a fax number.
The first question was on data encryption and we needed some answers from someone beyond our room and realm of expertise. We looked through the rest of the list which covered topics like security, protocols, management, development tools, etc. The encryption question needed answers so I happened to have JD and Sandys home number in Utah. With the three hour time difference, we got them out of bed at 6 am. JD is such a great guy. He rolled out of bed and down to the couch where he talked to us for 30 minutes to answer the questions we needed.
A couple of other calls and we were ready. Word came that instead of two hours to prepare we would have four. So we worked back through the list in more detail. My guess is that Microsoft needed more time to find answers from the states.
At 1 pm the presentations began. Microsoft had three Americans and two natives. They sort of read the questions and answered them in a short, adequate way but without much explanation. IBMs director just rambled and rambled. Even with good translation I didnt get much of what he said. Fabio did most of the talking for us with only a few references that I gave him. SCO did a very good job and described exactly what the bank needed to do to solve the problems.
Twenty minutes to regroup and then back for the second round of questions. Time was slipping away. Microsoft addressed some written questions that had come in, IBM rambled some more and then it was time for me to leave in order to catch my plane. Didnt get to see our grand finale. As I walked out of the bank into the night air, and looked at the setting suns reflection across the sky - I couldnt figure out why I had spent the entire day doing something that was so distasteful. I felt that I wanted to be riding through the Brazilian countryside on a motorcycle and figuring out where the moon should be in its phase. It took me two days here to notice that it got dark very early in the evening and then realize that it was winter here and the days were very short this time of year.
It was a straight shot to the airport with no stops even going all the way across town (from wing tip to wing tip). We were never held up in traffic at all and there are hardly any stop signals with the street design. I waited in line only to be told that I needed to go pay an airport tax - havent seen that for a while.
The rest of the flight home was routine although long. I bought a handmade leather wallet for the boy I am working with for the courts. He is in detention. I changed from a suit in to more comfortable clothes in Sao Paulo. As I booked my seat, the airline agent gave me a center isle seat but blocked out the other two next to me. Fortunately the flight wasnt full and I could stretch out and lay down. Almost eleven hours back into Dallas, a ninety minute layover and then on to Salt Lake.
By Friday morning I was back in the office and immediately introduced to the latest emergency. One of the analyst agencies had just issued a very damaging report entitled Novells Fall. It documented in a very direct way the problems that we have had and the reasons why would fail. Quotes like, Users have lost faith in Novell; NetWare as we know it is dead; and Microsofts Windows NT has become a viable alternative. were the bullet points. Some of us have seen this coming but it has acted as a gun to the head of senior management to get things rolling in a fast way.
So, the product that I am in charge of launching in just six weeks has now completely changed scope and definition. The entire day was spent in emergency meetings calculating the ramifications of what we need to do to get a new product out on the same time schedule. I agree that we are moving in the right direction but fear that in the headlong rush to accommodate a change of this magnitude we will make some fatal mistakes. One thing about this job, it sure hasnt been boring!
Well, its Saturday morning now. I have to write a new marketing summary by noon and get a competitive analysis reviewed by this evening. What keeps me going is thinking that maybe, just maybe in December I might be sailing through those turquoise Caribbean waters with two weeks to do nothing but read, swim, and soak up the sun!