The Story of Ray Markman – Part 6
Friday, 3:30 pm
The hour of the duel is closing fast. Can I get the information I want out of these two hotheads before they beat each other senseless? If I prove one or the other right, will that snuff out the fuse? At this point, I can’t be sure of anything.
This conflict hinges on some ill-chosen words by Loop Lonagan during heated debate with Alexander Harbinger, PhD. Fuel for the fire is an interesting research assignment—Ray Markman’s assertion, I never worked a day in my life. We’ve all done our homework and given each other our reports, but it’s turned out to be far from routine. Lonagan and Harbinger will fight a duel this afternoon.
I reach across my scarred WWII Air Force desk and refill their empty tumblers. The bottle of single malt is more than half-gone. They sip their scotch and for now, remain peaceful. It brings to mind a picture of diplomats at a negotiating table—polite, formal, with seething hostilities hidden beneath a veneer of protocol.
Finally, Lonagan begins. “Da thing impresses me most about Ray,” he says, “is he knows howta take a loss. Ray says, ‘If you never lost money, you never did anything.’ And he’s dead right.”
That makes me smile. “Sounds like trader talk to me.”
“It’s da truth. I don’t care if it’s a trading floor or a corporate office. Don’t matter. It cuts against ever’body’s logic. It ain’t easy fer a guy to learn but it’s a proven fact. Winners know howta lose.”
Lonagan swallows a slug of his whiskey. “So Ray comes across this big fantastic product. Some sorta skin lotion—solves all kindsa problems ‘n’ feels great on yer hide. He uses da stuff himself and thinks it’s terrific. He falls in love with it.” Lonagan shakes his head. “That’s always a mistake. It’s an axiom on da trading floor: Never let yerself fall in love with a deal. You get burned.” He blows on his fingers in pantomime style.
“Can’t blame ‘im.” Lonagan displays toothy grin. “Hadda learn it the hard way myself. Anyhow, here’s what Ray does. He wants to mass market dis product. The inventor ain’t got no money so Ray buys an option on it. Now he owns it on the cheap. Then he puts his heart ‘n’ soul in it. He makes the rounds of all his advertisers—real rich men. One thing for sure, Ray’s got contacts.
“But for one reason or another, they all turn him down—every one of ‘em.”
Lonagan forms a fist and squeezes like he’s crushing a walnut. “But he ain’t givin’ up. He reads how the Tony Company—the outfit created da first home permanent—just sold for 20 million bucks to a big-time player. That’s like maybe…” He squints, “…maybe half a billion in today’s money. So then this Big Player makes it known he wants to invest in risk businesses. Well, Ray’s figures—‘Hey, I got a risk business’—so he goes and sees duh guy. Doncha love it? He just goes out and sees dis guy dat spends half a billion like nothin’!
“And it turns out, da guy’s impressed with Ray’s pitch. But does he fund da project? No! Instead, he offers Ray a job!”
Lonagan takes another slug of scotch before going on. “Naturally, Ray turns da guy down so’s he kin laser-focus on his startup project. But after a while, with no real capital, he’s gotta give up on that. So he takes da job after all, ‘n’ bides his time.”
Harbinger holds up a finger. “Ziss! Ziss is yet another example of what I am saying. He works as an employee! He cannot claim he never worked a day in his life!”
Lonagan drains his whiskey and slams the tumbler on the desk so hard, the glass cracks. “Shuttup, Mr. PhD. I’m tellin’ dis story my way. Sure it’s a job, but I don’t think Ray sees it as work. What about you? I bet them universities pay real good, but whadaya think about it yerself? Is lecturing work? Is research work? When yuh publish, is it work? It’s a challenge, right? There’s plenty o’ rewards and ya love it. Gettin’ up early mornings. Can’t wait to get started. Is that work?”
Lonagan cocks his head. “‘Course maybe you’se is waitin’ for tenure so’s you can loaf da rest o’ yer career away.”
“Back off, Loop.” I feel an urgent need to intervene before things get prematurely violent. “Alex has a right to his opinion. You two get to maul each other at five o’clock. Right now I want to pick your brains while you both still have brains to pick.” I slide across a new tumbler and the bottle. “Think you can hold off hostilities till five PM?” It looks to me like Harbinger’s blood pressure is rising fast.
Lonagan sloshes whiskey into the glass. “Could be you’re right. Maybe I set my sites too high. Maybe that big-time education, don’t leave no room in a guy’s head fer the common sense we’s all born with—‘specially a big German goon like Alex.”
“Loop! Can’t you stick to the point?” It comes out louder than I expect and my voice seems to ring in my ears. I sneak another glance at Harbinger. He looks like his eyeballs might explode but he sits there and takes it, jaw clamped shut, arms crossed tight.
Lonagan smiles—a grin with real malice behind it. “Okay, I’ll play along. Where’d I leave off?” He leans back and his chair lets out a grinding squeak as he raises his feet to my desk. “Oh yeah. Ray gets busy and makes good on a buncha projects for Mr. Big. Does a real fine job. Model exec. So he figures, the time’s right, and he pitches that old product he’s in love with one more time. After all, da guy owns the Tony Company and dis product’s a great fit. Ray never gives up, see? Just waits for the right time.”
Lonagan chuckles. “Dis gets good—Big Shot makes up a survey, right there on the spot. Sends Ray out to do consumer research. When Ray comes back, his results are unbelievable—way too good to be true—like batting a thousand. Ever’body loves dis thing. All of ‘em do. Hey, I’d like to invest in it myself!” He licks his lips and rests the tumbler on his belly. Some whiskey sloshes on his shirt. “Now, da boss says they’ll form a company. Ray’s gonna be president and run it. His boss brings in brand managers from the Tony Company. Also a muckity-muck from a big ad agency. Then he goes away on a trip—expects everything’ll be ready when he gets back. So Ray works the team. Gets a lawyer and draws up the articles of incorporation. Writes a national plan with the brand managers. Gets everything buttoned up in three weeks—before the boss comes back—”
“You continue to use zee word ‘boss.’ You again identify Mr. Markman as an employee, not an entrepreneur.”
Lonagan looks at Harbinger out of the corner of his eye, clearly telegraphing an insulting sentiment. His voice comes out in low sarcastic tones. “He pitched a product venture, Alex. He built a management team, made a business plan. Any time my meaning ain’t precise enough, just let me know, okay?”
Loop turns back to me. “Now, Ray’s got ever’thing set for a big meeting. But nobody shows up. Nobody! Can you picture that? Right away, Ray knows somethin’s really wrong. I mean wrong in a huge way. Ever’body knows somethin’ he doesn’t—but nobody’s talkin’ to him about it. It’s what yuh call ‘big corporate office politics.’
“And sure enough, when Big Shot comes back he decides NOT to do da project, even though ever’thing looks great. Ever’thing’s ready. Don’t give no reason for it—just dumps the idea. Maybe somethin’ on his trip made ‘im change his mind. Maybe he didn’t wanna be in that line o’ business—maybe alotta things—I dunno. End result, Ray gets stiffed.”
Lonagan swallows more scotch. “You know as good as I do, after a thing like that a guy’s gotta move on. Mr. Big offers Ray a position with another one o’ his companies, but Ray says no. So the long ‘n short of it is he’s outava job, his wife is pregnant with their second kid and he’s stuck with this product nobody’ll fund. All ‘cause he fell in love with a deal.”
I’ve seldom heard Loop go on that long—at least in a coherent manner—and it takes me a moment to get my thoughts together.
Harbinger is scowling down at Lonagan. “Can you please come to zee conclusion?”
“Yeah, Loop. What are you driving at?”
“It’s like I said—da loss don’t get to ‘im—it don’t make ‘im give up—he just starts another company, and he keeps on makin’ companies. He ain’t got no quit in his body. If he can’t make one thing fly, he finds another. There’s plenty other ways to do business.”
Harbinger and I don’t say anything and Lonagan looks from one of us to the other. “Don’t you guys get it? Ray knows yuh gotta fail a lot to succeed. He puts his losses behind ‘im. He knows how to fail the right way—with style.”
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