"Listen," says Herb as he waves my résumé around, "I took this meeting as a courtesy to Lanie, she's been a good friend, she's thrown some business my way over the years, and I have a great deal of respect for her. If I were looking to hire a new employee, a recommendation from her would get you at least halfway there. I'm not hiring new employees."
"Oh, I know that, sir. But that's actually sort of why I'm here." He raises an eyebrow. "Lanie told me that she got the sense you were thinking about retiring altogether."
Herb lays my résumé down on his desk. "Thinking about it, yeah. I haven't made any decisions yet."
"Do you mind if I ask what you're planning to do with your business when the time comes?"
"I don't mind if you ask, Miss K__, but I haven't made those decisions yet, either. I might sell it, I might let one of my current people take over."
"Forgive me, sir, but if you thought there was someone you could trust with this company who also had anywhere near enough capital even to start buying it from you, I have a feeling you'd be on the phone looking for good tee times by now."
Herb's eyes narrow. "Lanie told me you would probably make me want to throw you out of my office, and that I should fight that urge and listen to what you have to say."
"I appreciate that. Listen, sir -"
"Please call me Herb."
"Herb, I have nothing to lose here. If you're not interested, I take my ball and I go home. Sooner or later either I'll find the right business for me to acquire, or I'll start one of my own. But if I really want to own a consulting firm for bars, I would be foolish to start one from scratch with no reputation and no book."
"Miss K__ -"
"Please call me Debra."
"Debra, I met you ten minutes ago, and a few of my employees have been with me for ten years. Why on earth should I trust you more than I trust them?"
"Right now? You shouldn't. Frankly, I'd be worried about your judgment if you did." Herb smiles a little. "But I'm willing to make a pretty significant bet that you will."
"What did you have in mind?"
"I'll work for you for the month of June, without pay." He's already raising an eyebrow again. "Put me on client relationships, mixology, training, layout, compliance, undercover, wherever you think I can help. I'll even try to bring in new business. At the end of June, if you don't think I'm the best consultant on your staff, if you don't think you can trust me to take over when it's time for you to retire, I'll respect your decision, and you don't owe me a thing."
He looks me in the eye for a few moments. "And what if you prove yourself? Then what?"
I reach into my briefcase and pull out a thin, bound booklet, which I slide across his desk. "It's not publicly traded, so admittedly some of this is spitballing, but here's my analysis of what your company was worth on April 30." Herb picks up my report and starts flipping pages. "The bottom line figure is on the last page. On July 5, I'm prepared to offer 105% of that amount for your company and all of its assets, debts, and receivables, with the intention of a September 30 closing. But that's only on the condition that you agree to stay on full-time until June 29 of next year, and be available to us by phone until December 28 of next year, to make sure the transition goes smoothly."
Herb reaches the last page, looks at the bottom line figure, looks at me, then looks at the bottom line figure again. "How you expect to get approval for a business loan of this size by July 5 without getting paid during June?"
"It'll be an all-cash offer, Herb."
"All-cash? Where did you -"
"None of your business. Here's a proof of funds letter." I reach into my briefcase again, and hand him a document from my bank that shows I'm prepared to back up my offer. He studies it for a couple of minutes.
When he finally looks back up at me, he has a strange little smile on his face. "Do you play golf, Debra?"
"No, not really. I've tried once or twice, but I've never gotten the hang of it. I'm more of a tennis player."
"Well, I was varsity in high school, and I turned down a couple of scholarship offers from colleges I didn't want to attend, but I haven't played seriously in years."
"It's funny, you know, I'm not very good at golf, and I don't get any better no matter how much I play, but I love it anyway. It's social one minute, and solitary the next. I can close a business deal in the middle of a sand trap, or I can stand there in hideous madras pants and pretend I'm putting for the U.S. Open championship. And even if I play the same course the very next day, it'll be a completely different game."
"Sounds like you're looking forward to doing more of that."
He nods, and thinks for another moment. "I've got an owner who's concerned because repeat business is down the last few months. What's your approach?"
"Any major staffing changes?"
"He's not aware of anything having changed nearly enough to have this kind of impact."
"Okay. Depending on his budget with us, I'd send in three undercovers on a rotating basis for a week or two - a solo, a couple, and a small group. I'd also think about having someone interview the staff individually to see if they have any insight, but I would be clear with the owner that I don't expect that part to be very illuminating. I think the undercover is where you're going to learn what's going on."
"That's what I think, too. He asked me to interview the staff, which I suggested would be a waste of his money, but I would do it if he really wanted me to."
"What do I win?"
"You get to lead the undercover team and be the solo. We'll start next Wednesday, which is June first. I'll put together the rest of the team. Be here at two o'clock dressed for an Irish pub, have a strategy ready for me to look at, and plan on presenting it to your team at four. You'll go on at six."
I can't help grinning. Suddenly I feel as nervous as I did the first night I ever guest-bartended at The Bar, and I wonder if I'm really up for this. "Sounds like a plan, Herb." He nods, and we shake hands, the wheels finally set in motion.
As he's walking me to the door, I ask him, "Do you have any fun plans for Memorial Day weekend?"
"I was thinking about going shopping for some new madras pants."
I laugh, and start counting the minutes until next Wednesday.