Colombian sold calf in quest to talk to CEO
Chasing a chief executive officer to share a complaint or idea is as American as an unwanted cable TV price increase. Brooks O’Kelley says he wrote dozens of letters to the CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson, begging for a problem fix.
“Calling the 1-800 number didn’t get me what I needed,” he says. “You have to be quite persistent.” It worked.
Kathy Smith cracks me up. The 83-year-old Dallas woman faced the same issue, same company.
“I don’t think you understand,” she wrote AT&T. “I don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone. I want to talk to your CEO in person at his office in Dallas.”
She listed five dates when she was available and added presumptuously, “I will need directions to his building and instructions about parking.” Guess who never got a meeting?
The biggest loser in the Chasing After a CEO game doesn’t even live in the U.S. He’s 22-year-old Jose Dresser Gutierrez Giraldo from Colombia. He wanted to come to America and meet Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes because he admired him. “I like what he represents,” he says. The Colombian wanted to share his tech idea.
When he couldn’t get past Bewkes’ lieutenants with emails and phone calls, hefigured he’d ask AT&T’s Stephenson for help with the introduction.
AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner. That’s how I got involved. Jose contacted The Watchdog because he saw on the internet that I once interviewed Stephenson.
“I humbly with my heart request of your help to contact Mr. Bewkes or Mr. Stephenson,” his first letter to me began in English, which I later learned he studied in college. “I am not a rich person or a tycoon or a powerful investor or an influential person.” So began a stream of letters that reflected his deep obsession with getting into the CEOs’ offices. Of course, such a thing would rarely happen — nor should it. Walk-in privileges to see a CEO of a major corporation probably ended with folksy Walmart founder Sam Walton. But nobody can tell Jose that.
He’s my most stubborn Watchdog correspondent. That’s why I am telling you his story. We all have obsessions, but they must be controlled or they take over your life. That’s what happened here.
Jose decided to go to New York City and visit the 55-story Time Warner Center on Broadway. He did not have an appointment.
To raise money for the trip, he sold his beloved pet calf, Muñeca, or “Doll.”) “She was really cute,” he says. “It was very sad.”
Last April, he flew on his first plane trip ever from his town in the Medellin section of Colombia to Miami, then St. Louis and finally to LaGuardia Airport in New York. He carried two bags that included gifts for Bewkes: a T-shirt and a box of chocolates from the chocolate factory where he works. Wearing only a light jacket in the cold weather, he took a bus from the airport.
Lost in the city, he began to cry. A policeman asked why he was crying. He said he didn’t know how to get to Time Warner. The cop told him about the subway. He tried that, but got lost again.
He finally arrived at the New York skyscraper. But he wasn’t ushered up to the C-suite. Hardly. He couldn’t get past security guards to enter the building. Ejected, he sat outside by a statue of Christopher Columbus and cried.
He took a taxi to a house where he was supposed to stay. The taxi bill was $70, and he was running out of money. He was hungry, too.
The house didn’t work out, so he went to a $118-a-night hotel room and looked out the window at the great city’s night lights. He vowed to try once more.
On the second day, Jose says, the Time Warner guards were furious at his return. They threatened to call police. He tried to leave the shirt and chocolates, but they weren’t interested. He returned to the airport, waited more than a day for his plane trip, and then returned home.
I can’t get this strange trip out of my head. I grew up in Manhattan, and know those streets well. You can’t sell your calf, come to the states and expect to meet your favorite CEO.
His mother, Patricia, told my colleague Marina Trahan Martinez last week in a Skype interview in Spanish, “He’s going to keep going, even if I tell him I have doubts. Since he’s been little, he’s been that way.”
He wrote Time Warner board members to plead his case. He copied the human relations department, too.
He peppered AT&T, and even got a phone call from a top guy. Top Guy told him he admired his persistence and to never give up. But when Jose took his advice and peppered him with calls and emails, Top Guy “disappeared,” Jose says.
An AT&T rep confirms Jose’s contacts with the company. Time Warner does, too.
TW spokesman Keith Cocozza told me: “When we received the envelope with his suggestions to improve the company’s business, it was shared and reviewed by three different executives. We were very appreciative of his thoughts and told him so when he called to follow up. Another half dozen executives and employees spoke to or emailed with him over the following year, listening to and considering his thoughts on the company.”
What’s his idea? Jose is a futurist. He envisions a software app that allows a company to see where its customers are interacting with that company in real time anywhere on the globe. What are the hot spots and flash points? Who loves you? Who doesn’t? One day, all companies will probably have such a system. Jose is a bit ahead of his time.
His New York trip burned him. So distraught at his failure, he smartly began seeing a psychologist. The South American is a lover of all things U.S. — our history, culture and politics. But he says he wishes our bigshots would “pay attention to a boy’s heart and a young person’s dreams.” He asked me recently, “What do you think would happen to me if I decide to travel to AT&T in Dallas?”
No, Jose, no.