Colom­bian sold calf in quest to talk to CEO

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - DAVE LIEBER watch­[email protected]­las­

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.

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