Adventures in Corporate Travel – An Unlikely 20th Birthday for KesselRun
We sat in a corner booth at the Rusty Nail, an iconic Atlanta dive bar famous for cheeseburgers and indoor cigarette smoke. We ordered two beers and our discussion quickly turned to Star Wars lore. Brandon pulled out a legal pad, wiped spilled ketchup from the college ruled yellow page and proceeded to explain that the KesselRun was in fact a test of a pilot’s ability to optimize travel through a section of space, while explaining that a parsec can be both a unit of time and distance. I nodded politely and took a long pull on my Budweiser.
So began our scheme in April 2003 to start a company that would enable us to avoid getting real jobs for a few years. Importantly, the company’s name both a moniker and mascot. But Brandon was convincing. Two supply chain guys carving out a niche in management consulting to focus solely on corporate travel may work. Two hours and a few beers later, he put the pen down, sat back and asked “So, what do you think? My response: “I’m in!”
The unlikely adventure commenced and despite our best efforts to fail, it has worked out quite well.
- Our first 3 months were spent at Brandon’s kitchen table using a phone book (the kind with actual pages), cold calling companies and asking for the CFO. We started in the A’s. Our first client was Arris Corporation. Our second client was AFC Enterprises. Our third client was Acuity Brands. Seeing a trend? It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, we didn’t make much money, but we did prove that 1950’s phone book technology worked in 2003. We decided to flip to the back of the phone book after a while.
- In our second year after having our offices burglarized twice in 2 months, we hung a sign on our front door that read: “Dear criminals: Sorry but we are all out of stuff. Please try next door. Have fun in prison.”
- I may or may not have electrocuted our company mascot that summer (Brandon’s dog). Jango, was a lovable, and apparently highly conductive, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. While the 2-month inquest was determined to be “inconclusive” and he survived (my office carpet soiled), Jango chose to never enter my office again.
- In our second year, a 5-day, 4-state sales road trip tested the limits of our partnership. Throughout the week, the interior of the vehicle shrunk with each passing day. Our journey ended with Brandon threatening my life if I didn’t “shut the #$%& up!!!”
- While pitching a client in Connecticut, an unexpected blizzard in NYC shut down all airports for 4 days. One of us packed for just such an emergency while the other wore the same clothes for the week. And so began the comparisons to Felix and Oscar (Look it up kids).
- In our third year, Brandon brought a Publix bag full of cold medicine into our meeting at Winn Dixie. Didn’t go well. We did win the business, however.
- In our fourth year, I asked for a Pepsi product at a Coca Cola meeting. Didn’t go well. We did not win the business.
- In our fifth year, I tried to teach Brandon the art of subtlety (which is a bit ironic if you’ve ever met me) after he told a prospect, the head of procurement at Blue Cross Blue Shield, that he had no clue what he was doing.
- We arrived at the Times Square headquarters of our new client, Viacom/MTV wearing blue suits (and my lucky green tie). While riding the elevator to the executive floor, our escort commented, “You guys are with the IRS, right?” We later met with the controller who was wearing shorts and flip flops. We won that business but were advised to dress accordingly moving forward.
- In our sixth year, we were accosted by a rather large security guard at the entrance of Bank of America who held out his hand demanding identification. Upon examining our licenses and business cards, he looked at us both deadpan and said, “You guys can make the KesselRun is less than 12 parsecs?” He handed us back our credentials and let us through with not even a smile.
- We experienced an enormous uptick in web search volume during the 2018 Super Bowl and thought our business was about to really take off. We then found out that our abnormally high click rate was due to the Lucasfilm premiere for the trailer to “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and with it a fleeting reference to the “KesselRun”. In some ways, the experience was even better than actually winning business. We are nerds.
For those of you who are or have been clients, we thank you. For those of you who have just let us pitch our services to you but didn’t hire us, we thank you (obviously not as much as the first group but it’s cool).
To those travel industry folks with whom we have worked in order to provide the best solutions for our clients, we thank you.
To all of the traditional supply chain management consulting firms who have carved out a corporate travel niche, we really thank you.
To our employees, who had to learn how to communicate with us, almost exclusively, through movie quotes from “The Big Lebowski”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Shawshank Redemption”, “Aliens”, “Contact”, “Seven” and of course the entire “Star Wars” anthology, we thank you.
Now get back to work.