Aiden enters the annex through the 30th floor elevator in the Sears Tower, and after confirming his appointment with the front office, is allowed in the lobby at Mackenzie and Company.
“Aiden Snorlax?” asked Alex, the administrative assistant with four years’ experience at Mackenzie, natural blonde hair and a discrete Pisces tattoo that peeked out from under her short-sleeve blouse.
“Aiden here is your Mackenzie notepad with the information cards of your interviewers today.”
Aiden thanked Alex and sat in the scenic lobby. He opened the notepad and the card on top read:
Wharton School of Business, Finance
“Vivek has a long-standing interest in developing markets, microloans for empowering women’s business ventures in emerging markets. His hobbies are to facilitate dialogue with inner city youth and urban startup companies.”
It had been a long road to the 30th floor of the Blue Cross Blue Shield tower. Aiden earned a degree in marketing from the University of Wisconsin and met Diane at a Madison mixer. She was a Delta Phi Epsilon, and he was a Sigma Nu. For him it made sense to sell insurance, he was a natural at sales. But health insurance turned out to be a lost cause after policy changes mandated by federal. He switched to supplemental, but this was a much smaller market. Without health insurance as the anchor, the supplemental was insufficient to pay the bills. You cannot collect residuals once customers switch providers and most people get jobs every seven years.
He was making $80,000, which seems like a lot on paper, but to pay the payments on a townhome, just a starter home, costs $400,000. With HOA fees, insurance, Aiden pays $3000 a month on the house alone. After groceries and bills they are right at break even. Diane’s a teacher now but she hates it. She hates having to abandon their own kids to take care of someone else’s. She hands most of her paycheck over to the babysitters, all with the hopes that, once the kids are in school, they can start to save, maybe to even buy the next house, the real house with a yard. But all Diane truly wants is stay home and cook macaroni salad and crispy rice treats (peanut butter, not marshmallow). Diane encouraged him to go for Mackenzie.
That meant night school, an executive MBA program, this time in management. Two years working nights and weekends, attending lectures online and submitting assignments on market sizing, leadership, finance, more marketing. Diane had a world of patience, but the kids were too young. Her mom was in the Upper Peninsula, which might as well be Mars.
Twenty thousand in tuition, of course he got a loan. If he lands this consulting job, Diane can stay at home, they can pay off the house faster. The stress of the screaming little demons at Prairie View elementary gave her alopecia areata, her hair started falling out in little patches.
“Vivek is ready to see you,” said Brie.
Alex took Aiden to a conference room with a glass table. On the other side of the table was a handsome blonde man, with blue eyes. His suit fit well.
“Carlton is another candidate; you will wait here until your interviewer comes in.”
Aiden had done this routine before a week earlier; he was familiar with the office. The seemingly infinite amount of snack foods and free coffee, even wine during a mixer. He passed the first round with flying colors, it came off just like a practice with his executive MBA classmates; the course was starting to look like a good investment.
The first part of the interview would be the fit questions, generally an autobiographical assessment of yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. Aiden had rehearsed these two-minute “hero stories” that succinctly described his strengths in the face of adversity. The adversity generally being, rude and backstabbing co-workers or managers, bad territory with laid-off auto workers.
Aiden exchanged pleasantries with Carlton, they discussed each other’s first interview experience. Carlton had a bit of bulk under his jacket. Aiden wondered if Carlton wrestled in high school. Carlton was currently an engineer at IBM. He had a knit red tie. Everything about Carlton made Aiden think, “He’s like you, but stronger.”
Aiden reminded himself that an interview was like golf and that you played the territory, not the competition. Out of 100 candidates, all requiring an MBA and degree metrics even to apply, 50 were chosen to be screened by a phone interview, out of which 15 would get an in-person first round interview with two forty-five-minute interviews with two entry-level consultants. The interviewers tended to follow a good cop/bad cop dynamic. About half of the candidates make it past the first round, and out of the 7 or 8 remaining candidates, maybe 2 or 3 will be chosen. The prize? $160,000 a year for 80 hours a week job, with a $30,000 signing bonus. Diane could cook a tuna casserole or meatloaf every night of the week if she wanted.
For his first interview Aiden had the challenge of helping a chip factory develop and optimize a product line of corn chips in Mexico. They currently had a 12 oz. size and were looking to add sizes but had to offset any costs associated with offering either a six oz or 1 ½ oz. sized bags. The way to answer the behavioral questions was not to jump in directly, but to pause and structure your game plan and approach, and once you define your game plan you ask the interviewer if it makes sense. Aiden determined the market size in Mexico, and current profitability. Next, he structured the equation specifically and itemized any fixed and variable costs separately. Important to this question was to determine the price point and produce an annual projection. The entire challenge requires fourth grade math and verbal skills, but is no different than blackjack, and any time you win a few hands in blackjack the waitress starts offering drinks, and then the pit boss starts asking you questions in the middle of the deal. The challenge is performing in the moment, and even counting cards in a single deck takes concentration. In a similar way the interviewer challenges your assertions in real time in a way that is designed to throw off your confidence.
With this structured approach Aiden successfully solved the challenge of stuffing as many Mexicans as possible with corn meal and maltodextrin (also derived from corn) before the next interview. A friendly, mousy looking Brazilian woman had somewhat of a different project.
“The Will and Dorian Yates foundation has partnered with Doctors without borders to commission Mackenzie to deploy a woman’s mobile health clinic in rural Cambodia…” – a pure logistics problem. You simply market-size the Cambodian population, determine the density of women in each town and determine the number of doctors, nurses, and even a modest budget for marketing the services of gynecology.
Aiden would get bored of the calculations. Of course, he could do it: a team of two doctors each working eight hour shifts and seeing four patients an hour, with four nurses staging the patients and taking vital signs, can see 320 patients a week. The key point was determining when to move towns. Aiden would start calculating side bets on how many abortions would be performed out of the 320, he concluded at least half. Aiden would draw a route laying surgically precise waste through the fetuses of Cambodia. He grew up Seventh Day Adventist, but it was a nominal identification, and these people were not Christian anyway.
Now one-week later Aiden waited for Vivek to enter, and he mentally rehearsed his practice, thinking about terms like “whitelisting’, mergers and acquisitions, franchising. When to brainstorm and when to drill down, and finally a sense of calm. He visualized single-leg and double-leg takedowns from his high-school wrestling matches. Vivek showed up. He was tall, slender, clean shaven and short cropped fade. He wore Salvatore Ferragamo driving moccasins and a tailored suit. He looked 30.
Reserved, Vivek asked, “Are you Aiden?”
“Yes,” Aiden smiled.
Vivek sighed and said, “Ok, follow me.”
Aiden complied as they ventured down the corridor, and then down a set of glass stairs with a glorious view of the Michigan mile and ubiquitous snacks. The doors were clear glass and Aiden sat down facing Vivek with his back to the door.
Stone-faced, Vivek asked, “So, tell me a little about yourself?”
An open-ended fit interview. Aiden had worked on his autobiography; he knew to keep it under two minutes.
“Well, I grew up in a small town on Lake Superior. We had a boat, and I spent a lot of my childhood out on the water. My Mom was an avid reader, so we had these leather-bound Time/Life books. I was enamored by the lives of great people, especially great explorers like Vasco de Gama, Magellan, Marquis de Lafayette, their fearlessness, and their desire to explore the vast expanses of the ocean, to go into the unknown. I read about the lives of the astronauts. As I grew up this desire for exploration was transmuted into a psychonautical one, I wanted to remake images and persuade others to strive to reach their potential for greatness. I also enjoyed meeting people, and so out of college I took a job in sales. I have a good record at it, but I was in health insurance and the market shifted directions. My restless nature has me perpetually looking to the depths just like when I was a child. Mackenzie offers me the challenges to take on big projects, and travel like I always enjoyed. So, to prepare for consulting I earned an executive MBA at the Illinois School of Business.”
Not quite interjecting, Vivek offered, “Bloomington’s a good state school.” Then Vivek slightly winced and said, “Look, I don’t really understand where you are coming from. I grew up in Karachi, which is a city of 14 million. In high school in Karachi, there were 50 students in my class, and there were 20 classes in my grade. Out of one thousand students, do you know who the Valedictorian was?” A rhetorical question, as Vivek pointed to himself. Vivek continued, “I won a scholarship to the Capital University in Islamabad, enrolled in business classes. My goal was to work for Mackenzie, so I could buy my parents a house on the outskirts of Karachi. My goal now is to make partner for Mackenzie and help to shape the global marketplace.” And with that, Vivek cracked a predatory smile.
“Ok, so let’s get to the project, shall we?” Vivek continued.
Vivek then paused to look at his laptop.
“Mackenzie has been approached by USCIS to resettle 250,000 refugees following a genocidal war in the third world. You are tasked to devise a strategy to allocate resources to optimally benefit the host regions, and primarily the welfare of the refugees. How do you propose to do it?”
The prompt was brief, which meant Aiden would have to think quickly for some clarifying questions.
“Is it necessary to resettle refugees in the United States?” Aiden asked, buying some time.
“Many of the refugees will be resettled in Germany, Canada, Great Britain, but the allotment for the United States is 250,000” Vivek responded, stoically.
“Why are there so many refugees?” Aiden asked, still stalling.
“There is a civil war in a third-world country, with an impending genocide if the refugees are not resettled.” Vivek replied, leaning back, reflecting light from his laptop.
“So, what is the overall goal of the USCIS in the resettlement of these refugees? Are there building requirements on behalf of the government, new construction, for example?” Aiden was searching for clues.
“Ah, I’m glad you asked.” Vivek said in a friendly tone. “The crisis is escalating quickly, there’s not time for new construction. So, the USCIS is looking to use existing housing capabilities. Particularly concentrated to maintain cohesion within the refugee population.”
Aiden felt a pang of nausea but forged on. “So, the first question to ask is, ‘Which states, or metropolitan areas have the available housing availability sufficient to house the refugees at a reasonable price the USCIS can afford.”
Vivek’s eyes softened. “Mackenzie had our team research exactly those questions and looking at the demographics and quality of life measures of several different cities. Are there any other questions you would have?”
“Yes,” Aiden said, relieved at least he had made some progress. “I’d want to make sure the region was safe, a particularly low crime area, so the refugees would not be harmed.”
Vivek provided a visual aid, with stacked bar graphs and pie charts with statistics for four mid-sized cities: San Jose, Detroit, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. By demographics, meaning the average age, and wealth, and fertility rate of the residents. By reducing humanity to a few quantifiable variables within a given market, you could feed a machine-learning algorithm in order to devise a suitable marketing campaign.
The graphs had been made purposefully abstruse, with housing tracts divided by rentals, condominium units, college dormitories, public/private enterprises, nursing homes. The bars were stacked with the number of available units…
“Can you give me a moment to look at this?” Aiden asked.
The answer was either Detroit or Minneapolis, Aiden just had to work out the details. His aunt Florence lived in Minnetonka, she made jello salad for Christmas.
At that moment, a vision came to Aiden, clear as a cerulean Lake Superior on a windless day. A week earlier one of his buddies from Sigma Nu texted him a link to something called a “Wyatt thread” which strangely highlighted the Rwandan massacre of the Tutsi tribe, in which an estimated 200 to 800 thousand Tutsi were hacked with machetes, all within a hundred days. Without the help of a major consulting firm, the Hutu tribes would use armed soldiers to sequester the Tutsis by race, with identification cards to verify. Then the guards would call in their fellow Hutus and clean up.
In Aiden’s vision, the Hutus were terrorizing the Lutheran church of Minnetonka. They would be playful with the seniors, slicing their bellies open and disemboweling them quickly. There was no time to waste. It would take only five seconds for the intestines of someone’s grandmother to be laying on the ground. A decent sized nursing home would have a hundred people in it, the staff would not be a problem – heck half of the staff would be refugees anyway. A team of five refugees with machetes could be in and out of the nursing home and in the back of a used Toyota in ten minutes. The elderly weakly moaning, writhing around in their own intestines and bile, pleading for a quick death.
For the children, a slightly different fate, but just as cruel. Any child willing to put up a fight would have to be exterminated of course but the younger ones, you just cut both their hands off and let them bleed out, they will not be able to hurt you even if they survive. A typical pre-school has stricter limitations, there the teachers may put up a fight, but over half of them were from El Salvador anyway and they were smart enough to run at the sight of a machete. The teacher that did fight, average age 32 with $50k remaining in student loans, maybe named Daphne, that had never seen blood, the one with the sign in her front yard that says “In this house we believe…” – but this sign, a modern-day Passover marker, cannot assuage the refugees as they do not know English. The refugees would be thorough, liberating her head from her body, after which the children would be like docile little lambs. A standard day care has thirty children in it, so you have to be in and out faster to make the numbers. In Rwanda, the Hutus slaughtered an average of 5000 Tutsis a day, so the Minnetonka refugees would need a 10 x kill ratio, they’d need a good team of 500 bloodthirsty assassins to clear out a town like Minnetonka. With only 50,000 or so people living there now, it would only take ten days of hacking to wipe it off the map completely and give these tangible assets to the Hutus. Of course, five other towns would have to be liquidated as well. There may be cops, but after the recent lawsuits and layoffs one cannot be too sure.
As Aiden snapped out of this fugue state, his heart was racing, but after that, he felt a strange relief. That the refugees would bring clarity, there would no longer be any necessity of pretense that the intense hatred of the Minnetonka demographic (average age 45, average assets $55k liquid) did not exist or could be waved away with a lump cash sum of $20,000 to every person who passes the paper bag test. Nothing but complete liquidation will sate the desires of the amorphous refugee. Once the refugees liberated Daphne’s head they would collect it and place it on a pike, quirky problem glasses and all, next to Claire and Sydney and a dozen others adorning the used Toyota…
“So looking over the cities I think I can narrow it down quite easily to either Detroit or Minneapolis. Both offer unique opportunities. Detroit has more colleges and a larger proportion of housing vacancies, more college dormitories. However, those metrics are similar for Minneapolis and the violent crime levels are lower here. We want to make sure the city is hospitable to our refugees.”
Vivek was nonplussed. “What about diversity? Detroit is a more diverse city, how might that play into this decision?” His face betrayed nothing, stiff as his Ermenegildo Zegna trofeo dress shirt.
“Well, diversity is a two-way street, Vivek. Detroit is a more diverse city and has been, accommodating, but Minneapolis also has a growing refugee population too…”
Aiden was losing, he was in a cul-de-sac and Vivek was running out the clock. Aiden remembered that the second interview was not like the first. There is often more than one visual aid, and the first one may be a decoy, a lizard’s tail to burn time. He was missing something entirely.
Aiden leaned back. “I’ve got a question. Who owns the houses?”
“I beg your pardon?” asked Vivek.
“In market analysis you can invest in all the data collection, or you can piggyback on the experts. Quizno’s for example, would only build new locations where a new Starbucks was built, on the assumption that Starbucks did the due diligence on market analysis.”
“This has nothing to do with fast food Aiden,” said Vivek, bemused.
“There are institutional buyers. Pension funds, hedge funds, wealth management players. They are the smart money. Show me where they invested, and if they are a large enough player, we can negotiate with them on a more wholesale level rather than the hassle of contacting individual homeowners.”
Vivek tilted his head as if giving a side eye, before slowly cracking a grin.
“That’s actually something we’ve been looking into Aiden.”
Once Vivek produced the second, crucial visual aid, the game was up.
“So, it’s clear, and I’d like to make my proposal. The institutional buys in Minnetonka, Plymouth, Inver Grove, Eden Prairie, and Minneapolis itself clearly indicate financial interest in the future of this region. Because the refugees will be renting, this will allow the institutional buyers to have a safe, long-term investment, without losing any of their equity from their capital expenditure. Because this is a government project, we can use our volume to produce a wholesale bid. It’s a win-win.”
“It’s not a bad proposal, Aiden, can you fit all the refugees in one region?”
Aiden drilled down; the details were easy. Once you looked at institutional purchases, dormitories, rental vacancies, the numbers almost completely added up. Any excess could go to Detroit, why not? But for the cohesion of the refugees, it made sense to keep them within one city. They exchanged pleasantries and as Aiden walked out, he envisioned the Sydneys, the Daphnes, the Claires and the Ericas of Minnetonka. They would harmonize in a modern Greek chorus as curdled blood and maggots erupted out of their cold stiff mouths.
“We do this to make amends for our race, so that a brighter future for Minnetonka may take root. And may history reward our good faith and once we have disappeared, may we live on only in a benevolent legend, though we do not deserve even this.”
It would be a shame about the Minnetonka kids. Aiden could always arrange for his Aunt Florence to stay in a new boathouse on the Upper Peninsula. It was all hypothetical anyway. If the bonus pays like projected, they can move into Clarendon Hills where Diane and the kids would be safe, and Aiden could buy a new Chris Craft design boat he had his eye on.
Faisal Marzipan’s latest book, A Gaucho Throws the I Ching, is available now in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.