This episode originally aired on January 30, 2022.
Welcome back! At this point, you’ve heard two sets of stories and how-to lessons for building business infrastructure. The first set included the story of Emily Miller and how to create a Business Parts Analysis followed by the story of Albert Andoh and how to create a Business Design Blueprint.
If you haven’t listened to those four episodes, then make sure you do! They contain foundational information that will help you follow along with this next story, and create business infrastructure for your organization.
Now it’s time to meet our next entrepreneur, Sarah. She works at a family-owned business and is at odds with her brother. They’re both blind-sided when a malicious virus attacks their company’s network. They’re about to learn how a plan for managing their electronic records can help them go on the defense.
This is Episode 239: The Princess vs. The Politician – The Story of the Reubens & the Furniture Store in High Demand.
Sarah Reuben is currently the Chief Operating Officer of her family’s 35-year-old furniture company. She really should be CEO and everyone seems to agree, or so she thinks. Everyone except her brother, Steve. Steve is the Chief Marketing Officer and Sarah’s nemesis. Their company thrives despite their tumultuous relationship; that is, until a virus attack and the abrupt loss of their I.T. manager left their operations vulnerable. Now they must band together to fix the problem and return to normalcy. News of the attack cannot leak to their customers. Their consultant introduces them to the Electronic Records Management element of the Kasennu framework to resolve this issue and ensure it never happens again.
Just one week into 2015, the year was already proving to be stressful. Upon doctor’s orders, Sarah Reuben decided to take a weekend getaway. It was an unusually cold and bitter day in Dahlonega, Georgia. The mountains were capped with snow, making it the perfect environment to stay indoors, drink peppermint tea and read a good book near a fireplace.
That’s what Sarah intended to do, but, despite the cold, she opted instead to take a walk along a nature trail to see the Amicalola Falls. She reasoned it would be the perfect place and the perfect weather to hopefully mask the smell of the freshly rolled joint she planned to smoke.
Walking along the trail proved to be just as therapeutic as seeing the glorious waterfall itself. The stillness of the fresh air, along with the soothing sounds of the water rushing down the cliff and pounding against the rocks and into the creek below, made her forget about smoking altogether.
After basking in the wonderment of the waterfall for a couple of hours, Sarah decided to turn around and head back to the lodge where she was staying for the weekend. She had a massage appointment.
Instinctively, she pulled out her cell phone for a time check; however, she was in the middle of nowhere and there was no cellular service. So, she decided to check the time the old-fashioned way; she stopped walking long enough just to lift her wrist and look at her watch. Uh oh! Her appointment was in 10 minutes. Jogging at a speed fast enough for a fallen tree branch across the trail to go unnoticed, she tripped and almost fell. She told herself to slow down, to take her time.
The spa was just as serene an environment as her walk outside. The warm, earth tone colors, the trickling sounds of water and the subtle flute music in the background helped Sarah maintain a sense of calm. She was escorted into a room where her massage would take place. When the massage therapist entered the room, she asked Sarah what type of pressure to apply – light, medium or deep tissue – and where.
[Sarah]: “Deep tissue, please! Over my entire body.”
The massage therapist began applying oil to Sarah’s stressed body. Her neck and shoulders were especially tense. Sarah winced in pain several times during the massage, even when the massage therapist barely touched her.
As hard as she tried to relax, it was next to impossible. Her mind was racing. How can I relax? she thought. They were in the midst of their January White Sale while trying to recover from all hell breaking loose nearly two months ago. With her face still nestled in the face cradle, she practiced her breathing again, slowly inhaling and exhaling in a controlled fashion. Unfortunately, this didn’t quiet her mind. It had the opposite effect and Sarah felt like the controlled breathing opened a portal.
Suddenly, her life, post-college, flashed before her as though someone had pressed a rewind button at its highest speed. Her first job out of college was at a manufacturing facility in Ohio. She gained a wealth of knowledge during her four years there. She resigned and began working at her family’s furniture store, applying manufacturing principles she learned while in Ohio.
When the time was right, she approached her father about taking a lead role in the operations of their furniture company.
Her father and her uncle, co-founders of the business, thought it was a great idea when she proposed shifting the business model from reseller to manufacturer. She even pitched the idea to different employees and each one genuinely seemed to think it was the right direction. All cylinders were fired, and Sarah was ready to execute. There was just one problem: her older brother, Steve.
Steve oversaw marketing and, although he agreed that the shift could be good for business, he didn’t agree that Sarah, at that time a 25-year-old, should be in charge of anything, let alone the lifeline of the company — its merchandise! To keep the peace, Sarah’s dad placed her into an apprentice-type role by giving her a title, Executive-in-Training.
Sarah worked hard applying what she learned academically as well as professionally as an Industrial Engineer. Over the next five years, they successfully transitioned to providing custom furniture only and the company enjoyed exponential growth. Sarah received many awards in the local business community for her work. Everyone seemed to sing her praises.
Everyone that is, except Steve.
[Sarah]: “Of course he didn’t. He’s too busy being a politician to notice.”
None of that mattered now. They were in trouble. A malicious virus recently threatened to undermine the entire company. The virus corrupted all their customer data from last year, making it difficult to manage production schedules, answer client inquiries, and reconcile payment information.
In fact, more and more customers were successfully requesting chargebacks as they rightfully complained that their orders were either late or had no signs of being fulfilled. Despite Sarah’s and Steve’s best efforts to keep this information away from their dad, it was too late. He caught wind that the bank was threatening to freeze their account because of the chargebacks.
Sarah and Steve were concerned that the bad news would cause their dad another heart attack. To top it all off, their I.T. manager bailed on them when they needed him most.
Sarah’s mind race abruptly ended, as if the stop button was pressed, just as she heard that the massage was over. Before she got up from the table to dress herself, she lifted her face from the cradle and rested her chin on top of her clenched hands thinking, How did we get here?
Steve Reuben was born with the gift of gab, a natural salesman. His six-foot muscular frame, dark, curly hair and strikingly handsome good looks were usually enough to command attention before he even graced people with his baritone voice and poetic prose. His stubbornness was his only admitted flaw, but he chalked that up to being a Taurus.
Talking to others was as easy as for him as breathing and he hoped today would be no exception. Although it was cold out and he had a persistent cough, Steve made it a point to go to the exclusive golf club where he was a member of. He was on a mission. His family’s business was in the middle of a crisis and, with a major sale going on, it would only compound the problem. He couldn’t wait to discuss this with Alton.
Steve met Alton at the club several years ago and they connected instantly. He considered Alton to be not only a good friend, but also a trusted advisor with whom he happened to share many interests, golf being one of them.
It was Alton who helped clean up their company’s network following the virus attack. In the process, he discovered that their network was highly susceptible to attacks vis à vis its liberal Bring Your Own Device policy, a policy initiated by the now-departed I.T. manager.
After eating a light breakfast, Steve and Alton walked outside of the café overlooking the golf course. Steve wasted no time. He brought up the virus debacle before they made it to the first hole. Alton was a little shocked. Normally, they waited until at least the ninth hole to talk business, if at all, but he knew his friend’s situation was desperate.
Alton told Steve about a partner at his firm, Gary Cornsilk. He’s a cybersecurity consultant with a strong background in risk management.
They walked to the locker room after their round. Alton had to leave right away but Steve was not as pressed to leave so soon. He dreaded the thought of going to the store but knew he had to. Once he packed his things from his locker, he sat down on the wooden bench between the rows of lockers and looked up into the ceiling for a few minutes.
Out of nowhere, he thought of his sister, Sarah. So…the Princess isn’t invincible after all. She claims she’s the one always looking into the details. So why didn’t she see through that piece-of-crap network we had?
Suddenly, he broke out into a cold sweat and began coughing violently. Steve suppressed the cough by drinking some warm water from his sports bottle. Then, he leaned over and, with his elbows kneading into his thighs, placed his head into his cupped hands, wondering, How did we get here?
While on his way to an important meeting, Alton took advantage of an exceptionally long wait at a traffic light to send Gary Cornsilk a text message. He marked it URGENT. Gary couldn’t imagine what the urgency was. Everything seemed to be quiet around the office. Later, when Alton arrived, he poked his head into Gary’s office.
[Alton]: “Hey, got a minute?”
[Gary]: “Sure, come on in. What’s up?”
[Alton]: “My buddy’s dad owns that big furniture store up in Alpharetta. They recently had a major virus attack, but before I get into that…”
[Gary]: “Yeah, I remember you working on that. Is that the emergency?”
[Alton]: “Yes. And I need your help. But before I tell you more about that, let me give you a little background so you can decide if you have time to take on this challenge.”
[Alton]: “My buddy’s name is Steve Reuben. He’s currently the CMO but he and his sister, Sarah, fight constantly over who should take over their father’s place as CEO. For years, I thought their contentious relationship was just normal sibling rivalry until I was onsite working there toward the end of last year. Dude, they really hate each other!”
[Alton]: “The virus attack happened last November. Turns out, they allowed their employees to bring their own devices to work and you know how problematic that can be.”
[Alton]: “Well, the day the attack happened, Steve called me, frantic. Man, it was bad. I could hear yelling in the background as we talked on the phone.”
[Alton]: “I went over there as fast as I could and narrowed down the source of the virus to the laptop of one of the design consultants. His teenage son had used his computer the night before and…let’s just say he went to a website he shouldn’t have. That website installed a vicious virus that lay dormant in the background. It wasn’t until the design consultant went into work the next day and logged into the store’s network that the virus went into full attack mode.
[Alton]: “Once I isolated the source, I began removing it from the network but, by that time, it had already spread throughout their network-based systems like a pandemic. It took about a week to remove it and another two weeks to add security protocol and a remote data backup system. I’ve been closely monitoring the situation ever since.”
[Alton]: “I got one of our techs to install a VPN for them too. That way, they’d have a better, encrypted layer of security when accessing their company’s private network remotely.”
[Gary]: “Wait, they didn’t already have a VPN?”
Alton]: “No! Dude, their network was wide open! Anybody could have logged into it and caused major damage. I’m amazed it didn’t happen sooner. Anyway, I started asking their I.T. manager about the security, or lack thereof. I guess he felt undermined by my presence and all my questions. He resigned within a couple days of the attack. No offer to stick around and fix the problem or anything. The guy just left!”
[Alton]: “I told Steve about you earlier this morning. I explained to him that, although I identified the source of the problem and removed the threat, all I did essentially was stop the bleeding. But you and I both know they need a mitigation or Disaster Recovery plan moving forward. Viruses are not the only way they can lose data. I’m gonna text you Steve’s number.”
[Alton]: “I’m sure Steve is pacing back and forth waiting for your call. Poor guy. To further complicate things, they’re in the middle of their January White Sale so the volume and velocity of sales is high. They’ve got to get this situation under control A.S.A.P. before their clients find out.”
Gary jotted some notes on his tablet as a reminder of the key points Alton shared with him. Then, he called Steve.
Gary drove to the furniture store from his office. A chime rang as soon as he walked into the store. Once inside, he was greeted by a well-dressed design consultant. He couldn’t help wondering if this was the person who unknowingly had brought the virus into the store.
Gary introduced himself, announcing that he was there to see Steve Reuben. The design consultant walked away and badged into a locked door behind the customer service area, near the store’s entrance. A few minutes later, Steve walked out.
[Gary]: “Yes, it’s me, the one and only.”
[Steve]: “I’m glad to see you. Why don’t we go into my office?”
Steve shook Gary’s extended hand and led him behind the customer service area and through a locked door. The ambiance on the other side of the door was just as posh and inviting as the showroom side. All the office furniture shined brilliantly and there was a nice flowery fragrance just light enough to not be overwhelming. The classical music playing through the speakers evoked a sense of calm and tranquility.
By the looks of this place and the people who work here, you’d never imagine anything was wrong. Steve’s office looked as though one of their design consultants decorated it. It was beautiful. He had various motivational messages framed and resting on a bookshelf along with framed pictures of what Gary assumed were his wife and children. There were also pictures of Steve with some of their celebrity clients.
[Steve]: “So…where do I begin? First, thank you for coming over on short notice. I’m not sure how much Alton shared with you. Maybe that’s a good place to start. What do you know about our situation so far?”
Gary looked at him as empathetically as possible and repeated what Alton previously told him. He was careful not to repeat the parts about the family drama. Steve nodded his head.
[Steve]: “Yeah, that sounds about right. I can fill in the gaps for you. We realized our network had been attacked when one of our design consultants said she couldn’t access any of her client’s files. She said they were all empty. When she opened a file, a pop-up window appeared with a message indicating that the file was corrupt. At first, she thought it was a fluke until she tried to access other client files. Same thing. All content wiped out. All corrupted.”
[Steve]: “I reached out to Alton right away and asked him to come over and investigate. It was an emergency and our I.T. manager was still out for the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Hmm, Gary thought. That was a detail that Alton forgot to mention. The I.T. manager was on vacation when the incident occurred. Getting the full story from Steve was already proving to be beneficial.
[Steve]: “Alton located the virus, removed it and figured out its source. But things got worse, actually catastrophic before they got better. We lost all data for the year 2014, including customer orders and estimates. Seeing that was bizarre, to say the least, because it only affected that year. Alton explained that it was because the virus erased any file with a 2014 created or modified date, including files attached to customer and vendor profiles in our databases.”
[Steve]: “Our saving grace was the fact that we still have some ‘old school’ employees around here who prefer paper files over electronic files. Some of them had paper files on the more recent orders as well as a handful of completed order files. And some of our production management team also had copies of printed orders from the customer database.”
[Steve]: “With that knowledge, we went on defense. We began piecing together these orders like it was a giant jigsaw puzzle. It was tedious and time-consuming work. All hands were on deck. For a few weeks, I think many of us survived on nothing more than sugary donuts and coffee. We had to do what we had to do.”
[Steve]: “The most important thing was keeping news of the attack away from my dad and our customers. My dad and stepmom were out on a Caribbean cruise. We had hoped we could have the problem solved before he returned. So, we made a collective, conscious decision to keep up the façade. We have a reputation for producing fine and quality custom furniture. If our virus attack leaked to the public, it could cause irreparable damage.”
[Steve]: “As of last week, we recovered about 65% of the 2014 customer order information. My hat goes off to the design consultants. They found all kinds of clever ways to tell our clients they needed more time to check on the status of their orders.”
[Steve]: “The façade was working until too many of them started requesting chargebacks. I understood it, but I certainly didn’t like it. In hindsight, I should have proactively communicated with all of our clients to let them know that our network had been compromised, not hacked and that we were actively taking measures to mitigate the issue. Many of our customers are on a strict timeline and absolutely need their orders filled by the estimated date we provide them.”
[Steve]: “You have to keep in mind that our clientele consists of celebrities, movie and film set designers and other affluent people throughout the metro Atlanta area. Our furniture has been featured on many TV shows and magazines whenever our celebrity clients invite camera crews into their homes. I hope I’m not rambling.”
[Gary]: “No, not all.”
[Steve]: “Okay, good. So, I told you about the customer order side. Then there were our financial records. My cousin Jonathan reported that we also lost all those 2014 records. He and his team also had several late-night marathons trying to reconcile receipts, invoices…they had to contact the bank to get copies of all 2014 statements. They even had to call some of our vendors to request copies of bills they knew we owed but had not yet paid. The last thing we needed was to get hit with collection notices.”
[Steve]: “When our I.T. manager got back from vacation, Alton asked him the most obvious questions: ‘Why don’t we have a VPN’? and ‘Why isn’t there a remote data backup system’? When Alton told us our data could have been recovered if we had a data backup system, the Princess and I both became livid.”
Steve noticed the puzzled look on Gary’s face. He explained that he calls Sarah “The Princess.” He calls her that because she’s a daddy’s girl, but his father calls her that because Sarah means princess in Hebrew.
[Steve]: “Back to the I.T. manager. We assumed he had an airtight system in place to manage our data. He had been with us for eight years. We had no reason to question him. He looked and talked like he knew what he was doing. He had his own little fiefdom here. Needless to say, he felt insulted by what he called ‘an attack on his character and his professionalism.’ He resigned two days after he returned from his vacation.”
[Steve]: “I remember us being in my dad’s office when his resignation showed up in my dad’s inbox. My dad read it aloud to me and Sarah. Sarah said, ‘good riddance!’ I think it’s one of the few times we’ve ever agreed on anything. By the way, Sarah and my dad also want to meet you. I’ll take you to the back to meet her.”
They walked out of the office area, past customer service and through the vast showroom. The one-story showroom featured several simulated living and working environments to help clients envision the optimal type of furniture they wanted designed. Toward the back of the showroom was a spacious lounge area with large tables and plush leather chairs. The two gentlemen continued walking until they came to an inconspicuous door painted in the same black color as its adjacent walls.
Steve scanned his badge against the electronic reader on the wall to the right of the door. Gary followed him down a narrow hallway that, eventually, opened into one massive room. One could not imagine the scale of this area based on the outside of the store; it was just as inconspicuous as the door they walked through to enter it. Inside, there were at least 40 to 50 people distributed throughout this area, each working attentively on their designated tasks.
They turned right and walked toward the far end of the area near what appeared to be a loading dock. There, Gary saw an office with a closed door and a rectangular window next to it, covered in open blinds. This, Steve told him, was Sarah’s office.
Steve peeked through the window. Sarah happened to be on the phone with an angry client attempting to explain why his furniture wasn’t ready. She looked up, saw Steve and Gary at her window, held up two fingers and mouthed, Give me two minutes.
Gary took advantage of the brief wait outside Sarah’s office to respond to a text message. When she hung up the phone, she motioned for Steve to open her door.
Gary followed Steve into her office and heard faint sounds of native flute and drum music. Sarah stood up behind her desk as the two men entered her office. Instantly, she and Gary were struck by each other’s appearance, not in a romantic way, but in a most peculiar way. Gary expected to see someone dressed to the nines, much like her brother. Instead, he saw a woman only one inch shorter than Steve and at least two inches taller than himself, with dark, thick brunette hair pulled back messily into a bun. She wore glasses, steel-toed shoes with khaki pants and a red plaid buttoned-up shirt. A far cry from a princess, he thought. But in fairness, she does work in a warehouse.
Conversely, Sarah expected to see what she envisioned as a stereotypical technologist – someone wearing a tee-shirt and jeans, almost slouchy in appearance. But Gary was dressed in a suit and tie with shoes that seemed to shine as bright as the sun. Aside from his manner of dress, she had never seen anyone quite like him. He had high cheekbones and shoulder-length, jet-black hair slicked back neatly into a braided ponytail. His complexion was like terracotta – the red clay found throughout Georgia.
Steve introduced Gary and told Sarah that he explained to Gary a good bit of their virus woes. Before leaving her office, Steve asked that Sarah call him when she and Gary finished talking so that he could let their father know.
[Sarah]: “I hear you come highly recommended by Alton. He just saved us from digital anarchy!”
Sarah managed to crack a smile, but Gary knew their situation was dire and far from a laughing matter.
[Sarah]: “Steve said he told you everything. Do you have any questions for me?”
[Gary]: “As a matter of fact, I do. What do you do here as COO? The reason I ask is so that I can have a better understanding of the types of data your team generates and manages.”
[Sarah]: “I’m the brains behind this operation. I’m responsible for overseeing client orders from production all the way to delivery. I…”
Just as Sarah was getting ready to delve into the details of her role as COO, she stopped herself.
[Sarah]: “I have an idea. I hope you have time and don’t mind getting a little dirty. Why don’t we walk the floor? That way, you can see what we do back here and gain a better understanding of the types of associated records. You might want to leave your jacket and briefcase here in my office.”
They walked along the perimeter of the warehouse, so as not to get in the way of the people working, through a massive sliding double door and all the way to the other side of the area. Sarah pointed out that this was the beginning of their assembly line and that each main section was marked by a bright red rectangle painted on the floor. Gary noticed the words, Process Order, painted in all caps and in the same bright red color every three feet along the rectangular boundary.
[Sarah]: “As soon as the design consultants enter a client’s paid order into our database, our master carpenter receives that information and checks whether we have the materials in stock. We usually don’t since we build to order. But there are times when we may have enough in scrap materials, like wood, from previous jobs. He lets the design consultant know the materials’ status, along with its ETA – Estimated Time of Arrival. As a rule of thumb, our design consultants are trained to tell customers that their order will take a minimum of six weeks to build. However, that time can increase based on the material’s ETA and other factors.”
[Sarah]: “The design consultants then update the order in the database. The master carpenter receives an automated email from the database. That’s the cue to place the orders for materials. Everything we do in the database is date and time-stamped. That’s why the virus was able to cleverly erase any file dated 2014.”
They followed an arrow painted in neon yellow on the floor from the Process Order to the Build Order section of the warehouse. Sarah raised her voice so that Gary could hear her over the machinery; otherwise, her voice would be muffled by the sounds of hammers, drills, and electric saws.
[Sarah]: “Once the master carpenter places the order for all materials, that information is also updated in the database. You’ll notice that directly across from this Build Order section is a receiving dock. We have separate receiving and loading docks.
[Sarah]: “This is where the actual furniture making happens. The number of people working on an order depends on the type of furniture, its size, and the required materials. The master carpenter updates the status of each order weekly according to its stage of production. This allows anyone with access to the database to be able to tell clients the status of their orders.”
They continued following the painted arrows on the floor until they walked through the sliding glass doors again and landed at the Inspect Order section. In this area were several different types of furniture that had a tag on each, indicating its inspection status.
[Sarah]: “This is my domain! We have a quality manager, but I insist on inspecting every piece of furniture before it’s placed temporarily onto a storage shelf and when it is removed from the shelf prior to being shrink-wrapped and placed on a delivery truck. I want to make sure that each piece of furniture that leaves our warehouse meets my approval. I test it for fit, function, craftsmanship, etc.”
Eventually, Sarah and Gary were back where they had started originally, the loading dock area which contained her office.
[Gary]: “This is some operation, Sarah!’
[Sarah]: “Thank you! It took a lot of hard work to get here. I attribute much of my success to a plant I worked at in Ohio as an Industrial Engineer. I studied the importance of timing and doing things in the right order to meet production targets.”
[Sarah]: I’ve been around our store my whole life, but when I came to work here permanently, we hit a rough patch, sales-wise. I saw how the market for custom closets was taking off and asked my dad and uncle if we could start making custom furniture.”
[Sarah]: “This warehouse is triple the size it used to be. For years we only had the dock outside of my office and the storage section. That was it. We already had awesome design consultants, but even they were beginning to get bored with our limited product offering. They jumped at the chance to add variety.”
[Sarah]: Meanwhile, I got certified in Project Management, as well as Lean Six Sigma and I developed an estimation model. I even worked with a software designer to build a custom order management database for us. He put it on the network so that everyone could have access to it.
[Sarah]: However, it really needs to integrate with our Customer Relationship Management system as well as to tie into the accounting system Jonathan uses. Just as I was starting to research that, the virus attack happened.”
[Sarah]: “I’m so mad at myself. I can’t believe I never thought to verify if our information was backed up or not. But I remind myself that while I’m here in the back literally getting my hands dirty and inhaling woodchips, the ‘Politician’ is out front and center kissing babies and shaking hands.”
[Sarah]: “Sorry, I’m venting now. I call my brother The Politician. If we’re gonna work together, you may as well find that out sooner than later. Steve likes to schmooze, socialize with his pretentious friends in these fancy clubs and kill precious time on the golf course. And to think, he truly believes Dad should pass the torch on to him. The I.T. manager was right under his nose and he failed to see what was going on.”
Gary knew he needed to get the conversation back on track. He asked if Sarah could give him a quick demo of the different systems she and Steve mentioned before meeting with their father.
Sarah complied and once she showed Gary their ordering system, CRM database and their accounting software, she called Steve to let him know that she and Gary were headed toward the front of the store.
Sarah escorted Gary to her father’s office. Steve and Sarah both bore a striking resemblance to their father, especially Steve. The only discernable difference between Steve and his father was his father’s white, wavy hair.
[Mr. Reuben]: “Come on in and have a seat, Gary.”
His office was larger than Steve’s and beautifully framed artwork adorned the walls. Gary was surprised he did not see a computer in Mr. Reuben’s office, only a tablet resting on the credenza across from his desk.
[Mr. Reuben]: “You’ve met with Steve and Sarah, so I’m sure you’ve heard an ear full. I probably can’t add more details regarding that virus attack we had a couple of months ago, so I thought I’d share with you a little more about our history. Being that you’re a risk manager guy, I’m sure you can appreciate full disclosure. You’ll basically get the same speech I gave to Alton.”
[Gary]: “Yes sir, please feel free to tell me. Anything else you can share that you think is helpful is much appreciated.”
Mr. Reuben went on to explain that their company would celebrate 35 years in business in May. He and his brother started it from very humble beginnings. His first wife missed New York and hated being in the South. Eventually, they divorced, and she relocated with a young Steve back to New York.
[Mr. Reuben]: “Steve was a little kid at that time. It wasn’t too long afterward that my brother and I started networking, attending different events, and meeting new people. Two years later we secured financing and…voilà! the wheels were in motion to open our first store. By then, Steve’s mother had filed a divorce and returned to New York with him. I met Sarah’s mother, my current wife, a year later. We married a few months before we opened the first store.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “You see, Steve and Sarah grew up differently. Sarah thinks Steve resents the fact that she grew up with me in the house and he didn’t. That’s really the genesis of this whole Princess vs. Politician thing. They’ve called each other derogatory names as long as I can remember. Steve is nine years older than Sarah.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “What’s crazy is that they both work really hard and want what’s best for our company. Sadly, they don’t see how much they need each other. Steve is one hell of a business strategist and marketer. And Sarah is like a little pitbull: once she sinks her teeth into solving a problem she doesn’t let up until it’s solved.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “Sarah complains that Steve is like ornamentation; she says his primary purpose is to look good. She doesn’t have an appreciation for the networking that he does and how it helps him keep his finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the city. It was through Steve’s connections that we made inroads into the burgeoning film industry in Georgia.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “Then you have Steve who complains that Sarah is like a mad scientist who buries herself in her laboratory, a.k.a. the warehouse, and never comes out to see what’s really going on. But I have to tell you, if it weren’t for Sarah our operations would have gone caput a long time ago. When she really started paying attention to quality, we were able to increase our prices by a flat 15% across the board.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “And my poor nephew Jonathan. My kids nicknamed him ‘Switzerland.’ He’s my brother’s boy. He’s between the ages of Sarah and Steve, which doesn’t help in conflict resolution. Whenever a new battle ensues between the Princess and the Politician, he maintains his neutral position. He’s constantly trapped in the middle. He’s a great kid too. I just wish he would stand up for himself more, but even I must admit that’s hard to do when you’re dealing with such strong personalities. It’s a mess if you wanna know the truth.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “Let me give it to ‘ya straight. I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life. No ifs, ands or buts about it. My brother retired and cashed out five years ago and, ever since, I’ve become envious of his leisurely lifestyle. I bought a condo down in Palm Beach. My wife and I can’t wait to live there permanently. Problem is, I can’t retire until I know these two won’t kill each other…and destroy our business in the process.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “With the steady increase in business, I worry we’ll start losing our most valuable employees. Our employees have repeatedly expressed frustration over the internal family drama. They can be told literally to do two different things by Sarah and Steve. It was starting to cause mix-ups in customer orders and that was unacceptable. Some customers were starting to post bad reviews online. I bet they didn’t mention that to you. That’s when Sarah decided to move her office to the back of the store in the warehouse, as far away from Steve as possible.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “There’s something else they probably haven’t mentioned either: none of the systems talk to each other. I think it’s a function of them operating in silos. It’s like they each have their own little fiefdom. Now we have separate personnel, financial, CRM and warehousing systems that don’t communicate with each other. Nothing is documented either. And some data is entered twice or maybe even three times. I think Sarah may have some of the processes documented for the warehouse, but you should definitely ask her.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “The long and short of it is this: our I.T. manager leaving, and the virus are really the result of other deep-rooted issues. Even if you put a Disaster Recovery plan in place, it will only be as effective as the leadership who collectively enforce it.”
[Mr. Reuben]: “They think the stress of leading the business solo after my brother left is what caused my heart attack. Truthfully, it’s them and their constant bickering that have me in this predicament. Sarah probably has no idea that I know about her self-medicating pot smoking and Steve’s been coughing around here so much I thought he would cough up his own lung!”
[Mr. Reuben]: “Now that I’ve bared my soul to you, what’s your judgment, St. Peter?”
Gary reached in his pants pocket to retrieve his phone and do a time check. He had been at the store for nearly two hours and felt drained.
[Gary]: “I can definitely appreciate why you shared this with me, especially the part about being told what to do by two different people. That can be an issue. Considering the severity, I’ll try to get a proposal out A.S.A.P.”
Gary returned to his car and drove to the Taqueria next door. He walked up to the bar and pleaded to the bartender.
[Gary]: “Give me the strongest drink you’ve got!”
During his commute to his office the next morning, Gary reflected on the previous day at the Reubens’ furniture store. He was amazed at how a business that looked so good on the outside could be in such turmoil on the inside. Their acting is just as good as their celebrity clients!
Considering the criticality of the Reubens’ situation, he knew he had little time to spare in preparing a proposal; he needed to get something to them before the end of the day. He would keep the information concise, yet impactful, knowing this project would require more of his mediation skills than his technical skills. He knew the end game for them after his first conversation with Alton – a Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plan.
Such a plan would not only ensure full and timely recovery of data following an emergency, but it would also minimize business downtime. The process of achieving this would require a high-touch execution for a high-tech problem, sprinkled with some tough love.
When he finalized the proposal, Gary prepared to email it to the Reubens. For a moment, he hesitated as he contemplated an attention-grabbing subject for the email: The Drama Finally Caught Up with You. He knew it was a risk. He might offend them. But, he reasoned, that was what they needed to hear, even if they didn’t want to hear it.
Steve and Sarah were in their respective offices when Gary’s email arrived. They were both eager to receive it.
The proposal was in the body of the email. It mentioned how storing information electronically promotes paper reduction while also freeing up physical space. But there’s a catch. Without careful organization, these records can go into a sort of “black hole” and before you know it, what should take a matter of seconds to find can turn into minutes, sometimes hours. Without adequate security and backup, there’s always the risk of losing the electronic records altogether due to factors like theft, fire, flood, and viruses. Gary proposed developing and implementing the Electronic Records Management element of the Kasennu framework for business infrastructure.
It specifically links the processes, software technologies, and people needed to consolidate, organize, backup, and archive digital information in an easy-to-follow, structured manner. It also clarifies how to secure confidential and sensitive information so that their company’s network would be easy to navigate, backup, and recover should access ever be compromised.
The last paragraph highlighted that operating in silos exposed a gaping hole in how data currently flows throughout the company. Having an Electronic Records Management system would prevent electronic-related disasters in the future or, at the very least, minimize the impact of a disaster, whether natural or man-made. Developing it could happen in three sessions and would require the full involvement and participation of all management as well as the design consultants.
Hey there it’s me Alicia Butler Pierre! And I hope you’re enjoying listening to this story so far. It comes from a book I wrote called Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success. It’s a 2x Amazon bestseller and also the world’s first published book on business infrastructure specifically for small businesses. This is where you’ll find the detailed steps Gary teaches the Reubens and their staff for developing an Electronic Records Management system. Discover how you can achieve similar results in your organization. Get your copy today on Amazon or wherever books are sold online. Go to BehindtheFacadebook.com or click the link in this episode’s description to buy your copy today!
Getting up early was never easy for Gary and this day was no different. This ought to be a crime, he jokingly thought to himself. Normal people are never up this early in the morning. As a technologist, he’s used to working late at night.
Meanwhile, Sarah woke up for the first time in weeks without a crook in her neck. She told herself it must be a good sign of what will happen today. Steve also awakened feeling refreshed.
By the time he pulled into the parking lot of the store, he was surprised to see his dad’s red convertible Mercedes already parked. There was another car there, too. He wondered who the black SUV belonged to. He soon got his answer when he unlocked the door to the store and saw Gary and his father sitting on a sofa in the showroom, laughing and talking.
[Steve]: “Gary! I’m surprised to see you here so soon, buddy. How’s it going? Looks like you and my dad are hitting it off pretty well.”
[Gary]: “I’m never this chipper whenever I’m up this early. Your dad missed his calling in life, he should have become a comedian!”
By 8:00 am, all 13 people identified to participate in the first session of the Electronic Records Management were sitting at the table in a spacious conference room. Steve introduced Gary to everyone and reiterated why he was there and how he would help them. Gary then stood up to explain how this tied into their previous business infrastructure work and what they could expect over the coming weeks.
[Gary]: In preparation for this first session, I requested a copy of your company’s organizational chart as well as any job descriptions. The departments will serve as the foundation for organizing all electronic records moving forward. That’s what we’ll focus on today and we’ll use index cards to capture the names of all files that need to be organized.
[Gary]: In the next session, we’ll leverage the information from the job descriptions to identify who should have access to certain records. We’ll also use stickers that represent public or private access levels as well as network or cloud storage and place the appropriate ones onto each index card.
[Gary]: In the last session, we’ll take time to analyze those records that belong on the network and develop a naming, storage, and archiving protocol and rearrange the files and folders on the network according to a new filing structure. And last, we’ll use information from all of the sessions to develop a Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plan. We’ll also upgrade security and data backup measures as deemed necessary to ensure optimal protection.”
A month passed before Gary received the news from Sarah and Steve that all 800+ files on the network were successfully rearranged into the new electronic filing structure. During that time, Gary also worked closely with Steve and Sarah to iron out the details of the Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plan.
Gary then emailed a one-page report to everyone who participated in the sessions. It summarized their work together and listed recommendations and next steps for moving forward.
Steve arranged for Gary to come to the store and discuss his recommendations on a Tuesday in the first week of March. When he walked into the conference room, Steve, Sarah, Mr. Reuben and Jonathan greeted Gary with applause. Before he sat down, he handed a small sheet of paper containing a quote by Chief Dan George to each of them. It read:
If you talk to the animals
they will talk with you
and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them,
you will not know them,
And what you do not know
you will fear.
What one fears one destroys.
The silence in the room was deafening. The cheering stopped and all the Reubens looked down at the table, avoiding eye contact with each other. Gary broke the silence.
[Gary]: “I’m not trying to be a ‘Debbie-Downer,’ but I’m sharing this with you as a reminder of how far you’ve come along. People fear and destroy what they do not understand. In your case, Sarah and Steve, your avoidance of each other nearly destroyed this company. That avoidance led to the silos, creating an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ culture.
[Gary]: “Some of your long-time employees told me they remember a time when it wasn’t like this. While thinking you’re each other’s enemy, the real enemy was lurking in the shadows, going unnoticed and unchecked until it manifested in the form of a virus attack. You’ve recovered from that attack, but your dysfunctional relationship was, ultimately, the root cause. There will be more catastrophic manifestations until you repair your working relationship.”
Sarah had tears in her eyes. She mustered the courage to look over at Steve.
[Sarah]: “Steve, this isn’t easy for me, but…I’m sorry.”
Steve walked over to Sarah and gave her a big hug as he whispered an apology in her ear. It was the first time he could remember hugging his baby sister since she was a young child. Sarah couldn’t believe she allowed herself to be publicly vulnerable, but the release of her anger and animosity at that moment was liberating.
[Sarah]: “Gary, I’m going to have this quote framed!”
Gary smiled at her.
[Gary]: “Now, let’s talk about the reason I’m really here! Do you have any questions for me?”
Steve shook his head no, but Sarah raised a question about the recommendation for processes. She argued that they already have their processes documented. Gary reminded her that it was the manufacturing processes that were documented, and not the back-office or administrative processes.
[Gary]: “I have a proposition for you all. Would you be willing to swap roles for a week? I think you’ll learn even more about what you each do here. Sarah, you’ll learn firsthand about the back-office process-deficiency that currently exists.”
Sarah and Steve agreed to swap roles as early as the next week. Gary then told them about a process identification and documentation workshop scheduled to take place in Atlanta next month. He highly recommended they attend, but warned that they should not delay in registering, as there were a limited number of seats available.
He also mentioned that there were certain things that they needed to do in preparation for the workshop, namely going through their job descriptions to add information about adhering to their new Electronic Records Management system and making sure all associated job tasks have been identified and added to their Business Parts Analysis. That’s when Mr. Reuben began to speak.
[Mr. Reuben]: “Well, Gary, I knew you could do it. Thank you for saving our company from the threat of implosion and for helping to salvage my children’s relationship. I know this wasn’t easy.”
[Gary]: “Aw, you’re welcomed Jack! It was my pleasure.”
Sarah, Steve and Jonathan were in disbelief. They didn’t realize Gary and Mr. Reuben were now on a first-name basis. Puzzled, and somewhat disturbed, Sarah asked if they already knew each other. Mr. Reuben looked at Gary and then back at Sarah.
[Mr. Reuben]: “I have a confession to make. Yes, Gary and I have known each other for quite some time. We’re in the same poker club. We rarely discuss business while at the club as our focus tends to be on perfecting our card-playing technique, but I knew he was in cybersecurity. When Steve described Gary to me the day he came for that initial consultation, I sent Gary a text asking if he was here at the store.”
[Mr. Reuben]: When he confirmed and said he was standing outside of your office, I asked that he not tell anyone we already know each other. So don’t get mad! I didn’t put Gary up to any of this peace-making stuff. Like I said, we never discuss the details of our business when we see each other, and he never knew how much you two bickered until he started coming around here.”
Sarah looked at Gary in shock.
[Sarah]: “Wow, you must be one hell of a poker player! You kept a poker face the entire time! I’m impressed!”
As Sarah stood up to walk out of the conference room, she thanked Gary again. Steve also thanked Gary, shook his hand, and quickly left the room, trying to catch up with Sarah.
[Steve]: “Hey, you gotta minute?”
[Sarah]: “Yeah, what’s up?”
Steve lifted his hand to give Sarah a high-five.
[Steve]: “We did it!”
[Sarah]: “Yes, we did!”
Steve then invited Sarah to join he and his wife for dinner.
[Sarah]: “Yeah, I’d like that. So… where do we go from here?”
[Steve]: “Long-term, I’m not sure. But I know where we’re going next month – that process workshop! Come on, let’s go to my office so we can register for it.”
Mr. Reuben walked with Gary out to his car parked in the front of the store. Before getting into his car, Gary turned to him. His curiosity had gotten the best of him.
[Gary]: “Well, have you made your decision? Who will replace you as CEO?”
[Mr. Reuben]: “Yes, as a matter of fact I have made a decision. But I want to see what happens after this workshop next month. Then I’ll make my official announcement.”
Thank you for listening. Did you enjoy this episode? If so, please leave a five-star rating and a review to let us know what you liked best. While you’re at it, go ahead and subscribe wherever you’re listening to this podcast.
Coming up in the next episode I’m going to explain how you can create an Electronic Records Management system for your organization. That way you can organize and protect your most valuable data.
A special thank you to Equilibria, Inc. for making this masterclass possible.
The story you just heard is based on Chapter 4 of the book, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success. A link is available in this episode’s description and also at BusinessInfrastructure.TV.
This episode was written, produced, and narrated by me, Alicia Butler Pierre. Audio editing by Olanrewaju Adeyemo. Sound design by Clarence Levy III. Voice acting by Kamaria Goggins and Frank Jones.
This is the Business Infrastructure – Curing Back-Office Blues podcast.