Too Close To Call?

Michael and Andrew. Two young boys, growing up to be young men in a small midwestern town. School friends. Inseparable. Andrew, the quiet unassuming one. Michael, the ring leader. The fire stoker. They did everything together. Everything. Until they didn’t.

Rita made up the trio. Elegant, beautiful and definitely not a withering flower. She gave it out as quick as she took it. Michael and Andrew were as close as you could get to her. It worked well until early adulthood arrived. And with it the inevitable confusion. Both of the boys started developing ‘feelings’ for Rita. But such good friends. What could they do? And so they did what all young men do when faced with such confusion … nothing.

It was a Wednesday afternoon that Michael and Andrew were leaving the local hardware store when they saw Rita walking – almost skipping – towards them. Both Andrew and Michael looked longingly at her. But Rita didn’t reciprocate. Rather a focus came upon her, walking up to them both and as she moved passed them shouted ‘see you later boys’.

Michael looked at Andrew.

“Later?” He queried. “Have you forgotten our trip tonight?”

He hadn’t. Andrew turned away, muttering that sometimes it was good to do things separately and headed in the direction of his home.

Michael’s gaze followed him and then turned around towards his house. He called Rita. He wanted to ask her if she would like to go to ‘Jack’s’ that evening. Her mother answered.

“Oh – hello Michael – no Rita is not here at the moment, she is in town readying to go out… “ her voice faded away. “Michael – I’ll make sure she calls you when she gets back.”

She did call, but Michael didn’t answer. He was already on the Greyhound heading out to the East Coast.

Michael loved Andrew, Michael loved Rita, he truly wanted the best for them. He couldn’t be in the way. Rita had chosen. He needed to move on. Quickly.

For his part, Andrew was head over heels in love with Rita, which was reciprocated. Their romance led to a short engagement and they were married just a year later. A year after that they were blessed with a baby boy.

They often talked about Michael, reminisced about their times together. They tried to work out where he had gone. How to get in touch with him. Nobody knew. Michael, like Andrew, was an only child his father had died when he was just 12, his mother passed about 6 months after Michael had left town.

Andrew inherited his father’s business. He had trained in the retail space, working in different stores around the town. Once even in a store 20 miles away. But that didn’t work out. So when his father passed at a surprisingly early age, his mother didn’t want to be tied down with the business so Andrew took it over. Working the kitchen whilst Rita managed the business. Perfect really; Rita a superb person for ‘front-of-house’ and Andrew more introverted and reserved, working in ’the-back’. All was well until that fateful day that Rita was ‘diagnosed’.

The news stunned them both. Not to get into the details, it was more than life-threatening, as Andrew ruminated at Rita’s funeral 6 months later. The same church they were married in.

Without his love and his business guide, Andrew thought about selling the café, but couldn’t answer the next question; what would he then do? And so he continued.

When Rita passed, his son was 27. He had graduated from the state university but since then had shown no real enthusiasm or demonstrated any serious aptitude for anything. Andrew knew that he had been the same in his youth. But his son had no Michael or Rita to pull him along. Andrew was honest as to what he needed but closed his mind off as he pushed his son into the role his wife had held for so many years.

Three years later, it wasn’t working out.  That much was very clear. The café’s takings were down, the rare and occasional profit was random and Andrew had a hard time seeing the weakness in his son’s skill sets. It had got so bad that Andrew had permanently scared his son out of the kitchens forcing him ‘to focus on customers’.

Not to say that the son didn’t try, he did. But his heart wasn’t in it. He couldn’t see himself there for the rest of his life ‘Dad2.0’ just wasn’t him.

It was with this backdrop, one bright Monday morning that the stranger first appeared. To begin with, he was totally invisible. A customer who wanted a coffee and this was a café.

After a week of daily visits, same time same table, same order and then a month, same time, same table, same order, he was slowly noticed. Still not known.

Nobody quite knew where he came from – or how he got there. But there he was. Every day 11.00 am on the nail. One Espresso, never finished – ever. At 11:30 he would touch his phone for the first time and put it in his pocket without even looking at it. Hat straightened, he would walk off. Where to? Nobody knew. A young kid tried following him a couple of times, and by 11:35, both times lost the trail … in empty streets.

The son of the owner purposefully sat at that table one morning, in ‘his’ seat. As the man walked towards him, he heard a voice behind him asking him to check the kitchen – his dad needed him. He looked at the man. Walking steadily towards him, not even a break in the step. He was 5 steps away from him. No sound no voice. Nothing. His dad called again – urgently. He had to go and ran off to the backroom. The man sat down, no words, no hesitation, his Espresso seemingly appearing out of thin air.

The owner wondered why his son had come to the kitchen. The son couldn’t recall.

The dapper hat, the elegant coat – but worn with jeans was the ‘talk’ – except there wasn’t any talk. None. What was there to say?

One day he will share. Until then the Espresso will be enjoyed.

Michael reflected on his life. He had built one of the largest and most successful private businesses in the world. Through his network and partnerships with companies and corporations, he now controlled; vineyards, wineries, high-end restaurants, boutique hotels, resorts, even a few ’chains’. And … in his network of businesses he had the best chefs, sommeliers, wine makers, growers, concierges, lawyers, receptionists, marketers … wherever you looked in any of the businesses, ‘his’ people were always the best.

Many of his advisors told him that he should ‘go public’. But Michael wasn’t interested. He enjoyed his anonymity.

Go public and the market will judge you by revenue and profit every quarter. The investors will be people that simply want to earn a return on their dollars. Revenue and profit are outcomes of business, not drivers. A good business measures and manages trust, reputation, and quality.

Nobody knew exactly how many restaurants or even businesses ‘RAM Incorporated’ owned, Michael did. Nor did they know the total revenues or profits, Michael did. Or even where exactly RAM was incorporated, Michael did. They didn’t even know where the name ‘RAM Incorporated’ came from. In the early days, when the growth was meteoric, it was assumed that it was a twist on ‘BULL’, as in ‘bull market’, but without the associated ‘BS’ baggage. Later through one of his tax filings, someone discovered that it was an acronym … ‘Real – Asset – Management’ they surmised; since it was clear Michael had a unique perspective on Asset Management and the ‘Real’ was a clever double entendre on ‘Realty’ – a cornerstone of the business capitalization.

The reality? Michael never understood why businesses described their ‘people as their greatest asset’ and then utilized ‘mushroom management’ while classing them as ‘liabilities’ in the accounts. He knew that ‘Real Asset Management’ was nothing to do with realty and everything to do with reality – getting the best out of his real assets – the people he worked with.

He built his business through keen observation and the never swerving principle of ‘people first’. He knew that it didn’t matter how good the chef, the concierge, the accountant … anyone could be, if they were not in love with what they did, were trusted, and allowed to do and be their best, they wouldn’t be. ‘People First’ was the first and only law in any of his projects and how he engaged with any business that joined the RAM family.

In six months he had learned that this business could be made successful. Actually, he knew it, because he knew that the once very successful business had been failing since the owner’s wife had died 3 years ago. Proof again – it’s about people. But he could see that the current front office manager’s heart wasn’t in it. Again – he knew it, even before he sat down at the table and had his that first Espresso. He knew a lot. That was his job.

He knew that his old friend Andrew had married his old friend Rita and that this young man was their son. He knew that the son was also called Andrew, was 30 years old and though a business graduate with middling grades still had no direction. He recognized his friend Andrew in the young man. The acorn never falls far from the tree. He knew that like his father, he was a back room guy that needed to find his way naturally. He knew all of this before that first Espresso. The six months since was applying his personal methodology of observational analysis.

And here he was. Sometimes you can get too close. Know too much to make the right decision. He stood up and walked away. He’ll come back tomorrow and watch and think some more and decide whether an approach should be made for the cafe to become part of ‘Rita, Andrew and Michael Incorporated’.

  • My thanks to Larry Tyler (a fellow Columnist for BIZCATALYST 360°) and a fellow patron of NGage Cafe[1] who published a photograph and invited anyone to write amini story about what the photograph said to us. Click here if you want to see the challenge – and the responses.
  • My thanks also to Dennis Pitocco who offered to publish anyone who extended their mini story to a full story.

The italicized text in the middle of the story was my original mini. This is that full story and my first ‘non-fiction’ story ‘released into the wild’ so to speak. Thank you both for the encouragement.

[1] It’s a closed group – but open to anyone to join. Come on over. Join!


John Philpin
John Philpin
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. John my friend to you I say STRONG INK!! Captivating story yet based on the life of somebody somewhere that really walked through life this before it ever became a story. Storytelling releases the imagination more than any other form of writing. Write more stories like this John. Believe me when I say it will change your life and unleash the storyteller within you. You will soar high from the intoxicating possibilities.