Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The price of a Dinosaur - Part I

This Friday I have a job interview... maybe that is too presumptuous.

This Friday I have a meeting with the hippest and most interesting company in all of Paris. It's a get to know you type meeting during which I hope they fall madly in love with me and tell me they want to create beautiful children together in the form of free-lance projects.

All of this excitement and preparation reminds me of a story that I haven't shared with you. I believe enough time has passed that I can freely tell this story... just to be sure, names have been changed.

This summer I ran across an ad for an amazing job: A wine focused special events company was looking for an Anglophone to manager their office and customer relations. I jumped at the chance. Sent off my cv and scored an interview.

I arrive in the shabby chic loft that serves as their office and am greeted by a young Parisian disguised as an American frat-boy. He introduces himself as Pierre... let's say... and offers me coffee. I accept, which forces him to sift through the pile of dirty and less dirty dishes on the counter looking for a cleanish cup. There is no sugar to be found. Apparently the milk has gone bad. Fine.

Black coffee in hand, he starts to describe his business plan to me at length. I tell him a little bit about myself, how I ended up in France etc. He then describes the position to me, sounds like I would be mainly dealing with customer service, a little bit of party planning and a few administrative tasks... going to the post office, photocopying things.. etc.

Pierre then proposes we play a game. I come from a highly competitive family and LOVE games so I tell him that I am in! He says, "I am going to give you a scenario and you tell me what you would do.... sound good?". Let the games begin!

"Let's imagine that I am the owner of a zoo in California. I just heard that through the magic of modern science they have been able to clone a dinosaur! And guess what? They are selling it at auction to the highest bidder tomorrow afternoon. As my employee, how much do you think I should spend on this dinosaur?"

Long moment of silence.


I was expecting something more along the lines of... we are serving garlicky eggplant at an event next week what kind of wine do you think we should serve? Or... we just realized that we didn't order enough champagne and our client is furious! What should we do?

My face must have shown my surprise and puzzlement at his question, because Pierre quickly and generously offers to answer any question I may have about the zoo if it would help answer his question.

Ok Pierre. "So tell me, what kinds of animals do we already have at the zoo? Do we already have a suitable spot to put the little darling or do we need to remodel the monkey cages? Is the zoo doing well or is this world premiere of a cloned dinosaur a last ditch effort to save our failing zoo? Is this a vegetarian or carnivorous dinosaur? How will that impact our insurance policy if it is a carnivorous dinosaur? How much do we charge as an entrance fee? How long to do think this dino will live?" I say. He answers my questions, pulling numbers out of the air, 10 million here 50 grand there.

After about 15 minutes of this businessy banter, I conclude by saying, "Here is what I would do Pierre, I would take the construction costs of the new dino-land exhibit, amortize that amount over the expected life of the dinosaur and compare those numbers to our projected increase in ticket sales (based loosely on the increase we experienced when we bought that two headed elephant a few years back) and come up with a final number that way."

My plan of attack was to dazzle him with interesting questions, display a sense of business logic, skip over coming up with an actual number and move on to the next scenario.

Turns out this was the only question and that not coming up with a number was not an option. He digs around in his desk, pulls out a piece of scratch paper and a pencil and says, "Sounds like a good plan, let's do it!".

Long moment of silence.


To be continued....

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