Dean Clough

February 2, 2024

Portico Darwin: Introducing "London Calling"


4 Minute Read

Hello, and happy Friday.  

No witty repartee:  There is obviously no one asking me to tell the story of my stint in London, during 1997 and 1998.  But I love to write, so recently hearing from a colleague from that time was all of the impetus I needed.  Lucky you.

10 Seconds of Seriousness:  Lucky me.

I will attempt to publish a chapter once weekly on Fridays going forward until this story is told.  Which, knowing me, could be around Thanksgiving . . .

Here is the first installment of London Calling.

My London story begins with a Blue Angels air show in SF.  Early in October of 1997, a Fleet Week extravaganza on the roof of our building (natch, the site of many a rager, before it was locked off) marked the start.  I didn't get to stay, but we'll get back to that.

I have a story to tell (shocker), and I am almost compelled to do so, because what follows was nothing short of a watershed moment, for both me, and my wife Julie.

But while that may be true, why should you or anyone else care?

My experience in London was a highlight of my life, professionally and personally.  I believe Julie and my colleagues from this time feel the same. 

But it only happened because I dreamed of it happening and that's the whole point.  London Calling is about the result of having a clear vision in your mind of a realistic goal. 

And for me, that goal was to work and live internationally.  This is the story of how that happened, and what transpired when it did. 

You should first know I had dreamed of this to such a degree that I even remember what I was wearing when it all began. 

Since I knew I'd be flying to London that afternoon, I attended our rooftop Fleet Week party in SF in fairly posh attire:  dark green corduroy pants, and a beige and very well-made Ralph Lauren mock turtleneck.  I felt it perfect for my nonstop business class flight from SFO to LHR - dressy, but comfortable.

Yet, I was young and a nobody, so I barely could contain myself.  Sure, I had just been to Asia that same summer for this same client, GE Capital, but now?  Being asked to be the telecom guy on a due diligence team, and one analyzing a potential major international business merger at that, was almost beyond my comprehension. 

But only almost.  Because this was how I always imagined myself:  a jet setter.  An international businessman.  A player.  Cool, like I never had been.  So when my black car pulled up in front of our Marina District apartment, I bid farewell to everyone on our roof, walked downstairs, and got in the car.  I was off to London and I was feeling pretty good.  I was 33.

Why Did This Even Happen?
It was in large part because my business partner Pleather was having an affair with Johnny Fugazi, the CIO of a big GE Capital subsidiary, Genstar Container Corporation.  That relationship opened doors in a building I wouldn't have visited otherwise; by 1997, Pleather, our other partner Peet Krakow, and I were all consulting there.

Pleather, Peet, and I owned WestConnect Technologies, an IT consultancy based in the SF Bay Area, that we started in 1996.  Here's the business card - so proud then, a bit embarrassed now:  "Solutions with Direction?"   
Before forming the partnership, I asked Pleather directly about the rumors already circulating about her and Fugazi.  For the record, at a brewpub in the East Bay in 1996, she lied and flatly denied everything.  She was even offended I asked, which was very fucking rich.

By now Genstar is - clearly coincidentally - our biggest client, and at the time, also the largest lessor of shipping containers in the world.  You know, these things:

And who are these people?  Well, that's Prudence and Luigi Ferrari on their wedding day, at one of the world's largest shipping container depots, in Singapore.  Luigi plays an outsized role in this tale, but we'll get back to him - and Prudence - in later chapters.  For now, please note two names from the photo, the aforementioned Genstar, and also Seaco, short for Sea Containers Limited, a London-based conglomerate that was a mid-sized player at the time in container leasing.

While the origin story is sordid, my going to London was not only a boudoir quid pro quo.  Sure, we were allowed to write the IT strategic plan for a General Electric subsidiary because of my partner Pleather's extracurriculars with Fugazi.  That is not debatable. 


But, after publishing the plan above, for which I had written both its Executive Summary and Telecommunications sections, I was hired to further consult with Genstar by the CIO Fugazi.  To manage (and shape up) his company's telecom group of five, and also deploy new tech to their 20+ offices globally, as we had called for in the "strat plan."

Well, I nailed that work in 1997, or at least started to.  What I mean by that will be obvious shortly.  

With the eventual acquiescence of the team's manager - a Genstar employee who now kinda sorta had to answer to me - the team improved.  It helped that just a couple of years ago, I had built a small data center myself, was a big telecom guy, and fully understood the challenges any team working with tech faces.  All of that gave me some cred with this team - helpful, as I was thrust upon them by Fugazi with little warning.

But that did not translate to other Genstar staff.  Peet, I, and of course Pleather were all resented to varying degrees as outsiders.  That's normal for consultants, but there were also starting to be grumblings about how we got in the door in the first place . . . 

So Genstar's telecom group, previously more interested in gee-whiz tech they could play with, became one focused instead on applying technology to solve business problems at the company.  The Ernst & Young consultant in me came out, and it served us all well here.

One problem to be solved was how to best position the company for the future, technically.  In 1997, that meant something I had specified in the IT plan:  Moving the company to an Internet Protocol (IP, or more accurately, TCP/IP) environment.  

In English:  the IT strategic plan called for the company's tech to be Internet-centric, and rely upon its underlying standards, vs. continuing with the proprietary ecosystems and protocols Genstar and most other companies employed at the time.  Remember, this is 1997.

Doing so required drafting an exhaustive request for proposal (RFP) for a new wide area network (WAN) for Genstar.  Again, in English, that was asking big telecom providers to formally propose a new international data network for us, detailing the costs, service level guarantees, etc.  It also meant new local area networks (LANs), desktop computers, and servers in each of the company's offices around the world.

So it's now mid-1997, and the team is humming away on all of this, under my direction.  Led by the network aficionado Andy Gill, we wrote a banger of a WAN RFP.  At the same time, the overly-tatted Microsoft Windows NT (remember that?) guru, Gorey Mouse, was busy planning the complete refresh of the computing technology used by Genstar employees worldwide.  

When our IT plan was circulated and it revealed our advocacy of a streamlined approach, using Windows NT on both office servers and desktop computers, a Unix bigot and Genstar IT manager named Chris Ice did not agree.  He expressed that by picking up a chair and throwing it at me - in a plush GE conference room, 30 floors above SF. 

As above, I had been dispatched by Fugazi to Asia in June of 1997, to introduce everything we were doing, tech-wise, to the Managing Directors and their staffs in the Taipei, Singapore, and Hong Kong offices.  That was my first international business trip. 

In the Taipei office,  all of the staff took naps at their desks after lunch, and they were stunned to learn I was not sleepy.  And I was in Hong Kong 3 days before the handover to China by the Brits, on 1 July 1997.  I vividly remember the decorations being put up.  It was heady stuff for a kid from Albany.

Exciting times, but later that summer, everything we were working on was stopped.  No WAN negotiations, and no new PCs or servers, either.   

At least not yet, because GE Capital and GE itself had decided to exit the container leasing business, by merging Genstar with Seaco.

A short time later, I was asked by the CIO Johnny Fugazi to go to London to be on Genstar's merger due diligence team.  I had a comprehensive understanding of their telecom.  Now I had to go to London and develop an equal understanding of Seaco's own networks, and figure out what it was going to take to combine the two.  I was ready.  

Naive, but ready.

WestConnect was on the inside enough that I flew on United Airlines to LHR from SFO for the first due diligence trip with the CIO himself.  I am glad I was dressed properly.  And comfortably:  This was my longest international business class flight to date.  It would not be the last.

Next:  Upper Ground and Upper Class


André Aurich, slumming it at home in Tiburon, took time away from his speedy recovery to share a newspaper article.  I need plenty of reassurance, so I loved this.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat agrees with you on the 10 mph over speed limit (governor thing).

Editorial:  Tap the Brakes on State Speed Law

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


If you're thinking Clash, you're thinking uncreatively. 

For this new series, I will attempt to bring it further to life by playing music that either came out and I cranked during this period, and/or is something I relentlessly advocated to my London colleagues while there.

Let's go with a favorite here on KLUF, and an album released on 1 July 1997, 3 days after I visited Hong Kong.  This music featured prominently for me and many during this time; here is Radiohead and the beyond Diamond Certified OK Computer.

About Dean Clough