Dean Clough

March 7, 2024

Portico Darwin: London Calling, Chapter 6


<6 Minute Read

Happy Friday, and this is the sixth installment of London Calling.

Preface and Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Get Wired And Decide
You can see it was time to get to work.  And yes, that is what February and March of 1998 were all about.  


I still can picture Julie joining me at Royal Horseguards, in February.  It was a perfectly cold and snowy afternoon in Whitehall, and there she was.  But her driver could not find his way to the hotel’s forecourt, so the image is of her slogging a block with her bags through the fresh and dry powder blanketing London on that cold Sunday. A bellman met her to assist, so I didn't feel too guilty.   Welcome to London, sweetheart.
Nowadays, Julie's arrival in London wouldn't be news.  But in mid-February of 1998, she was making her inaugural visit to one of the world’s undisputed capitals.  Julie now had 7 days and nights to fully experience the London she had heard me bang on and on about.  I think she'd say today it remains one of her favorite times in London.  It was all completely new for her.

Me?  I was hitting my stride.  I fancied myself that American in 19th century London that's in the Sherlock Holmes books.  Delusional, I recognize, but no less true.  

I was starting to understand the neighborhoods, the Tube, and how to take the amazing Black Cabs (approach the driver's window, ask if he'll take you to your destination, and only when he nods do you get in).  I also knew about some pubs, some restaurants, and where the theaters were.  My Seaco colleagues (and Fugazi!) had been very kind to date in exposing me to all of that and more.  

Which was great, because my colleagues and I had to get two things done, and now, if we had any hope of getting the 32 GESeaco offices operational on a modern tech platform by September.  

First, in several locations, GESeaco would be moving into what was formerly a Sea Containers office.  Which would have been OK if they had had communications technologies in them beyond tin cans and string.  

They did not, which meant we had to find a company that could put modern cabling and networking capabilities into a whole bunch of places, globally.  In other words, get them wired.

This was easier than I thought it would be, and that's because, in 1998, I learned about the existence of a company called SITA.  It's doubtful you've heard of it, yet check this out from Wikipedia.

SITA is a multinational information technology company providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry.  The company provides its services to around 400 members and 2,500 customers worldwide, which it claims is about 90% of the world's airline business.

 Around the world, nearly every passenger flight relies on SITA technology.
sita (1).png

LOL SITA!  Who knew?  But they'd end up being a major partner in this program, but we will get back to that.  For now, know that SITA is the company that provides the basic technology for essentially every airline and significant airport in the world.  This means they - uniquely - have relationships and people on the ground nearly everywhere.

Like in places like Guayaquil, Ecuador, and Durban, South Africa.  And we needed that.

Getting the Seaco offices wired was also made easy because no other vendor chose to bid, apart from ITS, SITA's infrastructure services subsidiary at the time.  Not even Unisys, who had just done the same thing for Genstar a year or two earlier. 

But not even Whittam could argue the offices needed modernizing, so after we negotiated a bit on price, ITS/SITA was engaged in February of 1998.  They got busy immediately, and, in hindsight, I can see this was the easiest aspect of the program.

The second piece to the deadline puzzle was far bigger:  Awarding a contract, 3 years in length, to a telecommunications carrier for connecting GESeaco's 32 offices worldwide, at broadband (for the time) speeds, using Internet standards only.   As I've mentioned, Andy Gill did a fantastic job, and here is the (rather boring) cover of what went out.  Note how the joint venture's name wasn't even finalized at this point, and I have no idea why we made it red, either.

But do you know what wasn't boring?  Negotiating, at the time, an $8 million contract.  

Deals.  I Do Deals.
Said absolutely nobody ever in the history of fucking time that knows me.  Because a poker face, I have not.

But there are exceptions to every rule.

The job Andy had done writing the original RFP for Genstar's new WAN meant we simply had to tweak it and send it, but for a London-based company, vs. one headquartered in San Francisco, and with more locations.  The RFP went to AT&T, British Telecom, Equant (SITA's non-airline, commercial subsidiary at the time), and Global One (then a consortium of Deutsche Telecom, Sprint, and others).

This was where my limey colleagues proved their worth.  Martin and Randy knew everyone there was to know in telecom in Europe at the time, and Randy had done a similar RFP for the UK gambling giant Ladbrokes a couple of years earlier.  

Having all of that, as well as the clout of GE behind us, in a process like this was . . . refreshing, yet still frustrating.  Despite this being a big deal for any company, the proposals we got ranged from professional to comically sophomoric (British Telecom's proposal was so bogus Martin Denny graded it a zero). 

Here is the team's assessment, from the original report and recommendation to leadership.

And the final tally.

And then the real final tally.
The answer was Equant, objectively and subjectively.  The process was fair and exhaustive, but not done until yours truly put on a poker face - for mostly the first and only time.  

Because it was time to negotiate the final number.
All of the players were there:  Steve Whittam, Martin Denny, Randy Smee, Malcolm Graveling, Jim Lawrence, and me.  I was in a very nice suit and even nicer shirt and tie, and we all sat in Whittam's office, which was nicer still.

On the other side were the senior sales executives from Equant, most from Paris, the company's HQ.  This was a big boy's meeting, and I was there, too. 

As Randy Smee recently recalled,
We were bouncing between the main conference room (making sure our team faced out of the window with THAT view) and Whittam’s office when we needed to review the negotiating position.  At times it was fraught, and Martin kept excitedly repeating, “Chaps, chaps, we’ve got to be prepared to walk away,” in his posh, old- school and very British way at every break. 

I don't recall whether it was by plan or circumstance, but as the negotiating evolved, I increasingly played the young, brash, loud, and pushy American.  Shocker, I know, but here, and for a change, it was helpful.  It also helped I was the only American on hand, young or otherwise.  

Because this had dragged on long enough.

We had already told Equant they were among the two finalists, the other being Global One (who we wanted no part of, in actuality).  Boss Whittam had done the niceties, Martin cracked a corny joke, and now, after what seemed like hours of marginal negotiating, it was time.

I have no fucking idea where this courage or coolness came from, but I needed it.  Everyone involved, including the Equant/SITA big shots, knew I, with Randy, had driven a lot of the WAN RFP process. So after the small talk, everyone was looking at me.  Or at least I hoped they were.

Because where in the past I might have had a ginormous panic attack and melted down, there was none of that on this day. 

I looked first to the River Thames out the expansive window that defined the room, and then at the top Equant guy, Howard Ford, straight in the eye.  With as much of a street-smart New Yorker accent I could muster, I said, lying, "Look, I've got GE Capital riding my ass.  Seaco and I want to give this contract to you.  Your number is in the ballpark.  But GE has told me you must cut the final number by $500,000 before we can do business." 

"Done," said the Equant exec Ford. 

Wow, am I glad I didn't wet my pants.  No one was riding my ass; I had made the whole thing up.

So it was done.  We all shook hands right then on the deal, at the time worth almost $8 million ($15 million today).  I have been high many times, but I've rarely felt this high.  

I didn't walk across Blackfriars Bridge that night, I fucking floated. I simply could not believe I had sat in London, in the fanciest office I had ever seen, and helped negotiate a multi-million, multi-year, and multi-national contract with a global telecommunications provider. I still can't. That night, Julie and I celebrated, just the two of us. I took us to the Fugazi favorite Palais du Jardin in Covent Garden, and we completely blew it out. I think I ordered a £100 bottle of Champagne and an equally expensive Bordeaux. I probably cried.

Am I exaggerating my role in negotiating the deal?  As above, I reached out to Randy Smee and while he provided some details, perhaps my recounting will trigger activate some additional memories.  In both of our defense, it was, after all, over 25 years ago.  And apart from the outcome, there are no records to draw upon.

But other than my are-they/aren't-they delusions, I do know Julie and I went to  Palais du Jardin that night, and we celebrated getting this deal done.  Then, as now, it felt like something major had been accomplished. 

Because we were now wired, and over the coming 5 months, we'd get the offices connected. 

But we had so much other work, and yes, even more imbibing, ahead of us.

Up Next:  Those 3 Weeks in March


Who knew this guy also could farm?  Here is the urban devotee Steven Simon with his idea for what to do with the empty offices and department stores.

Here's my half-baked idea for all of the vacant malls, big boxes, and office buildings: Large-scale indoor farming

  • Better produce (protection from elements)
  • Organic
  • Local (right in the neighborhood)
  • Sustainable (solar + wind power)
  • Proven (plenty of current examples . . . including weed)

I'm sure there are issues.  Maybe even show-stoppers.  But I'll leave it to you to research those. 

I love this idea.  Naturally, I did do a tad of research, and the issues revolve around power and water.  But add small nuclear reactors to the mix Steven already suggests, and it's no longer a problem.  Water?  Power desalination plants with the aforementioned small nuclear reactors, build some pipelines, and you have unlimited water.  Crazy?  So was landing a man on the moon, but we used to do big stuff in America.

And to Nicki Vale, Macy's Union Square store closing is personal.

Macy's closing stores is so sad,  but the Union Square store is devastating!  I have so many memories of going shopping down there with Julie.  It feels like the end of an era. 

In protest, I have been trying to order less on Amazon in favor of brick-and-mortar stores, even if the prices are higher. 

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


This is a Killer album from the era, and one of my favorites, then and now.  It also captures the mood nicely.  Here is Cracker and the rocking The Golden Age.

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