It was around 15 years ago or so and I was working late in my office at Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) when the phone rang. This was 2000 or 2001 so when I say “phone” I mean landline. This was back in the day when people answered their phones, so I did, even though it was after 6:00 pm.
The caller introduced himself with a decent size job title that I don’t remember but it included the words Vice President, Asia, Sourcing, and Coco-Cola. He had seen me quoted in a newspaper article somewhere and wanted to meet me to get some advice. I asked him when he would like to meet.
He said, “Now.”
I said, “Where are you?”
He said, “Nearby… my driver knows your building.”
I thought, he’s not talking about his taxi driver.
I invited him to come up to the 12th floor and we could chat. He was in my office for over three hours.
He was in the midst of developing a coffee product that Coca-cola wanted to introduce in the Asian market, for vending machines as I recall, and he said he needed to understand more about coffee. A few probes revealed he was not a connoisseur and knew next to nothing about coffee beyond what the instructions that came with his expensive drip brewer told him. I spent several hours trying to educate the man and to his credit, he was very attentive and asked brutally insightful questions that all struck at the heart of commerce.
There was a point at which something in his mind clicked and he suddenly understood some equation particular to him and his company, some balance between quality, efficiency, cost, packaging, value and retail price. He asked me if I could refer him to someone who could help him source coffee for his product. As was our practice, I gave him the contact information for three people who could help him.
To this day, the consultant he decided to use will not allow me to pay for a drink in his presence. Very real things resulted from that meeting. I was not responsible for any of them but I can say I was, indeed, a small part of the conception.
That experience, repeated countless times over a career, is a small example of something I have long believed. So often, decisions of consequence are made in a small room somewhere by a few people who may have thought longer and harder if they knew where the moment would lead. It’s not always easy, but I try to remember when someone sits down with me, whether their job title is Vice President or Barista, that the moment might be much bigger than it seems.