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Want a meeting with the CEO? Pester him
Unless you're as lucky as the Klebecks, you must plot to win the favor of a big CEO.
June 22, 2005: 12:17 PM EDT
By Joshua Hyatt, Fortune Small Business

NEW YORK (Fortune Small Business) - You certainly can't blame the Klebeck brothers for thinking that they must be doing something right.

After all, the doughnut entrepreneurs recently managed to get their caloric confections carried in about 280 Starbucks stores.

"We were just running our business," insists Mark Klebeck, 40, who owns Top Pot Doughnuts with his brother, Michael, and a partner. "Getting into Starbucks never really crossed our minds. It was just one of those things."

He is referring to an event that most company builders don't even let intrude on their regularly scheduled delusions: Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz dropped by one of the three Top Pot outlets a few times.

"We're hardly ever up front. We're usually in back, fixing stuff or helping the bakery staff," says Michael, 38. "Our manager was very excited, and afterward she said, 'Guess who just came in?' When we heard, we were very pleased."

Heard enough? Me, too.

Somehow the Seattle-based brothers construe it as a virtue that they got Schultz's attention without trying. Earlier this year, 14 months after Schultz's first visit, they struck a deal to get four varieties of their branded doughnuts in the Starbucks stores in western Washington State.

Starbucks spokesperson Lara Wyss says the chain "has no plans to expand the offering," which she lauds as a "great local product."

The brothers, for their part, say that ... well, it would make your eardrums glaze over. They are thrilled and optimistic and entirely fritter-focused.

They don't concede a major bungle on their part: that they shouldn't have waited so long for Schultz to show. With Starbucks headquarters five minutes away, they should have been hounding Schultz from the moment they opened three years ago.

After all, do book authors idle around painting their toenails until Oprah whips out her reading glasses? Given that everything she brushes against turns to gold including demotivational speaker Stedman Graham there is a sophisticated industry devoted to enabling her to fortuitously "discover" new products for herself.

Granted, trapping a bigtime CEO isn't as straightforward an undertaking as it once was.

Drop a product sample on the target's front porch, and your pixilated puss will be stored inside the security camera for all to study.

Try to trail a CEO by car, and he'll flip on his GPS blocker.

Stalking laws will shoo you from the country club and discourage you from loitering in the plastic surgeon's waiting room.

These days, getting a CEO's attention hinges on a concept known (well, from now on) as perceived serendipity. If you can ascertain at what predawn hour your CEO usually frolics with his ferret, adopt one from a shelter (splurge on the spaying) and set it loose in the same park.

While private jets have smoked the possibility of cornering your prey in the first-class section of a plane, the car is still an effective trap. If you can intercept OnStar, you can catch your CEO at a moment of maximum vulnerability for a convenient chat about that revolutionary desk lamp you have designed.

Test-drive a Lamborghini every day for a year. The CEO is bound to show up; if he doesn't, the salesman may be willing to use his connections just to get rid of you.

And while it is not advisable to rope in the big shot's kids (they demonize it as kidnapping in some jurisdictions), you can always appear on parents' night at the best local private schools. Nobody at any school knows what the students' dads look like anyway; just join the others in ogling the kindergarten assistants.

I can't guarantee that any of those ploys will yield a Klebeck-ian outcome. Once, in an effort to get a CEO to talk, I appeared at his house on Halloween as a trick-or-treater. There I was, dressed as a pumpkin, when he withdrew the Smarties bowl, glared at me, and calmly closed the door. Later I got a call from the woman who handled his public relations.

"What you did was a violation of his privacy," she lectured me. But what hurt most was what she said next: "I hear you make the perfect pumpkin."


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