by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.

ilk n. Type or kind, used sometimes facetiously, sometimes disparagingly.

A put-down.  I prefer the expression "send-up."  Here is one of mine.

Imagine a $5 billion multinational enterprise growing at 20% per year in 1970.  That's a billion dollars per year -- per year!  The company had just acquired mine with intention of grafting branches of West Coast electronics onto their burgeoning high technology trunk.  Executives trembled behind skating-rink desks at headquarters in New England and scanned lead articles trumpeting their own phenomenal achievements in Forbes, Barrons, Fortune.  What the hell are we going to do next? they wondered.

The senior management selected six world-class business specialists from the corporate staff and charged them with the solemn responsibility of guiding growth through the Orwellian Year (1984, remember?) -- 14 years into a grand future dominated by rapid changes in technology.  I was selected to lead the effort and moved east.  Talk about ilk!  At triple my former salary, I was nevertheless an untouchable among Brahmans.  The seven of us commandeered the corporate jet fleet and became known throughout the company, without affection, as "The Kitchen Cabinet" (see The Future is Not What It Used To Be).

Makes sense to give the numbers some thought, I thought.  First thing, I performed the indicated arithmetic: 20% per year for 14 years means our target was $64 billion per year in 1984 -- 12.8 times more than 1970's revenue.  Which amounts to finding opportunities, investigating them, then investing resources at over $8,000 per hour.  Give that a holy moly.  For the ensuing eight astounding years, I had confidence in what I was doing only when going to the bathroom.

That more than a modicum of mental pressure characterized the assignment, I need not attest.  But jocularity was not to be denied.  One day soon after my arrival, I strode the ankle-deep carpet before the giant screen in the conference room, solemnly enlightening my colleagues on analytic principles, a lofty lampoon of specious concreteness.

 "Contrary to popular beliefs," I asserted with cheek firmly convexed by tongue, "all three aspects of business decisions -- technical factors, economic issues, and human considerations -- are amenable to pure mathematical reasoning."

Bullet points flashed on chart after chart in the darkened room.  I appropriated for the occasion verbal currency in only the highest denominations,...

  • "epitaxial micro-integration" in place of "semiconductor,"
  • "laser scanning xerography" became "selective photoreceptor illumination by Pockel-cell modulation of a coherent source, redirected by multi-faceted reflectors in mechanical rotation."
  • "principle of maldistribution" accompanied "discounted cash-flow" through a blizzard of partial differential equations.  I synthesized parameters for tabulating the "resolution of cognitive dissonance" and spoke unctuously of "ordered assumptions," "parameters," and "paradigms."
With my stack of overhead slides depleted, I paused for dramatic effect and announced my conclusion as follows:
"The ideal rate of expansion is exactly 17.65717% per year."
My distinguished colleagues exchanged glances, possibly wondering if my ilk was facetious or disparageable.  "Why?" they asked.
"An enterprise increasing its business at a compounded annual growth rate of exactly 17.65717% per year will achieve exactly 17.65717 times its current revenues in exactly 17.65717 years (17 years, 7 months, 26 days, 14 hours)."
The Kitchen Cabinet laughed at my recommendation.  The rest is history.

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