Robert Boguski

Industry colleagues reunite after two years for in-person lunches with a side of unrestrained conversation.

I meet a certain friend periodically for lunch. I value his company and conversation. Time with him is never dull. He runs an EMS firm, also never dull. His work provides daily material for stories. He tells those stories well. Sometimes I’m privileged to hear them at our lunches. Talk flows with an easy and relaxed familiarity, a kind of relief. Sometimes the food gets cold. No matter.

Our discussions are more urgent now because the pandemic preempted our lunches for two years. We have a lot of pent-up opinions to catalogue and classify. Add to that winter’s natural chill, which enforces a certain introspection. Two years is a long time to accumulate vent-worthy prejudices. Like a trusted confidante, our resumed midday dialogue is most welcome – and good therapy.

These exchanges with my friend take place in a bullshit-free zone. No topic is sacred. No opinion is off-limits. Salesmanship and posturing are implicitly discouraged. Aside from the standard business-related talk, we risk diverting into politics, history, science, philosophy, religion, child-raising, youthful folly, renewed inflation, government, taxes, hiring difficulties – whatever suits us at that moment.

He has many opinions, as you would expect of an EMS CEO. Sometimes I don’t agree with them, but that’s okay because sometimes he doesn’t agree with me. Those sincere, but always respectful, differences are what make our luncheons so refreshing, interesting and educational. And now, long anticipated. There are no hidden agendas. It’s amazing what one can learn when keeping an open mind and not trying to pitch something. Perhaps an unheralded benefit of the pandemic is the stripping away of many pretensions. Life’s too short, as has been made crystal clear these past 24 months.

So many things have changed. We compare notes in our customary judgmental way. Items that may have seemed important only two short years ago no longer seem to matter. So many things have also stayed the same. People can still be obtuse, stupid, unthinking and intolerant. Colleagues can still be greedy, controlling, inconsiderate and intimidating. All this can be accomplished while social distancing and being fully vaccinated and boosted. Some use the pandemic as cover for bad behavior, masking moves they intended to make anyway. Covid simply furnished a readymade pretext.

Our discussions make use of a newly expanded vocabulary. Think of the neologisms we’ve learned: supply chain; spike protein; herd immunity; viral load; mRNA vaccines. We’re all amateur epidemiologists now with an expanded lexicon of excuses when things don’t go to plan: Los Angeles Harbor; Donbas/Ukraine; Xinjiang; reshoring.

We’ve aged at an accelerated rate. Commitments are now hedged. Everything is qualified and tentative. My friend and I note the prevalence of more nuanced language – after normal was redefined.

“If all goes well…”

“If everything arrives on time…”

“If everybody stays healthy…”

“If nobody gets sick…”

“If the flight isn’t cancelled…”

“If the shipment isn’t held up…”

“If the test is negative…”


Many might add, “God willing.”

Most understand the qualifiers. Understanding is often a function of age, although it is risky to generalize. We all know wise millennials and aged fools. The minute you generalize is the instant you are proved wrong, and you have the lesson of oversimplification and snap judgment thrown back in your face. The story of my life. (It keeps me humble.) But the fact remains, in my experience – and that of my lunch companion – most opt to muddle through rather than make a scene of futile protest. Mercifully, neither of us has experienced debates about masking adjudicated with fistfights yet.

What exactly have we learned? Are we smarter and wiser, or warier from the experience? My friend and I wrestle with that one. Lunch does indeed grow cold. The conversation gets hot.

Our discussion turns to communication skills among colleagues and coworkers. One unsung skill that pays dividends is the ability to ascertain and describe a situation, so it is comprehensible to a third party. That seems obvious enough. The surprising truth is many can’t do it, or do it badly, resulting in much time expended, reexplaining the original problem to the intended recipient. We lament the hours lost rectifying misunderstandings that never should have happened, due to a basic lack of clarity in stating the issue.

Breaking down problems into easily digestible bites (or bytes) is a gift, a real advantage for those who have it. Communicating those bites (or bytes) to interested laypersons so they understand and can act on them is a sublime gift. An articulate engineer who can distill a technical challenge to its simplest terms for nontechnical laypersons, such as buyers or managers, who can effortlessly switch between those laypersons and technical peers, is golden. And almost impossible to find.

Equally scarce are those whose radiological skills can clearly describe the content of an x-ray image to an engineer. The recipient doesn’t always know – or admit to knowing – what it is they are looking at.

The same goes elsewhere in companies for HR or accounting problems. Misinformation about 401(k) policies or charts of accounts can drive comprehension off the rails, leading to more time wasted. Once derailed, it’s hard for the recipient to mentally regain proper course. Just as with articulate engineers, plain-speaking HR specialists and literarily astute bookkeepers and accountants are in short supply, and doubtless not floating off the California coast waiting to be unloaded in bulk. Plug-and-play candidates to fill open positions are becoming an endangered species. We both agree we need to devote more time to training our own.


Communicating problems in easily digestible bites is a gift.

Our discussion turns to the private equity boom. My friend tested positive for private equity, as his firm has been acquired twice in the past four years. No known cure. He hopes the side effects are long-term, and he can cash out at an opportune time and move on to the next challenge, or maybe no challenge at all. (Ain’t capitalism grand?) Whether his company is more competitive as a result is an open question that only time will answer. Whether his employees will remain employed as the debts mount and the spreadsheets are deployed to justify the metrics is another. (Their feelings about the transactions were not available at press time.) One senses a reaction akin to a Russian conscript confronted with the imminent prospect of a Ukrainian winter sightseeing tour: high risk, abundant stress, with plenty of question marks about the future.

My turn. I describe with some exasperation the junior investment bankers and family office acquisition companies that leave friendly voicemails or emails about twice monthly, reminding me of my actuarial status through their queries about our company’s future ownership. So solicitous. A favorite approach comes from ex-military officers. Like this:

I’m a West Point graduate and former Blackhawk helicopter pilot interested in buying a business in the PCBA testing and inspection services industry with $5 million to $20 million in annual sales. The other day, I came across your company and am reaching out to learn more.

I can offer a distinct transition opportunity for you as someone who will appreciate the hard work you've put into the business, take care of the valued members of your team, and build upon what you've established. As a company commander in the Army, I always placed the mission and my people first – and that’s exactly what I’d do with your company.

Hmm. A Blackhawk raid on a delinquent account for past-due receivables would leave an indelible impression. Distinct transition opportunity indeed.

Or this:

I hope December is off to a great start for you and the team at Dataset (sic). I'm reaching out today because I’m an experienced operations leader looking to acquire and grow a (sic) electrical and electronic manufacturing company. If you’ve ever considered handing over the reins and taking some chips off the table (i.e., selling some or all of Dataset), I would love to discuss the opportunity to carry on your legacy.

As a prior naval officer with years of operational leadership experience, I have a commitment to service and am passionate about a company’s mission and employees. I work with a core group of investors experienced in acquiring and growing high-performing companies like Dataset, and I am committed to working with the experienced management team you have put in place.

If you're interested in discussing your options, please let me know some times over the next week that work for a quick call. I understand this can be a sensitive topic, so please know I will maintain strict confidentiality in our discussions.

Lieutenant, now hear this! December was off to a great start until we received your email.

“Operational Leadership Experience” begins with knowing the correct spelling of the target company. It’s D-A-T-E-S-T. Please direct your service and commitment to doing your homework. Speling is @ sensitif topik.

For those who embrace pacifism, or at least a less “regimented” approach, there’s this:

I'm following up on a letter I sent you last week that discussed my serious interest in your business and whether you've considered transitioning ownership of your company. If so, I would very much appreciate the opportunity to further discuss a potential option with you.

As I mentioned in my letter, I founded my company with the intention of acquiring and operating a business in the testing and inspection industry, and I'm particularly interested in your company. If this sounds like an option you're interested in discussing, and you (generally) meet the criteria listed in my previous email and attachment, please contact me using this email address or the phone number below. I've also attached a brochure that further explains my background.

As with many, this pitch reads like a rich kid with family money looking to either fill his idle time or fulfill the thesis requirement for his MBA graduation project.

The pickup line is often some variation of the same theme: I’ve often wanted to get into the testing business and run a testing company on my own... Like they’ve been lying awake at night all their life, harboring this elusive Test Engineering Dream, and now it’s within their third-party-funded grasp.

Interestingly, the prospective acquirers are all male. In all the years of receiving such inquiries, I have yet to receive a single proposal from a female aspirant. Take from that what you will. As my companion does.

We part ways, content in being back together, sharing knowledge and swapping stories about our dysfunctional, yet thriving, industry, and reimagining the New Normal. The more things change....

Robert Boguski is president of Datest Corp. (; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His column runs bimonthly.

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