Illustration by Bob AulWhen our receptionist said Mr. Big was on the phone, I dropped all current projects and immediately took the call. After all, Mr. Big is listed on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans with a fortune in the billions, and even in the luxury-boat business, that's big. I prepared my most professional voice and picked up the phone.
"Hello, Mr. Big, how can I help you?"
"Well, this isn't Mr. Big," you said. "It's Mr. Big's chief financial officer, Mr. Sack. Listen, the ball's in your court in terms of a recent personal-property tax bill on the vessel your firm built for Mr. Big."
"Why, Mr. Sack, I'm not sure I follow you," I answered.
"Mr. Big and I are concerned about the value of his boat," you explained. "Could you provide some written documentation on the value?"
"I'm sure I could, Mr. Sack, but what seems to be the problem? Does Mr. Big want to sell the boat? Is he unhappy with it?"
"Oh, no, Mr. Big is perfectly happy with the vessel," you said. "It's just we're not in agreement with the Country Assessor's valuation and would like to challenge their personal-property tax bill."
"Gee-whiz, Mr. Sack, isn't that about a $150 annual bill?" I asked.
"Yes, that's right," you replied.
"Is this really one of my friends prank calling?" I asked.
"No," you insisted. "It's really Mr. Sack."
It has taken me a while to get back to you, Mr. Sack, but here's my conclusion: you want to save Mr. Big $49 on his taxes for a 21-foot luxury boat. I'm guessing you make in the neighborhood of $400,000 per year CFO'ing Mr. Big's billions. That's $192 per hour to the rest of us. Add the duration of Mr. Big's call to you, the ensuing discussion, your call to me and your report back to Mr. Big, and we're talking about four hours—or $768 to save $49.
Eat me, Mr. Sack. This isn't about money. It's about the appearance of power. If that's what it takes to reach billionaire status, I'm out. The ball's in your court.
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