Letters of Introduction to the Chief Executive Officer

There's nothing more frustrating than showing up at a company and being told they never received my advance material. This excuse has plagued my 18 years of travel and so I think it's worth a look at why this happens.

About a month before my anticipated arrival at a company I mail the CEO a letter of introduction. Actually, it's a bright yellow postcard-size card with a brief explanation of what I do, my anticipated arrival dates and thanking him beforehand for any courtesies extended to me. Also enclosed in the envelope are several news clippings concerning my trek. For many years I was on the road year-round and of course it wasn't and still isn't feasible to carry these letters on my bike. So, thanks to friends and former girlfriends I devised a way to send the letters out. Let's say I'm in Finland. I get out a map, calendar, plot the locations of companies on the map and then try to anticipate where I'll be in a month. I then contact a friend back in the US who I've entrusted with all the envelopes and tell them which anticipated arrival dates to write on the postcards. They are then dropped off at a post office.

Having visited over 3,700 companies I've become somewhat of an expert as to how the mail works at corporations. The majority of the time an assistant or secretary opens the mail, logs it in and passes it on. Actually, quite a few CEO's open up their mail. Many times someone in the mail room opens and screens the CEO's mail.

Now, when I show up at a company and get told they hadn't received my advance material it's usually the result of one of the five following reasons:

1). The letter is in fact there but it's somewhere they haven't looked. Because what I do is so unusual many companies don't know where or to whom to refer the letter. For example: my letter has ended up at various times with Building Services, Public Relations, Corporate Communications, Head of Security, General Counsel, Corporate Affairs, Human Resources, External Affairs and, many times it's still on the CEO's desk because he wants to meet with me himself.
2). The post office had indeed messed up and failed to deliver the mail correctly.
3). The letter is there but got misplaced by the company's sloppy in-house mailroom.
4). The letter was received, opened, then knowingly tossed in the trash.
5). They are lying.

I know the last scenario sounds harsh and why would they bother lying to someone so insignificant as me but, I've learned it's a ploy some companies use. By saying they hadn't received my advance material it gives them an excuse to say they had no advance warning of my visit and therefore have no one available to meet with me. Yet, over the years I've caught several companies trying this scenario only to slip up in the course of the conversation and mention something that was only known by having read the postcard.

Many times after visiting a company who said they hadn't received the letter I'd contact them at a later date. Invariably I'd be told that, indeed the letter had been received but had been mis-routed, mishandled or forgotten on the CEO's desk.

While traveling in Europe, especially in Italy and Spain, I would hear the same line about how they never received my letter. In Spain and Italy it could well be true because their postal systems are known for being sloppy and unreliable. Companies in other countries could well have been correct also because it's a long way for a letter to travel (from the USA to Europe).

How did I lessen the chance of companies saying this? Well, this year a girlfriend in Switzerland mailed out the letters. It's well known that Swiss Post is one of the world's most efficient movers of mail and the Belgium postal service isn't too shabby either. My letters to Belgian companies were mailed from Lausanne, located 30 miles from Geneva, and separated from Belgium by only one country (France). The letters were sent out ONE MONTH before my anticipated arrival. Still, quite a few companies said they did not receive the letter. How is it possible to show up at the headquarters of global concerns like IBM and Nestle with several hundred thousand employees and have the security personnel and receptionists know who I am when I walk in the door, yet these other much, much smaller companies can't seem to handle their mail? You'll see in my stories that I'm very skeptical when companies use this excuse.

So, as you read my Belgium stories you can arch up your eyebrows like mine do when a company says they hadn't received my letter.