A Wal-Mart store manager in a small military town in Canada got an urgent phone call last month from "Gary Darnell" in the home office in Bentonville, Ark.
Darnell told the manager Wal-Mart had a multi-million-dollar opportunity to win a major government contract, and that he was assigned to visit the handful of Wal-Mart stores picked as likely pilot spots. First, he needed to get a complete picture of the store's operations.
For about 10 minutes, Darnell described who he was (a newly hired manager of government logistics), the outlines of the contract ("all I know is Wal-Mart can make a ton of cash off it") and the plans for his visit.
Darnell asked the manager about all of his store's physical logistics: its janitorial contractor, cafeteria food-services provider, employee pay cycle and staff shift schedules. He learned what time the managers take their breaks and where they usually go for lunch.
Keeping up a steady patter about the new project and life in Bentonville, Darnell got the manager to give up some key details about the type of PC he used. Darnell quickly found out the make and version numbers of the computer's operating system, Web browser and antivirus software.
Finally, Darnell directed the manager to an external website to fill out a survey to prep for the upcoming visit. The manager dutifully plugged the address into his browser. His computer blocked the connection, but Darnell wasn't fazed. He said he'd call the IT department and have it unlocked.
The manager didn't think that was a concern. "Sounds good," he answered. "I'll try again in a few hours."
After thanking the manager for his help, Darnell made plans to follow up the next day. The manager promised to send Darnell over a list of good hotels in the area.
Then "Gary Darnell" hung up and stepped out of the soundproof booth he had been in for the last 20 minutes.
"All flags! All flags!" he announced, throwing his arms up in a V-for-Victory symbol.