Mad Men

Once a year, several of our top executives take the senior brass from one of our large buying group customers to a fancy restaurant to celebrate the successful conclusion of negotiations.

The host is Cowboy Bob, our Manager of Home Center Sales. Though in his late ‘60s, he is tall and handsome, with silver hair, a broad smile and a subtle drawl. He is dapper right down to his custom-made, M.L. Leddy alligator skin cowboy boots.

We arranged for limos to pick us all up at the hotel and made our way to what has to be one of the most expensive restaurants in New York. We rented out a private dining room with high ceilings and windows that overlook Madison Square Park. The room manages to be spacious and cozy at the same time, a neat trick. We had been told that the menu was clever, almost playful. From the jasmine and passion fruit soup to the Cotswold lamb to the cucumber sorbet, there was no doubt we were in for a treat.

The bottles were for sale for a mere $15,000.

Tom, the president of the buying group is a small but very persistent presence. He insisted on sitting next to our always-debonair CEO, the Man from Glad, hoping, I imagine, to absorb the stature of our chairman by osmosis. Tom is a bully. He bullies everyone and, although it would not be much of a stretch, no one is willing to stand up to him.

When we entered the restaurant, there was a wooden crate of fine wine in the lobby. Several bottles were nestled in straw. Also nestled was a handwritten note that said the bottles were for sale for a mere $15,000.

During the meal, Tom held court. To the accompaniment of a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (which we suspected he picked not because he knew his wines but because it was the most expensive bottle on the list), Tom regaled us all with stories of his trip to Tuscany last Fall and described in excruciating detail the oceanfront house he had built practically by himself. And did we know he used our electronics throughout, thank you very much for the donation. And wasn’t that wine out in front so very special and wouldn’t it be nice as a closer to our negotiations if we bought it for him too.

The ever-circumspect Man from Glad smiled and cagily changed the subject. But, as the meal progressed and as we made our way to the dessert – pear poached with honey and acorn – it became clear that Tom was not fooling around.

In the end, as always, he got his way.

Abraham Lincoln once said that he would rather be a little nobody than an evil somebody. Tom somehow manages to be both.

Just Ducky

“Asses would rather have hay than gold.” – Heraclitus

There were six of us in the meeting. That’s approximately two more than the number of people it actually takes to get something significant done. The more people in a room, the less likely ideas will be proffered, the less certain real debate will occur, the more likely donuts will be served.

Among those attending was John Drake, a buttoned-down bore with glassy eyes and rubbery lips. He is as remarkable as weeds in a field, conventional in his thinking and bland as tofu. At 30, he has already succeeded in accomplishing nothing. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but the quacking duck gets shot. So Drake has made his career by going unnoticed. He paddles silently in the pond and when the flock finally goes airborne, he flies well back in the V, sucking off the draft of the duck in front.

He flapped when they flapped.

Our company makes electronic sensors and security equipment for consumer and industrial use. We have a broad range of ZigBee-based wireless sensors and remote controlled building automation devices. Turn turn out the lights, set the alarm, that sort of thing. We are now thinking of adding a line of space heaters that can be operated remotely by phone. So we invited someone each from industrial design, software development, marketing, and finance as well as Drake from sales and distribution. The object of the meeting was not to debate the merits of adding these devices to our product offering but to figure out how to make and sell them profitably. Drake was selected to represent his department because, I suppose, his boss assumed he would be at least as useful as, say, weeds in a field.

The meeting lasted two hours. Our man Drake contributed by listening generously and providing continuous feedback, that is to say, he fed back whatever others said first. That is to say, he flapped when they flapped. At one point, we were looking for a volunteer and I noticed Drake had disappeared (ducked?). He was bent over, his head under the table, ostensibly looking for a pen that had dropped or perhaps he was desperately seeking Susan. It must have been the pen because, when the meeting was over, his notebook was as empty as it was at the start. Almost everyone had a list of things to work on. Drake somehow came away from this working session with no work to do himself. Which is exactly how he had planned it.

Then he waddled away. He waddled away. Waddle waddle. Till the very next day.