The King of Id

“If you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.” – Donald Trump

There is an account we have been chasing almost as long as I’ve been in the Small Office. It is not a huge account and securing its business would not materially change our fortunes. But it is strategically important in that it is a segment leader and politically well connected in its home state.

The president is generally unlikeable. He is a stump of a man with chia pet hair and a poor complexion. He has a sly smile and a sizeable gut, giving him the appearance of one who had swallowed both the cat and the canary. Now I’m sure it’s not his fault he’s ugly and I’m sure he has had his reasons for spurning our advances, but one could wonder if life is too short to chase after a prize not worth winning.

He opined in his smarmy, oleaginous way that our major competitor is larger than us, ironically expressing his belief that size matters. Our rangy and very aristocratic CEO, the Man from Glad, decided it was time to give him a run for his money. So we invited him to visit our largest operation, a state-of-the-art facility that looks more like a university campus than it does a manufacturing plant and distribution center. The site covers every bit of 14 acres.

What is play to the cat is death to the mouse.

“Judge me by my size do you?” said Yoda. Our long-legged leader walked our prospect from building to building, inside and outside, hither and thither, through engineering and our test labs and the warehouse and the sales office, retracing his path, crisscrossing and re-crossing and double-crossing our foolish prey. With his long strides, he had our visitor running ragged, desperate to keep up and, more importantly, look like he was keeping up. What is play to the cat is death to the mouse. Rivulets of sweat ran down Chia’s layered forehead and sagging cheeks. By the time he returned to the conference room to resume discussions, his ego had melted into a soggy, sorry mess.

Oh yes, for good measure and best effect, just after the two had set off on their magical mystery tour, we turned up the heat in the conference room just a notch.

And so it was that Chia was suitably humbled, the dismissive seeds he had sown coming back to him in exact kind.

Beer O’Clock

“The opposite side has its opposite side.” – Japanese Proverb

We have a consulting division that advises industrial and commercial customers on security installations. Obviously its financial metrics are totally different from what our product-based divisions use to measure their effectiveness. Things like inventory turns and return on assets are fairly meaningless. The team is comprised, for the most part, of techies. They are young and far-flung, working out of small, often home offices, in a dozen different cities.

Every Friday evening, they get together online for what they call Beer O’Clock. They share information, anecdotes, jokes, favorite Pins and stories on Digg. For every member of the team downing a pint in his basement lair, another has a toddler scooting through the dining room without her Huggies on. Skype keeps no secrets.

That said, the concept of Beer O’Clock intrigued a number of our Small Office denizens. What if every Friday afternoon, the Marketing Department, say, knocked off early, sauntered off to the local pub and, over beer and nachos, discussed strategy, shared project updates, told war stories.

The topic came up at one of our management meetings. In attendance were the usual suspects. Rigor Mortis, who heads up our legal department, seemed thinner and more distracted since his wife died. The Black Widow, our VP Human Resources, dangled overhead, a spectral presence, peering down on the unwary passer-by.

She could find nothing in it that is morally uplifting.

Rigor Mortis warned us that any company initiative that involves drinking could well end up in a lawsuit if a booze-related accident occurred subsequently, even if there is no direct link. The jurisprudence exists and the liability is significant. The Black Widow, questioned the motives of those who were promoting the idea. She could find nothing in it that is morally uplifting or economically productive. She comes from the same school as Washington Irving: They who drink beer will think beer. I have to admit I’m more from the University of Frank Zappa, who cleverly observed that you cannot be a real country unless you have your own airline and your own beer.

It took our sagacious CEO, the Man from Glad to bring closure to this discussion.

“If any employee wishes to extend our office to another location”, he said, “then they should continue to follow the rules of our office. Which means no drinking on the premises.”

And that’s that.

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas

I was travelling with our usually restrained and carefully guarded CEO, the Man from Glad. He never says anything that he might regret later. He knows that people could well misinterpret his words, binding the company to a perceived benefit that he had no intention of extending, so he is well versed in the art of waffling when asked for a commitment. He is warm without being intimate, helpful without overstepping his bounds.

So it was a shock when, waiting for a taxi at the airport, I heard him on his cell cooing to an albeit important client, “I love you Hans”. Hans is a million dollar customer and knows it. He is an old style Prussian with little patience for the niceties of relationship building.

I bravely queried our otherwise punctilious leader.

I have to admit to being really uncomfortable with the terms of endearment and, after he hung up, I bravely queried our otherwise punctilious leader.

“Excuse me? I love you Hans? Really?”

My travelling partner looked at me quizzically. “What?”

“I heard you talking to Hans. You said…”

“I was talking to my wife”, he interjected. “I said, ‘I love you Hon.’ What is wrong with you?”

“Oh,” I said, staring off into the distance, admiring a fluffy cloud that looked ever so much like a cow. “I knew that.”

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.