My Life 3.5

 The Late Night Call



It was seven-thirty in the evening. I sat in my office. It was a nice office, newly fitted and furnished, it was very cosy. It was the first time I’d had a proper office. The room was dark, and my desk lamp flooded the last of the paperwork I was finishing off. This was the time I got it done, after everyone else had gone home. Otherwise there were meetings, people popping in and me ‘walking the floor’.

 I was the newly-created ‘Product Director’ in our fledgling business. We were part of a larger organisation, but at that time, the strategy was to start business units and let them fend for themselves. So, with the help of my marketing colleague, I specified, purchased, stocked and distributed our high-tech products. My pal Andy looked after customer service and repair, and we had a sales guy who ran the outlets. These were all independent, as our mother-company was far too slow to cope with a fast-changing market.

 Actually, I had several titles. ‘Product Director’ was mainly for the Japanese, where it went down a treat. For US suppliers, I was ‘Head of Products’ as a director is quite a low level in their hierarchy. It was all new and crazy, and I loved it! I was also 'Head of Networks' but that's another story.


The phone rang. I thought it must be my wife. I looked at my new watch. I hadn’t worn a watch for more than ten years, but I had been on a trip the week before with our Chief Executive and he looked at me strangely when he saw I didn’t have one. I got one – good Company man, me! Especially when they actually paid me to do all this stuff!

 I picked it up. “John?” I recognised the voice – it was Duncan. He was the MD of the UK branch of one of one of the manufacturers who I bought from. We exchanged pleasantries. He was a nice guy. Finally he got to the point.



 “I don’t know if you know, but our Chief is coming over to the UK next week. I’ve got to brief him, and I’m a little concerned…”

 “Oh yes, Duncan.”

 “Well, he’s got it into his head that you personally are deliberately blocking business with us for some reason.”

 “Oh dear!” I was intrigued. This was new.

“Yes, well of course I know it’s not true at all, but….”

 “But what?”

 “It would help if I could tell him that you are reinstating the last order.”

 “We cancelled that according the contract terms, Duncan, it was late.”

 “Well, he is meeting your Chairman on Friday, and it would be very unfortunate if he felt he had to mention your name. The relationship between us is good otherwise.”

 This was true, but I had my own battle to fight.

 I let the silence hang as I thought about this. Duncan was a nice guy, this wasn’t his style. I could hear the nervousness in his voice. Frankly, I was surprised. Nothing like this had happened before. What seemed like attempted bribery, yes, but not a threat.



 We had decided we wanted some exclusive products, cosmetic design included, with consumer features like colour accents, etc. Duncan’s company wouldn’t play. Nor would they meet out price demands, or requests for feature changes in the products. Because they were such a big supplier to the mother company with other products, I guessed that they just assumed we had to buy from them. So over the last months, I had tailed off new orders, diverting them to more willing manufacturers. Finally, we were on our last order, worth about quarter of a million pounds but small in their terms. They were getting panicky. My message was always the same “Love to place an order with you, but let’s talk about price, design and features.” – Zero response!

 They tried to deliver the last order late. I knew our contract by heart – I’d written most of it – so we turned them away at the gate.

 “Our lawyers say you can’t do that, John!” – Bullshit!

 So they ended up with a quarter of a million pounds worth of stuff, branded with our logo and packed with our user instruction. Sure, the badging etc. could be changed, but….

 I could imagine the messages flying back and forth. This pressure cut both ways. Although they thought they had our company ‘in the bag’ as it were – if I stopped buying from them, who might be next?

 I was OK, our main alternative manufacturers were only too pleased to up production (and thereby further lower prices).



So I sat at my desk that evening with the phone in my hand. Eventually I replied, “Oh dear, Duncan.  I’m really sorry to hear that … But if he feels he has to say something about me, that’s up to him, surely?”

 There was a silence.


 “I said, if your …”

 “Yes, OK, John. Is that the final answer, no chance? It would help me a lot if you could…..”

 “No, Duncan. You know I would place orders with you tomorrow, and take the cancelled order off your hands, but you know what you have to do.”

 “I know, John, but…” Duncan trailed off, not bothering to explain. “Look, this wasn’t my….”

 “It’s OK” I reassured him, “But you owe me a good dinner.”

 I hung up. I sat for a while and decided to do nothing hasty, so I packed up and went home.

 The next morning I made a call direct to my Chief Executive.



 Nobody ever said a word to our Chairman, but three weeks later I had a personal call from the Chief Exec.


“Oh, hello!”

 “I’ve just had a call from your friends. They’re sending over a delegation, several big-wigs. They want to see me personally, no-one else. I think you should be there, don’t you?”

 At the meeting, Duncan spoke to me but most of the others didn’t, only to my Chief Exec. Duncan ran round sorting everything out for the ‘big-wigs’.

 The message they came with, delivered by Duncan, was this:- Better prices; new designs (on the desk Duncan laid out samples of mouldings and colours they had denied were possible up until now); exclusive products and features – ‘our legal people say design exclusivity might be possible now’. (bullshit!)

 The Chief Exec looked at them, then turned to me, with a twinkle in his eye.

 “So what do you think, John?”

 Now they looked at me!

 I resisted the urge to tease them. So I spoke the truth.

 “I have always been very happy to do business with your company. I think this is a very encouraging start. In fact, I am sure we can place an order very soon, once we’ve agreed the details.”

 I turned to my Chief Exec, who was containing himself admirably.

 “I suggest Duncan, Al and I take this away and sort things out.” Al was the least senior of the visiting party – I knew my place.

 The big-wigs nodded, acknowledging me for the first time.



 Now, behind these charades was a plan. I had previously agreed exactly what I was doing in terms of strategy with this company with my bosses and the Chief Exec, who had flagged it to the Corporate gurus in case. Always cover your backside!

I never thought that pressure would be applied so crudely – they weren’t as clever as they thought. But after that incident we did good business, I got some excellent products off them – and maintained a very good relationship all-in-all.  It’s all business, and there’s no place for grudges.


I often wonder what I would have done if I hadn’t been fireproof that night when the call came. You know, I think I’d have done exactly the same – Sod ‘em – the cheeky buggers!



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