Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘Europe

puppet1For nearly all of my working life, I was seriously at the mercy of other people. And what wasn’t at the mercy of other people was, to an absurd degree, subject to luck (fate?).

Yes, I taught English as a Foreign Language for a couple of years, and in the classroom I had at least some control over the students. Not much, but some. But then I went into the business world, where any shred of control evaporated faster than the net worth of my retirement fund over the past six months.

Most of my career was spent in sales and sales support for large, multi-national computer services deals. We’re talking about contracts worth $100 million and up. The largest topped out in the billions. These types of deals often take two or more years to develop, and if it looks as though there is a chance that a deal will close, the lead members of the sales team will be dedicated full time.

But deals like this have an extremely low win rate. There are an infinite number of things that must all go right, and if any one of them goes wrong, two years of work go down the drain.

The Dutch shipping executive whom you’ve spent two years selling your deal to can’t convince his bosses? Pack your bags and fly to Zurich. Your client champion at the Swiss chocolate manufacturer just got fired? Lose a turn and move to Helsinki. The exchange rate of the Hungarian forint goes up against the Finnmark, and you’re bidding your Budapest solution center? Kiss your deal with the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer goodbye and fly to Turin. You were stupid enough to waste your time trying to sell to the Italian automobile manufacturer and you aren’t selling for IBM? Shame on you for being such a doofus. But there’s a deal in Germany that’s hot. You forgot to sell the deal to the janitor in the factory in Cologne? You’re not very good at this, are you? Maybe you should try opening up a Haagen Dasz franchise.

Every one of those things, and dozens of others like them, actually happened to me. OK, the one about the janitor I made up, but the principle is valid. There was always somebody or something that could kill my deal unexpectedly. Over 30 years, I figure that I closed about 10% of the deals I started. Of course, I didn’t spend two years on every deal. Lots of them went away much quicker. But even if the average was, say, a year, the math is still pretty discouraging. 30 year career, 10% hit rate, 1 year per – that’s 30 deals worked on, of which 27 disappeared into the ether. And that’s thousands of pages of great work done late at night that had to be fed into the shredder before I moved to the next opportunity. Discouraging? Hell, yes!

Why would companies employ me for 30 years with a win-rate like that? Because the profit on one successful billion dollar contract is enough to cover all the expenses for the lost deals and still pay for the corporate big shots’ fleet of private jets. That’s why.

The team working on the larger deals would be 200 people or more. I was reasonably high in the hierarchy, but there were still always lots of people above me. You know that expression about s*%$ rolling downhill? Just call me Mr. Brownface.

On one huge contract, I was responsible for writing the executive summary for the proposal. By the time that document was submitted, we were on Version 236d! The final days of writing that proposal were like the car-washing scene from “Cool Hand Luke.”

Boss 1: “Put a comma in here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it in here, Boss.”

Boss 2: “We don’t need this comma.”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Boss 1: “I thought I told you to put a comma here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it back in, Boss.”

Boss 2: “What’s that comma doing in the Warden’s document?”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Are you getting the point? I was definitely NOT IN CHARGE.

Finally, I decided to quit it all and start doing something where I am in

Deus Ex Machina

Don as a deity, controlling the scene

complete control. As a playwright, I’m like the deity who’s suspended from the contraption in the corner of the stage in a Greek play. I’ve got a character who’s a 90 years old man and he’s decided he’s going to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world? But that doesn’t work for the play? Poof! He’s a 17 year old girl, and he (she) is pregnant. What a feeling of POWER!

So after all those years of being a flea on the great stallion of life, I am finally

Large And In Charge

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to go mail off copies of my new book, Ups & Downs to a hundred reviewers. Maybe one of them will actually read it. Then, I’m going to send copies of my latest play, “Shakespeare Incorporated” to 75 theaters. My hit rate on those is about 1%.

evil-car-company. . . and die lonely.

Forgive me, but I take vast delight in the current troubles (and impending demise) of a particularly evil U.S. car company.  It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of guys.  (To keep from being sued, I shall refer to it simply as the “Evil Car Company,” or “ECC” for short. )

When I first got into the market of looking for cars in the early 1970s, I quickly realized that ECC wasn’t interested in trying to satisfy the demand of its customers.  It was intent on shoving down their customers’ throats what it wanted them to buy.

“But you advertised this car for $2,999.  How come it’s $4,500?” I complained to the ECC dealer.  (Remember, this was 1972.)   “But that’s because this car has the Luxury Decor Option.”  “What’s the Luxury Decor Option?”  “That’s the interior floor carpet, a strip of chrome on the side, and a mirror in the passenger sun-visor.”  “And how much does that cost?”  “$600.”  “What if I don’t want the strip of chrome and the sun-visor mirror, but I just want the carpet?”  “You can’t do that.  It only comes as a package.”  “What comes on the floor if I don’t order the package?”  “Rubber floor mats that cover only part of the floor.  The rest is bare metal.”  “For $600, I’ll buy my own mats.”  “In that case we’ll have to order it special, and it will take you 4 months to get it.”

And so it went.  If I wanted a radio, I had to get the Comfort Package (or some other euphemism), which cost $500 and also included a lock and key for the glove compartment, and variable speed wipers.  If I wanted a heater with temperature control, I had to buy the — well, you get the idea.

So I went to a Datsun dealer and looked at the B210, which was advertised for $2,999.  “How much does this car cost?” I asked.  “$2,999.”  “And with the carpet on the floor and the strip of chrome on the side and the visor mirror?”  “$2,999.”  “And the air conditioning and the radio?”  “$2,999.”  Needless to say, I bought the Datsun.  It was 15 years later before I drove another ECC vehicle.  But that’s the beginning of the good part of the story.

In the early 1980s I was working in England for an I.T. services company when it was announced that my company would start a long-term, “special relationship” with ECC.  I was immediately transferred to work on the ECC account — they were looking for people in my company who could speak a variety of European languages to work with ECC’s European subsidiaries, and I was at the top of a very short list.  Over the next 10 years, my company did a large amount of work for ECC.  As an employee of a company with a “special relationship,” I was partly protected from the filthy business practices to which ECC regularly subjected its vendors, but not so much that I wasn’t aware of them.  (Sorry, but if I gave you any examples, ECC may become recognizable.  Anyway, you probably wouldn’t believe that anyone could be that unethical.)

Fast forward to the mid 1990s, when the special relationship between my company and ECC was winding down and we were negotiating an arms-length contract for ongoing services.  There was a book at the time by Chester Karrass entitled “The Art of Negotiating.”  In it, Karrass listed a large number of unethical negotiating tactics.  He wasn’t recommending them, mind you, he just wanted you to be prepared.  According to my colleagues who spent nearly a year negotiating the wind-down contract, ECC’s negotiators ran down the entire list, using all the unethical tactics, more or less in order.  Once the contract was signed, ECC immediately began to treat my company as it was treating its other vendors.  Namely, it would decide: a) if it would pay; b) when; and c) how much.  When my company complained, ECC’s response was to trump up spurious financial claims (which it would drop if my company dropped its demand for payment) and to say, “If you don’t like it, sue us.  We’ll squash you like a bug.”  My company chose not to poke the 500 pound gorilla in the eye, and let them get away with those tactics for a number of years.

After I left my company, I went to work for another I.T. services company that had aspirations to do work with ECC.  Much to my credit, I worked mightily and nearly single-handedly to convince them not to pursue ECC’s business.  I succeeded.  I say, nearly single-handedly.  According to the executives at my new company, ECC helped in the job of dissuading them by finding excuses not to meet many of its obligations for a number of projects that the company was doing for them at that time.

During all the time I worked with ECC, their executives never even had the decency to be embarrassed at the way they were behaving.  Everything was always everybody else’s fault.  If their suppliers weren’t acting “like that,” ECC wouldn’t have to either.  I’m sure they haven’t changed their tune, especially now that they are finally getting what they so richly deserve.

I spent 15 years of my life in that environment, and for quite a while after that I was bitter, mistrustful of everybody and everything, and profoundly depressed.  As a joke — OK, a really sick one — I used to say about ECC’s executives, “May they all get cancer and die slowly and painfully.”  Unfortunately, I used that line once at a party at which two of the guests were suffering from cancer.  So I’ve cleaned up my act, and now I say,

“May they all get Halitosis and die lonely.”