The Break

“… the big picture.”

I glanced at my watch and it was 11:26 when my boss, Bob, said, “the big picture” and Annie came unglued.

“What big picture do we need to know that our support systems don’t work, that too much of the data is old, incomplete or just wrong and that the people who should be maintaining the systems don’t seem to care?”

“Hold on, let’s keep on track”, Bob, said as Annie, one of my co-workers, read off a list of the issues which were preventing her from hitting the sales goals he had put out for the team. “We are talking about hitting goals not…”

“And that’s what I am talking about”, Annie said, “the support systems we have in place are not working, they’re not supporting us.  We’re the ones using the systems, we’re the ones who find that the systems are a liability.  I’m not sure that management knows how bad the systems are or that management understands the sales process at all.”

Annie was sailing now and you could see that it made Bob quite uncomfortable.  Now usually when challenged he would perform an encore of the clichés he had already used at the meeting about “focus”, “teamwork”, “team players”, “there’s no “I” in team” and “we hear you” before he would say something about staying positive but today here he was at our monthly regional sales team meeting and it wasn’t getting through to the group, especially Annie who got up and left the room saying that she needed to get some fresh air.

“Why don’t we stop here, bring in lunch (deli sandwiches brought in on a platter so we can keep working through lunch—get the ham and cheese) and wait for Mike Turner who should be joining us at any moment. Let’s hear what Mike has to say about the systems and management’s perspective”.

The room was cooling off as the food was brought in along with Mike Turner from headquarters in Dallas.

“Mike Turner”, Bob boomed out until he saw that Mike was on the phone and then he shushed everyone as if they had called out Mike’s name.

Mike gave the little finger wave with the hand holding the phone and placed his top-grain leather laptop carrying case on the table next to the sandwich (ham and cheese), chips, cookie and bottled water that Bob’s secretary had brought over.

Bob scrunched up his nose and wiggled his finger toward the sandwiches to tell everyone to grab their lunch.

“It’s looking good for the third quarter”, Mike said into the phone, “let’s get on this first thing Monday morning” and with that he opened the water, took a gulp and held up one finger to Bob as he started to talk to someone else.

I could tell that everyone was impressed and hearing that it’s looking good for the third quarter was sure what we needed.

When Mike finally put down his phone Bob jumped up and said, “Mike Turner, welcome.  Everyone, we’re really lucky to have Mike with us today. I know that he’s got things to tell us which may just answer a lot of our questions so why don’t we all finish our lunch and then we can hear what he has to say.”

Mike and Bob sat down and started to talk about some guy named Pete who they had both known years ago who had died when Mike said, “Darn, I forgot about the time difference.  What time is our dinner tonight?”

“Six”, Bob said.

“I wish I had remembered about the time difference.  I’ve got to get over to the hotel to get ready”.

Who needs six hours to get ready for dinner?

With that Mike got up and said something about the company growing fast and hoping to meet everyone and then something about the third quarter and everyone was sitting back waiting to see whether or not this was the guy we had been waiting for and then as he made his way around the tables that were shaped like the letter U it was almost as if the clouds had parted and the sun could finally peak through.

There was something (confidence?) that Mike seemed to have that made you feel good about the company and your job and yourself.  You couldn’t quite put your finger on it but he had it and then suddenly as he walked between the tables you knew what it was.  His pants, his trousers, his slacks were displaying the right break (quarter break? half break?) where the pant leg meets the shoe.  The break was meeting his stylish loafer at the right angle to show off just a hint of his argyle sock.  Superb.  Just right. What a guy.

Here was someone we could count on and as he talked about ‘focus” and “team work” and “team players” and no “I” in team and how headquarters “hears you” you couldn’t help but feel a little better and think that it was no wonder that the third quarter was looking good.”

A couple of more points from Mike and a couple more glances at that break and then he said, “I gotta go” and headed for the door.

As he reached for the door and said how nice it was to see everyone and how he was looking forward to spending more time with our group the door opened and in came Annie who was noticeably calmer.  Mike introduced himself and slipped past her while he waved to the group.

“Sure good to see Mike. I just wish he had more time for the group today”.  Bob quickly summarized what Mike had just said about staying focused, and teamwork and team players and that there is no “I” in team and then he sat down and ate the sandwich, chips and cookie that Mike hadn’t touched.

Bob smiled at Annie and said that he wished she had been here to hear Mike.

“What did I miss?” she asked.




Welcoming in 1986

“The amount of money that this company will spend on our new computer systems next year is more than the total sales of the company just twenty years ago. Wow”, said company president E. Walter Craghouse as he turned and pointed at a screen behind him with the logos of all the IT vendors which are involved in the various projects.
“I don’t really understand all of the details of how it works but what I do know is that we have to be an industry leader, we have to use the latest technology and link up with our customers and create true twenty first century electronic partnerships going forward. I’ll let our experts Bob, Charlotte, Martin and Ellen go over their vision, give you the details and open the conference to questions.”
The rest of the morning was much the same with commitments from all the presenters to make the company the best and brightest by developing the best and newest and describing our future with the best and greatest clichés. One after another we heard, “new, best, cutting edge, ground breaking, future, user friendly, powerful” and they just kept coming.
Did I tell you that we’re the best and the brightest and ready for to go forward as we move through the twenty first century?
Finally you could see the end coming if for no other reason than the presenters on stage were squirming in their chairs just like the rest of us.
Mr. Craghouse stood up and took the microphone from Ellen who had just finished telling us about new and better and greatest, “I want to thank all of our presenters today who have done a fabulous job of showing us the company’s vision for the future. We are new, we are now and we are marching into the future. I hope you are as excited as I am” and with that the lights came up, everyone stood and clapped and started to do their waddle out of the room.
“Oh, oh. Wait everyone, hold on, one more thing.”
Helen, the president’s secretary, took the microphone and nervously said, “I want to remind everyone that I need an address list of your customers who you want us to mail them our 2016 desk calendar and planner. Our customers really love them so let’s all be sure we get them out early this year.”
“Thanks, Helen, said E. Walter. Let’s make sure we do it, folks, real important.”
I wonder if that desk calendar/planner is for 2016 or 1986?


I sat there and typed the last introduction business letter of the day, addressed the envelope and along with the other letters I had typed earlier put on the stamps and dropped the stack of letters in the mail box.  Over the next ten days I did pretty much the same thing until I started to receive letters or phone calls from the people I had targeted.  If things worked out well I was getting phone replies within three or four days and mail replies within a week.  Turn time is everything and the focus has always been on identifying the potential customer, contacting him or her and then working on establishing a relationship which might lead to developing new business as quickly as possible to the benefit of both of us.

You can just imagine how excited I was when I first heard about email and how I could make that cold call phone call, follow it up with an email and turn on accounts up to a week faster.  Amazing.  “Hello, Mr. Jones, I’m calling to introduce my company …..  That’s great, I’ll send you an email to confirm” and it was so quick.

How things have changed.  Ring, ring, ring, “Hello and thank you for calling XYZ Company, the leader in whatever it is we do.  Please take a moment and listen to this message as our options have changed. Press one, press two, press three, spell the person’s name, press the pound sign and then, “I’m unable to come to the phone right now.  Your call is very important to me, please leave a message and I’ll return your call promptly”.  No, it isn’t. No, he won’t and behind a wall sits a potential customer you can’t get to and behind a wall sits a potential customer who should be looking for problem solutions but who has cut him or herself off from those who can deliver the solutions.

So what can you do? Let me suggest going back to sending real letters on real letterhead in real envelopes with stamps.  You see, the same people who won’t answer the phone and who won’t return calls and who will delete your email without opening it will open the envelope with your letter.  Isn’t that something? Maybe it’s the excitement of receiving something addressed to them just like Christmas morning.  So I guess it’s time to use today’s newest and latest computers as word processors like they had twenty years ago.  If that’s what you have to do then that’s what you have to do, but wait, before you stack the letterhead in the printer.  Now with all of the news about hacking and government spying comes an article in USA Today about the Russian Federal Guard Service going back to typewriters and paper documents.  The Russians are buying typewriters, new typewriters.

So let’s review.  Scrap the phone calls because nobody answers the phone but if you do decide to call don’t leave a message because nobody returns calls and don’t bother sending emails because they’re not opened and send letters via the mail but don’t use your computer as a word processer because of hacking or spying concerns.  Do get out that old, perfectly good Remington, Smith-Corona, Underwood or Royal that you just couldn’t toss and then head to Staples or Office Depot and tell the kid in electronics that you want a new ribbon, some whiteout and a typewriter eraser (with a brush—eraser crumbs, you know).  That should keep him busy for a while and then ask him about file folders, postal scales, file cabinets and carbon paper.  You’ll soon be as ready as anyone to do business as we work our way through the twenty first century.

Isn’t progress great?