July 3, 2012
Work of Fiction
It was my third month in the Sales & Marketing team and in this short duration, I had admirers and haters in equal numbers. Some envied me as I had climbed up the organizational ladder quickly and many senior associates were reporting to me. They often speculated reasons for my phenomenal rise- common explanations were that I had a fling with the Human Resources Lady while some others reasoned that I was well connected to someone in a position of power. I was admired for being able to stand by my values yet deliver results. Most difficult deals came to me and I had been lucky to outdo expectations.
Companies in the software industry neither own infrastructure nor own natural resources nor have a stable customer base. A software company has to compete with both established large companies and niche start-ups for talented engineers and projects. The sales team is attack team or pollen-jocks who have to go out to get projects. There are benefits of being in such a team as one see the world, meet new people every day and live in 5 star hotels.
On the other hand, life is lived out of a suitcase and days are spent in endless meetings and presentations. One also faces tremendous pressure in such roles. Investors want to see revenue and employees want to be employed. Both of these aspirations are met by continuously getting new projects. Since 2008, the numbers of big project have reduced and there could be unexpected bidders and unconventional ideas. I had been lucky to have been on top of this game.
One morning, the Big Boss of the Marketing & Sales Team, emailed me a news article and was furious that we were unaware about the information contained in it- the CEO of a Fortune 500 company was in town with a software shopping list and US $1billion in cash. It was big news and certainly not one to have missed. I made a few phone calls and I was informed that he would be meeting software major. It was a high visibility deal and missing out on it would make the investors furious as stock values may slide.
I called a meeting of the all the members of the sales team. None of them wanted to try for this sales project as we did not know their requirements. And if the news that we tried and failed became public, it would harm our reputation. This visible failure would also impact other projects that we had been chasing.
After the meeting, while I was walking back, a man who had never spoken to me and I knew hated me, came and said that this was my big opportunity to stand out of the crowd. I felt I had to do something. I had been a sportsman during my school days and I enjoy a good fair game. I knew the odds were against us but then I thought that we should put up a good fight.
I called Big Boss and conveyed to him the opinion of the team. He accepted the view that we should not chase the billion dollars. But then, spoke of the growth prospects, the value it would add to the company and the foreign exchange that would be earned by India. I told him that I will informally try.
I googled the CEO and found that there had been an allegation of sex harassment against him and many Board Members of the publically listed company wanted that executives should have a clean personal record. I also read the recent news articles to gather information about softwares that could be of interested to them. Hardly any information was available- I lamented the corporate culture that explicitly states values but is full of secrecy and backroom deals. I was left with no choice but to go against my values, but I convinced myself that it would be just one lunch and after that, I would go by the book.
Secretaries, Drivers and Attendant may seem harmless and weak, but they possess critical information. They hold the keys to the company and its secrets. While working in the sales team, I had met people from other companies and one of them was young Secretary of the CEO (“Old Man”) of a rival company that was described to be the front runner for the contract in few articles that had appeared in the press. I called and invited her for lunch. She initially refused but after I spoke a few sweet words, she agreed.
I drove to her office and took her for a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant. We began by discussing general topics such as movies, upcoming rock concerts and the kind food we should eat that afternoon. I tried to get to the point by asking her, “How are things at work?” But she cut in and replied, “Let us not discuss work.” She continued speaking about two new handbags that she had purchased.
Once the food came, I tried to get to the point again by asking her about her boss, “How is the old man doing?” She gave a short reply, “He is good and since when did you become interested in old men?” I had no reply and she continued ranting about the problems of water supply in her locality.
By the time dessert was served, I was impatient and irritated. I interrupted her and dived straight to the point. She was taken aback, but she seemed to trust me and seemed to believe that I had no malicious intentions. She told me names of some software that they were planning to sell along with basic information about some specific requirements that she had overheard. She also told me that her “Old Man” (CEO) was meeting the client that night for Dinner at a 5 star hotel.
I dropped her back to her office, she thanked me for lunch. She giggled innocently. I felt like a wicked cheat who had taken advantage of someone’s trust. But then, I countered my thought by thinking that the former beauty queen is an educated adult and should have been more careful. But ultimately, I regretted using her.
By the time my car approached gates to my office, I had decided to tell my boss that I had no information and that we would have to let go of this opportunity. But then, I saw a young graduate who was joining our company. It looked like it was the first day of his career and his parents were at the gates blessing him.
I remembered when I had been offered a job. I had felt that my education and my life were of some worth. It was a moment of pride. Every year thousands of young men and women graduate from Universities with the hope of finding employment. And new jobs have to be created every year to employ them. The only way to create new jobs is by getting more projects and more revenue for our company. I felt a sense of responsibility and felt there was no way but to act on my plans.
The next few hours were spent doing both legal and illegal things. The Corporate Research Desk is the intelligence agency of our company and it informed me about the hotel, wine and other habits of the CEO. I got a presentation prepared with a competitive price offer on different softwares and loaded it on my tablet computer.
I dressed up to look the oldest I could without having any grey hair. I reached the hotel lobby by eight that evening. I waited and I saw the CEO of the prospective client company come and he sat on the sofa. He was there to meet the “Old Man” for dinner. My phone beeped with a SMS, “Work Done”! It was my cue to move and meet him.
I went up to him and tried to initiate a conversation. He was evasive, but I was determined and both of us took our seat. I had not begun my sales pitch, but he showed no interest in speaking with me. I sent a text and about five minutes later, a gorgeous Russian Lady in a short black dress walked through the doors of the hotel. She made the heads of all men and most women turn towards her as she walked across the lobby towards us. She came and hugged me. I introduced her as a friend and then she sat next to me. The CEO found her attraction hard to resist.
The CEO got a phone call informing him that the “Old Man” left his home to come to the hotel, but a drunk driver had hit the car he was travelling in and escaped. He suffered only minor injuries but he would not be able to meet him that night. I remained expressionless.
Over the next two hours, I showed him the presentation I ‘incidentally’ carried on my tablet computer. Another ‘coincidence’ was that all the softwares with specific requirements desired by the CEO were covered in the presentation. He was convinced that his company should do business with us and asked me to meet him next morning to finalize the details. I went to the wash room and informed my boss about the developments.
I bid the CEO good-bye and he left for his room. I thanked the Russian lady at the reception of the hotel and then left in my car. I had a sleepless night as I felt embarrassed and sorry about the method I had used to achieve my means. I wondered if it was me who was evil or was I did I embody my company.
Next morning began with two gruesome reminders of the past day. I read in the newspaper of the minor accident of the old man and that the driver had escaped. Since the colony was dark, Police did not get the automobile registration number.
At 9 am that morning, I gathered a team of Engineers, Lawyers and Financial Analysts at the office. I told the team that I happened to meet CEO of prospective client company- some were furious and called me an opportunist who had broken the organizational discipline by going against the team decision while others said I was lucky. Within an hour, a couple of complaints were filed against me. The deal had become even more important for me as a failure could also mean a loss of my job.
By the time we reached the hotel conference room, the CEO of the prospective company was speaking with the “Old Man” who was sporting a sprain bandage. The other company had made a low price offer and our Financial Analysts felt that offering a lower price would result in a certain loss. Most other aspects of the offer were identical and the clients seemed particular about the price. By lunch, each bidder had made several presentations and it was clear that the deal was slipping away from our hands. I was in a danger of losing my job and seeming foolish for having tried.
After his meal, the CEO walked towards the empty men’s washroom and I headed there to make my final presentation. About ten minutes later, both of us stepped out and the deal was signed in our favor. The other company felt cheated that a lucrative deal had suddenly slipped out of their hand. There were parties and celebrations. The complaints against me were never heard. The share prices jumped and I was hailed a hero.
Many asked me about what transpired in the toilet that swung the deal in our favor. I have often joked that it was a confidential trade secret. But the truth is that I had played the dirty card- The Queen. The Russian Lady was a hired prostitute who had sex with the CEO and messaged the recording to me in the morning. I showed that recording to him and made a deal with him- I would delete the video if he would sign the contract with us. A deal, once made, has to be kept.
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