The Cusp of Dreams/Chapter 4: Fleur-de-Lis
Copyright © 2000 by Diana E. Sheets
At six feet and over 250 pounds, Joe O’Rourke is imposing. He towers above me, invades my body space. He’s the perfect caricature of a salesman, deep vibrant voice, bulging physique, expansive hand gestures, chummy. You just want to prick him with a needle. So full of vapor, maybe he’d burst. Like a helium balloon, swirling into air, twisting, turning, emitting loud, hissing sounds, heading toward the ceiling, then splat! Flattened down to ordinary proportions like the rest of us.
We are engaged in a nautical discussion. Sailing. Unfortunately, Joe has discovered I have a thirty-two foot sloop. He’s determined to weasel his way onboard by impressing me with his seamanship, well, his knowledge of boating terms, anyway. I’m trying my best to escape before I’m forced to extend an invitation. But his right hand presses my left forearm. I’m glued, stuck. “I’ve done some day sailing,” I hear him say, “at the seventy-ninth street boat basin.”
“Really?” I reply.
“Sue, bet you don’t see me as a helmsman. But I tell you I’m good. A regular ol’ salt, one of the crew. Whatcha doin’ this weekend?”
The closer. The motherfucker of a closer, trying to horn in on my private time. “Gee, don’t know Joe, depends on the weather. Is that my phone I hear ringing?” I say as I start moving toward my desk. “I’d better get it.”
“That’s Jay’s, your line’s clear,” Joe replies. His arms weave around me like tentacles, pulling me back, the human octopus. “Best of all,” he continues, “I like the fleur-de-lis maneuver.”
“What?” I’m listening, despite myself.
“You know, fleur-de-lis, it means you’re planning to turn the boat.”
I’m a little slow on the uptake. Maybe he knows a sailing term I don’t. Could it actually be that the French royal emblem of Charles V that has come to decorate so many walls in so many homes has some nautical significance that escapes me?
“Fleur-de-lis, fleur-de-lis, fleur-de-lis.”
He’s chanting it like a mantra, ever faster, ever louder, looking at me expectantly. I’m listening to his tonal incantations, his rhythm. Kind of a chromatic puzzle, a lyrical game of charades. I’m following Joe’s hands; they’re fluttering back and forth, out of kilter, like some errant metronome. Still, there’s something to his gestures. I’m getting closer, closer. Fleur-de-lis transforms into “heartily,” then, “hard to lee.” I get it! The fool means tacking.
“Hard to lee, Joe.” I say it more quickly a second time, making it sound like heartily, “You mean tacking, turning the boat, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said. It’s a tricky thing, tackin’, got to get it right. If you’re not careful, all hell breaks loose. I did it once; part of the sail came over and knocked the skipper right out of the boat. Then I was sailing away. Me at the tiller, alone in his Ensign. Pete screaming instructions from the water. I wasn’t sure what to do; it was a mess. Scary thing, tackin’.”
The shithead had jibed—turned the stern of the boat into the wind, instead of the bow. It’s a high-risk maneuver at the best of times; the boom swings across the entire beam, and if the crew’s not looking it can knock them overboard. In strong weather, jibing can blow the sails out, do a lot of damage. In a dinghy, it might even cause the boat to flip, dumping the crew and filling the cockpit with water. Jibing has its uses, however. It’s a great tactical ploy in racing.
Idiot. He’s never coming on board my boat. However, I see no point in clarifying or expounding on the finer points of seamanship. Better to make my escape.
“That’s really something,” I say, “must have been quite an experience. We should talk more about it sometime. But I gotta run, I’m late for an appointment.”
I manage to free my arm, maneuver my body around toward my desk, my papers, my escape.
Disappointment registers on Joe’s face. “Let’s do that,” he calls after me. He heads off in the opposite direction, bearing down on his next victim—Maryann. I’m free!
. . . . .
My first “fleur-de-lis” occurred with my decision to leave advertising, yeah, that genteel profession. The biz was swimming with sharks, but they were Great Whites, not the bottom-feeding Nurse sharks. Friends and family counted you as one of their own when you worked in advertising. You were white collar, upper middle class, working with your mind, not your hands. Come to think of it, the acceptable professions are few in number: law, management, finance, and consulting. The players establish themselves in firms like McKenzie & Associates or Boston Consulting before leaving to make their own fortunes. Telling others what to do and never doing it themselves is their specialty. In the eighties, the hottest ticket was the new breed, “the Terminators or Downsizers,” the Neutron Jack’s or Chainsaw Al’s. Executives that saved their companies by nuking everyone, leaving the business holdings intact, but wasting their employees. Or the Merger Moguls. Two companies combined, the CEOs, stockholders, and lawyers enriched themselves, forty percent of the employees got canned. Way to go, fucking genteel.
The marginally acceptable professions include medicine, particularly surgery. Certainly, doctors have great earning potential, although HMOs and malpractice insurance are eroding their returns. Nevertheless, physicians are suspect. They aren’t quite there, you see. For even if they earn mega bucks, they still use their hands. Engineers live much further down the food chain. Not only do they design physical mechanisms, but they also rarely earn beaucoup dollars. Computer analysts place somewhere near the engineers. Techies. If they are software types that is an improvement over hardware geeks. However, usually they are just cogs in a wheel, not movers and shakers like Bill Gates or Michael Lewis. Someone is always telling them what to do. No mucho buckaroos.
Nonetheless, “genteel” was getting to me. To begin with, I hated advertising. Telling other people what to think, do, buy, promoting envy. That was bad enough. But the bastards stuck me in research. That was like being positioned in the bowels of a company with only a fifteen-watt bulb to light my way. All I could do was wait to be expelled. No one ever seemed to advance from research.
Eventually, I did manage to worm my way into the account end of the business. But the bastards kept placing me in support roles for “female” product lines: cosmetics, apparel, home appliances. I pushed for aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications. Instead, I was offered a position in utilities. It was a promotion attached to a hand grenade: nobody in the eighties advanced in that area. With the stringent government regulations on electric, gas, and water companies and given the measly advertising budgets allocated by their boards of directors, there was no upside to representing them. Now, of course, deregulation is making utilities hot. But in those days they were moribund.
So my account assignment was Metropolitan Union Gas and Electric. I’ll never forget those guys. They never made decisions. Their hands shook whenever they were asked to authorize anything. Not one creative thought among them. After months and months of fidgeting with minor design changes, I obtained their authorization for an advertising program. The final signed document from MUG&E had more than thirty signatures from every department even remotely tied to their internal advertising group. The better part of a year passed before I implemented even the simplest, least controversial, ad campaign.
Advancement in advertising was determined by subjective factors. Somehow, men got the plums. They were the ones with influence. Even in the eighties, advertising was a clubby atmosphere, men meeting men. And I realized that with only a BA, I wasn’t likely to surmount these obstacles. I was stuck. I wasn’t going anywhere. My income was flatter than a tortilla. So I bailed. Jumped into sales, land of opportunity. In an instant I was déclassé. Fuck gentility.
In the era of Reagan economics, careers in sales were booming. But without credentials, not even a business degree, I took what I could get. Business machines, printers, copiers, the drone stuff. That was where I landed. It was a sucky job, but my income rose. Certainly, the experience was an eye-opener, for sales has its own set of rules. It’s primitive: the other side of the corporate divide. Sales is war, plain and simple. And no one fighting in those trenches gives a damn about sexual harassment policies or fair allocations of territory. It took me a while to learn the underlying rules, the ones people live and die by.
In my new position at Solandex, I was offered municipalities as my major account assignment because of my previous experience handling utilities. I was pleased. Big fucking mistake. The first rule I learned in sales was that no matter what they promise you, the job you end up with is whatever piece of shit is available when you jump onboard. I was immediately bounced to retail. Fleur-de-lis! Their justification: I needed “experience” before handling municipal accounts. Needless to say, I never got traded to the majors. My job was strictly AA ball: calling on small to mid-sized companies. But what an experience. I was cold calling accounts door-to-door. It wasn’t long before I realized that our market share was poor, that our hardware was generally more expensive than that of our rivals, and that our products could scarcely be differentiated from those of our competition. Each sale was rough and tumble, like hand-to-hand combat in the muddy trenches.
In my Guerilla handbook, the second rule of sales is that everyone is out to get you. Trust nobody. Or as Andy Grove of Intel said, “Only the paranoid survive.” You remember that guy, Joe O’Rourke? At first I thought he was OK. You know, friendly, helpful, someone you might turn to for advice on problem accounts. Sixty days into the job, I discovered otherwise. The scheisskopf was rifling through my desk, stealing leads. No wonder my prospects never seemed to pan out. The asshole was calling on my accounts. He was undercutting my bids. In short, he was stealing my business. Of course, my manager deliberately overlooked his actions. Fucking fleur-de-lis!
So the next morning, I came in with this huge, steel lock-box. That was in the days before reps maintained accounts on laptops. Joe’s eyes popped as I slammed the metal box down on my desk. It landed hard, steel against steel.
“This is to keep thieves from rifling though my accounts,” I shouted. Sales improved considerably after that.
A couple of months went by. I brought myself up-to-speed on the business. But I was getting tired of fumbling deals because the company failed to keep reps current on the latest advances in our industry. The bastards didn’t even properly train us. As for our showroom, it was always missing some key model in our product line or essential parts and accessories. Like the time I was scheduled to demo the FU-890, our latest and greatest piece of hardware. I walked onto the floor and found the copier totally disassembled, its pieces strewn about.
This experience suggested the third rule of sales in my Guerilla handbook. Training sucks. Whatever is promised in the way of tools, resources, and materials when you’re hired, they’ll be gone (poof!) by the time you actually need them. So they gave me training, so fucking what. One week. By some ditz who couldn’t sell bupkis and had no street smarts. Still, I didn’t realize how good that old, sucky training was till the nineties when everything went virtual. You know, on-line computer instruction, software scenarios raising objections we’d encounter on the street, schematic diagrams of the machines you’d sell and how they’d operate. Try selling that hardware live the day of the close when you have never laid eyes on it. The demo had a guaranteed one-hundred-percent fuck-up rate. No wonder reps had trouble meeting their frigging numbers.
Then, of course, no matter how good your equipment, the company always pushed you to sell the worst piece of shit in the product line. You couldn’t make objectives or bonuses without it. By the time you were halfway through the year, there were at least a dozen retrofits on that baby, and still it was hemorrhaging ink, curling and smudging virtually every piece of paper it spit out. Back then, it was the V-T15, our first entry into the color-copying market. Those engineers were clueless. That hunk of metal spewed ink like a burst water main in the Bronx. And while the spec sheets claimed true color representation, who were those engineers kidding? The V-T15 was lucky if it performed reliably utilizing black and one other color. So I sold that sucker as a black-and-white copier with color enhancing capabilities, period.
I’ll never forget the day I sold my first bunch of V-T15s. I had a trial copier running on the fifth floor of Martinex, a financial services company. The director of office administration, Greg Dawling, was a tough negotiator, a man I respected. The last day of the trial we ran the V-T15 through its paces. Smooth as a baby’s ass. It never even farted.
We stepped into Greg’s office to close the deal. Dawling’s hand was poised over the contract. Then he looked into my eyes and asked, “Sue, your word of honor. Swear to me that this new color copier is reliable. I’m buying fifteen; my job’s on the line if they fail. Tell me I’m not buying trouble.”
My eyes met Greg’s. I consciously made an effort to ensure that I didn’t blink or shift my gaze. With a calmness that belied the queasiness I felt, I replied, “That’s a great machine, Greg; it won’t give you any trouble. It’s backed by the company’s warranty, of course, but you’ll never need it.” He signed the order.
There I was sitting in Greg’s office waiting for God’s thunderbolt. I had lied to an honorable man. All for a frigging quota. I pinched my arm. Ouch! Still living. Obviously, there were greater punishments awaiting me. Perhaps a car would hit me as I crossed Fifth Avenue. No, that would be too simple. My punishment had to be worse, much worse. That was when I realized that my fate was to be consigned to inferno—a lifetime of sales. Greg and I shook hands; I departed. Leaving the building, I felt my head. No devil-horns yet. I smiled.
This, of course, brings me to the next maxim in Sue’s Guerilla Handbook of Sales. Whatever your quota, fuggedaboudit, it’s unachievable. Even if you’re fortunate enough one year to meet it, your objective will be so astronomically high the following year that it’ll eat away at your bonus. Only a fucking miracle will enable you to make it. In short, the better your revenue, the worse your income. The result is you have to work harder and harder just to maintain your earnings. It’s the pits. Take, for example, that sale of V-T15’s. It put me at quota by September, a full three months ahead of schedule. Know what the motherfuckers did? They assigned an empty territory to me and doubled my objective. Fleur-de-lis! Didn’t matter that I refused the assignment; I got it, anyway. I still managed to meet quota, just barely. But the bonus was shot. The bastards.
This reminds me of the final lesson in my Guerilla handbook. All managers are either incompetent or out to get you. My boss, R.C. Tabbins, fell into the former category. Incompetent, sleazy, lazy, those were his good points. You prayed he stayed away from your accounts. Otherwise, you were triaging those puppies for the next thirty days, hoping you could salvage them, bring home the revenue after he had gone in and fucked up your deals.
In the beginning, R.C. went out with me. That was when I thought he knew the product line and could help me with the demos. Not a chance. R.C. would tell customers specs that weren’t even on the engineering drawing board and quote prices that were well below cost. With R.C. to assist me, a hardware demo was guaranteed to fail. In short, R.C was the plague. If he wasn’t giving away my accounts to other reps or doubling my objective at the eleventh hour, he was inadvertently sabotaging my sales.
So I avoided him. Found desk space in remote corners, came in early, worked late, anything to ensure R.C. and I had minimal contact. Let him screw up someone else’s accounts, drain their revenue. And since my numbers were reasonably good, he left me alone. Remember, this was before rampant voicemail, pagers, and cell phones. One could be incommunicado. Ah, for those good ol’ days.
In the end, it was the conversion of our New York office to a dealership barely a year after I started that made me jump ship. I liked working in a corporate environment, one of the companies listed on the NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange. Never could stomach those glass storefronts. Today, dealers are getting more sophisticated. They’re bigger and more effective. Nevertheless, I still avoid them. I’ll take a startup, a subsidiary, anything but a company that sells products totally undifferentiated from everyone else’s. What can I say, that’s my prejudice.
As for the other kind of boss, the competent or talented manager that turns on you, well, that was Charlie Ramirez at Amtech. I joined that company after leaving Solandex. At that time, Amtech was an engineering firm that provided consulting services to manufacturing plants. They offered technical expertise to enhance industrial productivity. Yeah, yeah, I know, I was one of those consultants, but only marginally genteel. After all, I was still involved with manufacturing and sales, so I was less than cool.
Training was held out in Dayton. I was one of only two females hired along with four guys. That company had more than a whiff of testosterone. You know, the scent of sex, the excitement of the hunt, the thrill of the pounce. You’d swear the bozos hired by Amtech were just furloughed. They came by one-by-one, knocking at both Candy’s and my hotel rooms. We ignored their requests for deodorant, toothpaste, and drinks at the bar. For their eyes told the story. Eyes that remained firmly fixated on our beds. Same old shit.
With one exception. The dreamy one, Gordy Evans, had eyes only for me. He was a six-foot-four Aussie with blond hair and a reasonably athletic build. There was Gordy standing in my doorway, his body brushed up against mine. I was flashing my wedding ring, shoving it in his face, sliding it across one of his arms, but I was tempted. There was something wicked about him. Tough, leather dude, drove a Harley, the whole badass works. The guy even claimed to be one of the key promoters of the America’s Cup race in Perth. Even then, even with my blood pumping, I couldn’t brush away my doubts. Why was a high-visibility PR guy going through technical training here with me in Dayton? Reason finally prevailed over the libido. I couldn’t ignore that in my business people were masters of bullshit. With a sigh, I began closing the door on Gordy. I saw his disappointment. I felt his fingers slide tantalizingly across my arm before he departed, my virtue as a married woman still fully intact.
That evening, I joined the sales team and our new manager, Charlie Ramirez, for drinks in the hotel lobby. At 5’8½" Charlie weighed in at nearly two hundred. His oval face was surrounded by a mass of dark, brillo hair; his eyes were a charcoal hue. When Charlie sat on the sidelines, he appeared listless, a shapeless mound of rounded flesh. But nothing was further from the mark. The man had fangs; he was dangerous. Just when you thought he wasn’t listening, why that was when he pounced. Suddenly, his body jiggled and then wham! You were flattened. Maybe physically, maybe by verbal assault. You had to see the guy in action. He took no prisoners.
But tonight, Charlie was schmoozing us. Before the evening was through, we were fully in his camp. He was mesmerizing. He knew the industry, the details, the connections. He gave us the skinny on working our territories. I felt my tensions easing. Charlie would help me develop a strategy. Maybe this job would pan out. I’d be able to make some good money; I might even have fun. That night, Charlie spent time with all of us. Made us feel special.
But Charlie was a guy who chased skirts. Maybe he hired women so he could shag us under those desks. Could be he just wanted a harem and Candy and I were its inaugural members. Or perhaps, he just thought we were more malleable than the men.
Whatever Charlie’s motivation, it wasn’t long before his intent was perfectly clear. While I was talking with the bartender, Charlie joined me. He wedged himself into my space, practically sitting on my lap. I got off my stool and edged away. Charlie tolerated our distance for awhile and then pressed close. Again I moved away; again he moved toward me. His actions were making us a public spectacle. So I excused myself and went to pee. I took my time, hoping Charlie would take the hint. No such luck. There he was, still waiting. I crossed the room to join my teammates, taking care to sandwich myself tightly between two of my male colleagues. Candy was with us, standing slightly off to one side. While chatting away, I kept an eye out for Charlie. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Charlie lit a path to Candy. Like a laser beam. I couldn’t help smiling. He was doing the same shit to her. Transparent.
Did I say the whole sales team was behind Charlie? Well, almost. We lost Gordy that night. Perhaps he was jealous of Charlie. Maybe he never intended to complete training. He might have simply been after the signing bonus. Anyway, that evening he was pure drinking machine. Downed eight double scotches, six whiskeys, and four bourbons. Even so, there was no slur in his voice, no weave to his walk. When I left Gordy at the bar, he was on his third malt liquor with a babe at his side. He barely nodded when I said goodbye.
No kiss on my cheek, nothing.
Even Charlie commented on Gordy’s boozing. Said anyone else would have been done in by that kind of binge. But not Gordy, he slurped the stuff down like Gatorade. Naturally, he didn’t show for training the next day. By mid-morning, Amtech had a full-scale search and rescue team combing the premises for Gordy. To no avail, natch. That bloke had gone AWOL. I tell ya, sales has its own set of rules based on subliminal impulses. Sexual passions cohabit with killer instincts and methodical practices. Like fucking without protection while sky-high on designer drugs even as you pull all-nighters to clinch mega deals. Through it all, you scrupulously maintain your physique with a low-fat, high-fiber diet combined with a punishing five-day-a-week exercise regime that combines cardio-vascular and weightlifting routines. Don’t try and make sense out of it all. It defies logic. Unless you’re the kind of person who gets inspired barrel rolling down Niagara. Anyway, that’s sales. It’s capitalism incarnate.
Needless to say, I survived training. I was assigned a suburban territory. I took my sales bag and knocked on doors. I did everything Charlie told me. Only it just wasn’t humming. Sure, I started with the small accounts. I even managed to find my way into the offices of a few CEOs. They seemed to like my pitch, but they just weren’t signing. Not even for a measly three bills to get a summary report. After two weeks of rejection, my ass was dragging.
So Charlie insisted on traveling with me. I had everything set up for our three appointments: the directions, the research, the support materials. But nothing eased my fears. I gnawed my fingernails to flesh. The night before we were scheduled to go out, I struggled to keep my food down and barely slept. I wasn’t much better the next morning. No question, this job was getting to me. Sure, I had experience, but that was selling in Manhattan. What mattered there was ATTITUDE. Driving to accounts in the burbs seemed so different. I was damned if I knew what compelled these decision-makers to buy. And having Charlie sitting there in the car with me wasn’t helping. I tried looking nonchalant. I let him blather away. But then a what-the-fuck-did-he-say-silence ensued. Damn, I missed something.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Have you ever done what those women do?”
“Excuse me?” Cautiously, it was not as if I wanted to jump to conclusions.
“You know, the women who pose for Penthouse.”
“What?” What the hell was Charlie talking about? I must have flown into one of those black-sex-holes. When in doubt, ask. It wasn’t like I could risk guessing here.
“You’ve lost me, Charlie.”
I was fidgety. I avoided eye contact. I prayed my car had an eject button hidden under my driver’s seat. Where was Bond when you needed him? We were talking sex here, the verboten employer/employee topic. That was bad enough. But this line of questioning seemed kinky. I was on the verge of panic. How’d I get myself into this situation?
“Have you done what those women do?”
The asshole had gone and repeated his question. Maybe he was embarrassed. God, l hoped so. His face was red. That had to mean something, right? I upped the ante, put an edge in my voice, some attitude.
“What do you mean? S&M?”
Well, what did he want from me? I was afraid he meant orgies, sex with animals, all that weird stuff. I hadn’t a clue as to what he was talking about. I wasn’t a guy. I had never even read Penthouse. They say it’s explicit, but what does that mean? Were we just talking naked women, you know, pussies, tits, ass or were we talking MORE?
Charlie was embarrassed. Now even I could see that. His voice was softer, almost a whisper. Imagine, Charlie at a whisper.
“You know. Extramarital sex, adultery.”
Relief flowed through my body. He was just checking me out. Wanted to see if I was available. I could handle this.
“Oh, that! No, Charlie. I take my marriage vows very seriously; I don’t do that sort of stuff. Never have, never will.” Emphatic—that was my tone. It was a kind of eject seat. Still, I was tense. It was going to be a long day.
We drove to our first appointment. We met with the President of Ryecorp International. He wasn’t buying, nohow. Nothing peaked his interest. Not our spin on greater profitability, rationalized layout, automation, nothing. So we left.
On to the second appointment. The place was tiny. My heart sank. Another lousy prospect. No way this guy was passing out dough. Why didn’t I schedule some key accounts? I was nauseated. But Charlie wasn’t relenting. He walked around the plant floor talking to Jack Phillips about the cost of the equipment, operational hours, just-in-time inventory. Charlie was pushy, real pushy. He just wouldn’t quit. As his voice got louder, I became eager to leave. But not Charlie. He kept spitting out facts with greater and greater emphasis and name-dropping all the gunslingers in the business. Charlie was aggressive, the word “no” wasn’t even in his lexicon. Another ten minutes and Phillips signed for the summary report. We were leaving and the guy actually said thank you. Three-bills wasn’t much, but it was something. Thanks to Charlie, I began tasting the raw meat of success.
It was our last appointment, however, that hooked me. A larger plant. Charlie was familiar with the company. The owner, Jacob Kohl, of Precision Manufacturing greeted us. He had a strong German accent. Kohl was taller than Ramirez by about six inches and had a good hundred pounds on Charlie. Kohl was big. He looked mean at first glance, second, and third. I have to tell ya, Kohl was not sizing up to be a great prospect.
To begin with, there was grease all over him. Then, there was his belly. It was hanging out, popping out of his dirty, ragged shirt, like a beach ball. If that wasn’t enough, the guy had the meanest German shepherd I had ever laid eyes on. It was lunging at us. Again and again, fangs bared and gnashing. Only the spiked choker-collar attached to a leash that was fastened to a stationary wooden post appeared to prevent our immediate demise. When Kraut-hund wasn’t barking, his growls could be decoded from German to English to deduce but a single meaning—I’m Hungry!
That was when I decided to call it quits. Even if that meant deserting Charlie. My plan was simple: I’d just shrink myself down to a height of, say, six inches. Just enough to slide under the door. No one, not even Kraut-hund, would notice my departure. As for Charlie, obviously he had some kind of death wish. He was gunning for Kohl. That was his problem, not mine. Still, I had to give Charlie credit. He knew everything about Kohl’s business. About his competitors, his volume of product, his warehouse operations, the whole deal.
They were both yelling. I, on the other hand, shuffled papers; I lifted my bag; I gave notice of my intentions to leave. But my actions carried no weight. Neither man acknowledged my presence. They were fully engaged in battle, screaming and shouting, a step forward here, a step back there. I watched Charlie. He never gave in; he just kept on pushing. Reluctantly, I stayed. After all, who would protect Charlie from Charlie? It seemed I owed him that.
For over twenty minutes, they gestured wildly and shouted themselves hoarse. Then, Charlie lost it. He backed Kohl into a corner. I was incredulous. Whenever Kohl tried to move forward, there was Charlie pushing him back. Charlie’s jiggling belly was thrust into Kohl’s fucking beach ball. Now at this point it didn’t take a genius to see that Charlie was a goner. No one cornered Kohl or his shepherd and survived to tell the tale. I should have guessed; I should have known. We must have passed six bodies coming in, their bones jumbled in the dog pile. You never trap vicious people or their ferocious beasts. Not in life and never, ever, in sales. Not if you value your existence. You just don’t.
But Charlie did. Not only did he back Kohl into the corner, but he also deployed his index finger as a sort of measuring rod. His finger probed the fatty reaches of Kohl’s belly as if he were tapping into oil reserves or gauging levels of uranium buried deep underground. Or perhaps he was testing for nuclear fallout? Anyway, I knew my manager was dog meat when he shouted at the top of his lungs, “You’re wrong; you’re dead wrong, and I can prove it.”
Then it happened. Der Hund broke free. With Kohl’s encouragement, the beast mashed Charlie to the bone. Blood was everywhere. I was soaked. The cries and barks were deafening. But Charlie fought on. He was inhuman. His hands were wrapped around der Hund’s throat. It took both Kohl and a co-worker who restrained Charlie to enable the dog to finish him off. When it was over, Kohl handed me a body bag. It looked old. I glanced to see if it was surplus from World War II. I was looking for the Swastika or KKK insignia. The initials were faint, smudged, hard to read. Now I was left with the dreaded task. My first day on the job with my new manager and I was responsible for his torture-murder. It was left to me to drive Charlie’s body home to his grieving family. Hell of a way to end a sales career.
Surprisingly, that was not how it went. Even with his back to the wall, Kohl grudgingly listened. Another thirty minutes and he was signing documents for a preliminary investigative report. That was worth three thousand dollars. It provided Kohl with a fifty-page study of his metal fabrication business. Another twenty thousand would be ours if we were hired to implement the recommended changes. Not only did we have a sale, it was big! Even better, we were alive to tell the tale. Quite a day. It was a fleur-de-lis, but of a different species.
After that, I was a house afire. Nothing stopped me. I never acknowledged resistance from a customer. Sales objections meant nothing. If I was alive when I walked out of a meeting, how bad could it have been? I quickly became one of the top sales performers in the country. I was even better than Ramirez. My sophisticated style blended with Charlie’s ferocious tenacity raked in the dough. I thrived on speaking softly, but relentlessly going for the kill. I never raised my voice, but I was able to document every internal process utilized in the industries I called on with at least three studies that related to their trade. I knew all their competitors, their suppliers, their customers. I became their most knowledgeable source. I was obsessed. I worked nights and weekends. Sales was my life. And that was O.K. The money was great. My closing ratio began approaching seventy percent, unheard of in my business.
As you can see, I had learned Charlie’s lessons quickly. And in the beginning, he basked in my triumphs. Then his manner changed. At first, he seemed gruff, a little distant. But it wasn’t long before Charlie started treating me as his adversary. I guess he felt I was getting too powerful, too big for my britches, perhaps even a threat to his job. Naturally, our friendship cooled. Although we remained polite, we avoided one another. I tried to be deferential. No dice. Charlie was a variant of the second kind of manager. He started out helpful, but in the end was out to get me.
Three years later, Charlie quit the job to oversee a startup enterprise. I was the obvious choice to replace him. He half-heartedly supported my promotion, but I got the job, anyway.
Having been promoted, I naturally amended my rules about managers. I like to think I’m the third kind, the inspiring leader who brings out the best in her people, but then, I wouldn’t be the one to ask. Anyway, it seems that reps shoveling shit in the trenches never quite analyze events the way their paper-pushing superiors do.
. . . . .
I left Amtech after having served seven years with the company. Our division was shut down. It seemed we weren’t meeting our benchmarks. First, came the consultants—Anderson this time—and then, the lawyers. They were followed by corporate finance, you know, the ones wearing the green eyeshades. Let me tell you, you don’t want them coming to any of your fucking meetings. There was no wresting free from their blood-sucking-death-grip. Within the hour, they announced the closure of our division. Just like that and we were history.
I worked two other jobs in manufacturing since then. And I can tell you, it was no better elsewhere. After years of fun, the industry was getting to me. It was meaner, tougher. The money, the glory, the craziness of the eighties was gone. All that was left was shareholder-value, meeting the expectations of investors, and the benchmarks of Wall Street. That meant double-digit growth even in mature industries like ours where the products were long established and it was impossible to achieve anything beyond five or six percent increases annually. But hell, if turbo-growth was what investors wanted, that was what they’d get. Even if it was a lie, a total fabrication. Even if there was forty-percent turnover in the workforce because the reps couldn’t achieve their objectives. Even if they were sucking air, pure air, because there was no product in our industry that generated that kind of return.
The last job I held in manufacturing was with a high-tech company fully ensconced in Dilbertville. In this twilight zone, you no longer had access to engineers. They were out there somewhere. But you couldn’t see them, talk to them, get their technical support, or even send them e-mail. You couldn’t even get a published list showing their telephone numbers and areas of product coverage. Not that it mattered. Most of them were ultimately downsized, anyway. What we were left with were probably techies tied to some Asian company, not even ours, sitting somewhere offshore. Those guys were incapable of speaking a word of English. So all I had in the way of support were some marketing assholes. You know, the ones that couldn’t do anything but talk the talk. They knew nothing about the product line. So I was charged with selling million-dollar machines without back-office support.
And training? Well, I found out after I was hired that the budget was shot for the year. All that was left in the way of instruction was strictly virtual. You know, on-line computer software scenarios, schematic diagrams of stuff you never laid eyes on that was compiled by idiots who couldn’t read or write, let alone commune with the system guys. As a member of the K-team, I was charged with selling the company’s top-of-the-line equipment to management information system directors—the ultimate computer geeks—and I had no clue about system configuration, network compatibility, LANs, WANs, MANs; nor did most of our computer geeks. They knew only mainframe stuff that was a generation old, which couldn’t connect to LANs or the WEB. To top it off, I had a three-year-old laptop that had minimal disk space and there was no budget allocated for upgrades. Not that it mattered. That laptop was so full of bugs it was comatose. There were enough viruses on that thing to wipe out the entire dot.com universe.
Best of all, my territory didn’t even support million-dollar systems. Nope. Retail, the embassies, and the small business accounts that were assigned to me all used one-thousand dollar pieces of hardware—we were off by at least three zeros here—and hell, I didn’t even get paid for selling the small stuff. But the bastards gave me an objective of three million, anyway.
So what was a gal to do? I screamed and shouted. I had a major-fucking-corporate tantrum. And I wished I had taken karate. Then I could have smashed the boardroom table in half with one of those awesome karate chops that would have given my pitch the kind of notice it merited. Ah, what the hell. As it turned out, I didn’t need the chop. The assholes got a glimpse of reality and saw fit to give me a dual assignment. I became the beneficiary of another team’s revenue stream.
The F-team, as they were called, handled key banking and financial interests in New York City. Their customers required state-of-the-art system integration. Those companies had a pressing need for innovation. Because F already had a system expert with knowledge of my products assigned to the group, I received revenue and commissions for all orders submitted by F even though I had virtually no responsibility for selling any of it. And while the F-team competed for awards with the K-team, I actually benefited from any and all sales relating to my product line that were generated by both groups.
In the nineties, we called these competitive, often adversarial, relationships—partnerships. Partnership my ass. Teams F and K were mortal enemies prepared to sabotage each other’s sales in order to gain a momentary advantage. But that was no longer my problem. What did I care as long as I profited from their sales of my product line? There was even the distinct possibility that given the F-team’s strong performance selling my equipment that I might exceed my objective—maybe even win the President’s Club trip to the Virgin Islands—without ever personally selling a single piece of hardware.
Then God—no, Satan—in his infinite wisdom handed me a fucking miracle. Not only did I exceed objective for the first time in seven months, I actually sold some of those million-dollar gismos under my own steam. My commissions enabled me to pay off my outstanding draw. I even pocketed a little extra money. For the first time my numbers were above the corporate objective. In short, I was free to begin planning my escape. Once the company and I were square, Adios. Hasta la vista, baby! I had my engine reviving. My car was ready for action, so I began my countdown to freedom.
Just as I was preparing my resignation, the wheels spun off my plan. There was a contract for 1.8 mil with my signature scrawled at the bottom sitting in my mailbox. Fleur-de-fucking-lis! How did that happen? I hadn’t submitted any orders that month. Owwhh! A sharp pain gripped my abdomen. And with it came realization. Jackass Allers, my manager, was the perpetrator of this mess! He submitted the bogus order. The sonofabitch.
It wasn’t hard to follow his trail. At last month’s sales meeting, he had all of us project our yearend revenues on order forms that he forced us to sign. The whole exercise seemed pointless at the time since we were only at the end of our second quarter. Nevertheless, I submitted Fenwald. And it was that Fenwald contact that was in my mailbox. I kept staring at the customer’s name on the order. Wait, Walt never signed. He never agreed to anything!
I started hyperventilating. I forced myself to count slowly to ten, pausing between digits to take an extended breath. Then, with my fingers tapping nervously, I proceeded to dial Walter Sander’s number at Fenwald. We chatted for a while. Then I asked the fateful question.
“Any chance, Walt, that you’ve obtained your VP’s approval on that contract we talked about?”
“No,” he replied, “that authorization is still designated for fourth quarter and you and I still have some details to discuss.” After a few more pleasantries, we hung up.
Yes, that Allers fuckhead had gone and forged the customer’s signature. If I were to quit now and that contract were then submitted, I would be charged with fraud. The order would certainly bounce back in December only to be rewritten by another rep. Not only would the commission get charged back to me, it would appear that I had forged Walt’s signature. I would be prosecuted. Any legal ramifications would be permanently recorded in my personnel file. I would be, as they say, toast.
What to do, what to do? That loon Allers had put my ass in a sling. But if I exposed him, we were sure to get into a very nasty confrontation. He’d deny everything. Like he did when Hank got fired for putting a bogus signature on that A.J. Jenkins’ contract. If I challenged Allers, I’d end up having to go to my divisional president, my senior VP, and the administrative head of operations. I’d have to document all this shit. The customer would have to be contacted. He’d be pissed. Who knows, the ruckus might even jeopardize corporate relations with Fenwald. Of course, when the forgery was finally proven—assuming Allers didn’t buy Walt off—Le Asshole manager would get canned. That would be O.K. by me. Problem was, when word got out I had blown the whistle, I’d be road-pizza. And I just wasn’t ready for the flatline.
I began pacing. A plan, that was what I needed. A fucking plan. What the hell could it be? I could rip up the contract. But all I had was my hardcopy; the rest had already been entered into our computerized order system. And I couldn’t get the contract deleted without Allers’ authorization. He’d never agree to that. Perhaps I could arrange to have it assigned to someone else? No, corporate was a stickler for process. It would take at lease thirty days and a thousand lies to get that contract placed in someone else’s hands. I was out of options, out of luck . . . .
Eureka, I had it! I’d initiate an electronic blitzkrieg. I’d annihilate that fucking contract. I dashed into the hallway and took the elevator down to the subzone—singing, laughing, and tap-dancing all the way—to call on my software guru, Jimmy.
“Jimmy, my man, you got to help me. I’m in a hell of a jam.”
“What’s the problem, Sue?”
“Look, I’ve got to make this Fenwald contract disappear.”
“Is it in the system?”
Jimmy laughed. “Nothing like black-ops, I always say. How do you plan to do that with our secure database?”
“What if it bounced because of bad credit?”
“Sue, your order never would have been processed unless it made it through Atlanta.”
“But what if we break into the accounts receivable database? Say we delete the official entries and make it look like Fenwald is months in arrears in their current lease payments?”
“Gee, you don’t ask for much. Only a goddamn miracle. I know I’m the best programmer north of the equator, but that’s one mucho-fucking challenge. What’s in it for me anyhow?”
“Jimmy, Jimmy, I love you. I really do. A kiss? How about a hug? I’ll even throw in a pair of season’s tickets to the Knicks. What do you say? We got a deal? Please? Oh, pretty please?” I pressed both of my hands on his shoulders and began administering backrubs. “I’ll owe you big time, Jimmy.”
“Ahhhhhh, that feels good. Keep it up, Sue. You know, it’s a damn good thing you’re easy on the eyes. And you always did drive a hard bargain. Well, I’ll give it a shot. Got that paperwork on Fenwald handy?"
So we talked. As they say in this business, we strategized. And we schemed. Jimmy wrote code; I kept a constant stream of fast-food and caffeine flowing his way. Together, we concocted a file that made it appear as if Fenwald hadn’t paid its bills for the last eight months. We e-mailed it to the finance guys in Atlanta after hacking into accounts receivable and deleting the official data entries. Then we copied the e-mail transmission to our “Knowledge Workers,” another bullshit term in the nineties for the clerks who process the paperwork. With it, we gave instructions to pull the contract. And, of course, we sent an electronic copy of the financial history to Allers’ boss, routing it through Atlanta. These measures ensured that the Fenwald contract bounced. It would be at least another thirty days—long after I’d split—before Allers could assign another rep’s name—and ass—to that bogus order.
No question, I was one fucking genius. The Blitzkrieg-shit worked. I handed in my resignation. The contract was rejected because of credit issues. Allers never knew what hit him. Good riddance, asshole!
And now, I’m working an entirely new shtick. Still sales. But it’s Internet stuff. It’s a fantasy world where the projected growth far exceeds market potential. So what if the stuff I’m selling is pure quackery. It pays my bills. What the hell. It’s a barracuda world, and I’m one nasty barracuda.