Volume 40, Issue 9 September 2005
The Sales Rep … Part Two
by Lyle R. Hill
Before it could ring a third time, I picked it up and answered it the same way I’ve been answering it for 34 years.
“Lyle Hill, may I help you?”
In the spring of 1971, I was sent “upstairs” from the plate and fabrication department at the Tyler & Hippach Glass Company to the contract department. After a day or two of asking too many questions, I was assigned to a wisecracking, super-energetic character by the name of Bill Swanberg.
“Hey Lyle, this is Craig MacGregor and I’d like to talk to you about a certain article you recently wrote for USGlass magazine wherein my name was mentioned in a manner that I did not exactly find flattering.”
When I first went to work for Swanberg, I had a desk in the general office area, but no phone. I was initially given the title of ‘office assistant’ but when it became clear that the office didn’t really need an assistant, I became an ‘estimator trainee’ at which time I was re-stationed at a desk just outside of Swanberg’s office with a working phone of my very own.
“I didn’t think it was all that bad, Craig. I mean, is there anything in particular that you want to take exception to, or is there something you think I need to apologize for?”
Not being totally sure of office protocol, I stuck my head in Swanberg’s office and asked him how the phone was to be answered. To this day … 34 years later … I remember his answer. “Geez kid, you really are green … when it makes a little ringing sound, you pick up the part that looks like a handle and put the top part up to one of your ears and the bottom part to your mouth and begin to talk. You keep asking dumb questions like that and you’ll end up in the sales department.”
“Well, Lyle, I think you kinda took a shot or two at me and I’m just not so sure that I shouldn’t be given an opportunity to respond. Maybe even publicly in one of your columns.”
Although I very much wanted to tell Mr. Swanberg what I thought he should do with his phone at that very moment, I bit my tongue and simply stated that I was referring to what the proper greeting or response was to be after I picked up the part of the phone that looked like a handle and put the top part to one of my ears and the bottom part to my mouth.
“All right, MacGregor. Let’s hear it. What specifically didn’t you like and what exactly is bothering you?”
Swanberg, one of the most direct and forthright people I ever met, quickly fired back, “answer it the same way I always do … tell ‘em your name, ask how you can help ‘em, and try not to embarrass yourself or the company.” And here I am, 34 years later, still following his advice, although now I’ve got a speaker phone so I don’t always have to put the top part of the thing that looks like a handle to one of my ears and the bottom part to my mouth.
“OK, Lyle,” MacGregor began, “let’s start with the inference that I was going to be late with that Stombecker order. Are you aware that we actually shipped eight days early and that our record for on-time deliveries is probably the best in the industry?”
Bill Swanberg and I worked together for more than 30 years. He and a guy named Pat Strocchia are the reasons I stayed with the company … stayed in the glass business. If the world has ever created two better people, I’ve yet to meet them. We became friends and ultimately we became partners.
“Yes, Craig, I am aware that the glass arrived early, but I’m also aware that some of it arrived wrong … although I’ll give you a pass on that because the order was one of the most complicated I’ve ever seen, and you did an excellent job of getting the replacement stuff to us in a hurry. And I will also admit that you are one of the most responsive and consistent suppliers that we have. So OK, maybe I was a little too tough on you there.
What else is bothering you?”
Swanberg and Strocchia are retired now. Live next door to each other on a pretty little lake in Michigan. I get to see them two or three times a year and they hardly ever miss our annual Christmas luncheons.
“Well, that car story, Lyle. I don’t remember it quite the way you do. I remember the Plymouth … I remember the tornado and I remember getting a new Impala very shortly after the Plymouth was destroyed. But I don’t remember the part about pulling rank and taking your car for four months and then turning it over to you with a dented fender and a radio that didn’t work. I drove that car for three years and never did get the dent fixed.
And, as I recall, you only drove that Plymouth for about a week and because you complained so much, they ended up buying you a brand new Monte Carlo right off of a dealer’s lot. I think the Plymouth then got turned over to some guy who almost killed himself when the steering wheel came off in his hands while he was driving in one day on the Edens expressway. As I recall, there was even a police investigation of some sort.”
In the old days, all of the young new guys had to work with Pat Strocchia for at least a few weeks. It was almost a rite of passage … if you could survive Strocchia, you were a keeper … if you couldn’t, you were either fired or transferred to the accounting department. Craig and I both spent time with Strocchia … and survived … barely.
“Listen, Craig, I was never officially charged with any wrong doing there so let’s not talk about that any further. And as for the rest of my story, I’m sticking with it.”
“You know, Lyle, that was over 30 years ago. Can’t you just forget about it … let it go?”
“I’m Irish, Craig. I can never let anything go.”
“I still think you’re wrong on this, Lyle. Do you have any witnesses … anyone who could back up your story?”
“Yes, yes I do. Bill Swanberg will back me up on all of this because at the time, he made fun of me for accepting your tornado-destroyed Plymouth as my company car. Told me they were walking all over me and that the worst part of the whole ordeal was that I had been duped by a sales guy … meaning you, Craig. You remember Bill Swanberg don’t you?”
“Of course I remember Bill Swanberg. He’s a legend. But how do I call him to check all of this out?”
“Well, Craig, you pick up the part of the phone that looks like a handle, put the top part to one of your ears and the bottom part to your mouth and …”
Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago.
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