Volume 45, Issue 3 - March 2010

theBusiness

 

A Lunchtime Lesson
by Lyle R. Hill

The hostess seated them at a table about ten feet away from my booth, which was against the window in a small restaurant just up the street from the office. I assumed that they were meeting someone because the table was set for three and there were only two of them. Bankers, I thought … dressed way too nice to be working class people … maybe insurance guys … but I’d bet bankers.

I rarely eat lunch and, if I’m alone, I usually don’t even consider going into a restaurant for a meal. I’ve just always felt a little strange sitting in a restaurant alone. But today I was a bit depressed and not all that anxious to get back to the office. I was on my way back from a bid opening and, once again, the results were neither positive nor encouraging. There were 12 bidders on a project that would have had a hard time attracting even three bidders a year and a half ago. Nine of the bidders, including us, were bunched together within what one might consider to be a reasonable zone of competitive pricing. However, two of the bidders were substantially under the group and one in particular was ridiculously low. I felt that we had a good number and that we were going to be awfully hard to beat. Seven of the bidders were lower than us. So I decided to use a plate of scrambled eggs and wheat toast along with a few minutes of newspaper-perusing to help me get over the events of the morning.

After the two were seated at their table, they ordered drinks and it didn’t take long for my suspicions to be confirmed. Within five minutes, another well dressed gentleman entered the restaurant and was escorted to the same table where the two men were now sipping on what appeared to be iced tea. But then, something unusual … if indeed not strange … happened. The new arrival looked my way at the exact second that I was looking his way. Eye contact was made and he quickly waved, offered a warm hello and started to make his way toward me.

I think I have an above-average memory for facts and figures and an excellent one for things I consider to be historically significant. On the other hand, faces will sometimes confuse me and names regularly do, so my first instinct was to believe that I knew this man, or should have, but I couldn’t figure out how or why at that moment. So I nodded back at him while offering up a friendly “hi, how are you?” of my own. And then, as he made his way toward me, a twinge of panic started to set in because I was now quite convinced that I really should know who this nicely dressed and quite pleasant man was. I quickly slid out of the booth and stood to receive his hand which he extended toward me. Then, in a semi-hushed tone, he began to speak as he handed me his business card.

“Listen friend,” he said, “you don’t know me but I could really use your help.”
Feeling relieved that perhaps my memory was not as bad as I had momentarily imagined, I asked him how I could be of service.

“Well, you see, the two guys I’m meeting here with are a couple of bankers and I’m hoping to get a sizable loan from them. Now I don’t know what you do for a living, but I can tell you firsthand that times are tough and so are the bankers these days. So you gotta do whatever it takes to keep things moving along.”

“Okay,” I replied, “but what does this have to do with me?”

“It’s really quite simple. I’m going to tell them that you’re one of my customers and that you have a potentially large order for me and that providence itself put us together at the same time and in the same place. Bankers love it when you’re with them and bump into a customer. Makes them think you’re kinda connected and out there shaking every bush. You look like a businessman yourself so I hope you understand. You know, we’re all in this together and maybe I can help you out one day. So I’ll let you go back to your meal there and thanks for understanding.”

He then turned and went back to the table where the bankers were seated. I sat down and glanced at the business card I’d been given. It read Arthur Lasky, President of Lasky Packaging Products.
How creative … how clever … how bold this Lasky was. I was truly impressed. And he was right, of course. Bankers, like most everyone else, like to believe that they are dealing with someone who has contacts … who might bump into a customer at any moment because they are so well known and involved with promoting their business. I determined right then and there that, not only would I remember what had just happened, but might even try it one day myself if the opportunity arose. I took my last swallow of coffee, picked up the bill that the waitress had placed on the table, put down a generous tip and prepared to leave.

As I made my way to the door, I stopped by the table where Lasky and the two bankers were now munching on their salads. I apologized for interrupting them. The bankers smiled. Lasky looked a little startled.

“Art,” I said as my eyes met his, “I want you to know that I’ve been impressed by what you said to me today and you can count on me to be as loyal to you as a customer as you have been to me as a supplier. And I can honestly tell you, Art, that I don’t know anyone in the packaging business that is as bright and creative as you are.”

Lasky beamed, offered me his hand and said he’d be looking for my purchase order.

“And Art,” I continued, “you were right about that other thing you said … about how we’re all in this together … so as you offered, here’s my check for lunch and thanks for being so willing to pick it up. We’ll talk soon.”

“You know,” Lasky laughingly said as he took the little green slip of paper from my hand, “you’ve made my day old friend.”

“And you mine, Art. And you mine.”

Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.


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