My en­emy, my part­ner

Some­times, that chau­vin­is­tic misog­y­nist jerk in your com­pany could turn out to be a gen­tle­man in dis­guise. Our colum­nist re­calls the stormy years with one such col­league from her cor­po­rate life.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - by ALEXAN­DRA WONG Alexan­dra Wong (www.bun­ is grate­ful for a ter­rific work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at her for­mer com­pany that equipped her for the chal­lenges of be­ing a free­lancer.

SELL com­put­ers over the phone – it’s no se­cret that my last known em­ployer, an IT multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion that I’ll call Com­pany X, was never my first choice for a ca­reer.

I’m some­one who once couldn’t tell a hard drive from a RAM; who checked her e-mail once a year; whose idol was Enid Bly­ton, not Carly Fio­r­ina (or Marissa Mey­ers, for those born af­ter the ’80s).

But fate threw a wrench in my plans af­ter I grad­u­ated.

My first job as a writer for an NGO lasted barely two weeks. It had more pol­i­tick­ing than Games Of Thrones, and des­per­ate to get out, I ac­cepted the first of­fer that came along.

De­spite my ini­tial ap­pre­hen­sion and teething pains, my cor­po­rate days turned out to be some of the best years of my life. Money was good.

It was also a great train­ing ground for fresh grad­u­ates to learn about mar­ket­ing, brand­ing and man­ag­ing a busi­ness – in­valu­able skills that would ul­ti­mately serve me well when I struck out as a free­lancer and ran my own busi­ness.

But even more valu­able were the lessons in hu­man be­hav­iour, and the friends I made along the way.

Af­ter a few years of good per­for­mance, I was of­fered a pro­mo­tion – with a twist. Did I want to join a new team that would fo­cus on win­ning new ac­counts?

It was a high-risk po­si­tion, my boss made it clear. But the pay­off was fan­tas­tic. It sounded too good to re­sist ... un­til I found out who my part­ner was.

My head let out a silent scream: Nooooooooo, not Wil­liam!!!

Wil­liam was the sim­ply the best field sales­man in the team. He was also, as far as I was con­cerned, the most ob­nox­ious male in the whole com­pany.

One who made chau­vin­is­tic jokes that I didn’t find the least funny. The first time we met at a com­pany get­away, he an­noyed me so much that I avoided him like the plague in ev­ery func­tion af­ter that.

... And they wanted to put the two of us to­gether?

In big com­pa­nies, you have to roll with the punches. As a lec­turer told me once, “You don’t tell your boss who you want to work with. No team spirit.”

Did I men­tion I’m a Leo? We, Leos, are ego­ma­ni­acs who don’t like people telling us what to do. And of all the darn co­in­ci­dence, he was a Leo, too.

Trou­ble started al­most im­me­di­ately. A week af­ter we part­nered up, our first tele­con­fer­ence call ended up in a shout­ing match.

My then-boss Dar­ren was on the call, too. Usu­ally a paragon of calm, his face was slightly pale af­ter we got off the phone.

Guilt stabbed me. You don’t find great bosses like Dar­ren of­ten, and, wasn’t I act­ing with very poor team spirit?

Re­signed to my fate, I re­solved not to act like a diva, and it looked like Wil­liam and I were be­gin­ning to make head­way into both our sales quota and budding friend­ship.

On the brink of win­ning an im­por­tant ac­count, Wil­liam sug­gested that I join him for a cus­tomer visit in KL.

Since I was only a voice on the phone so far, a face-to-face meet­ing would fur­ther strengthen the re­la­tion­ship.

He picked me up from the air­port and drove me to the ho­tel.

As we ar­rived, I couldn’t help notic­ing how he greeted the ho­tel staff with a pleas­ant smile and gra­ciously thanked ev­ery­one, from the door­man to the porter to the guest re­la­tions of­fi­cer af­ter they helped us.

There was no one around that he needed to im­press, ex­cept lit­tle old me. Was he just be­ing nice be­cause he was re­ally a nice per­son him­self?

I still didn’t know him well enough to be cer­tain, but my opin­ion of him went up sev­eral notches.

Our part­ner­ship bore fruit af­ter six months when we broke into an ac­count that the com­pany had been tar­get­ing for ages. Then, yours truly had to screw up.

Out of care­less­ness or ner­vous­ness (or both, prob­a­bly), I ended up ship­ping a big vol­ume of high-end com­put­ers with the wrong spec­i­fi­ca­tions to a new cus­tomer.

There was no way to sweep this boo-boo un­der the car­pet.

There was also no way the cus­tomer would ab­sorb MY mis­take. I would need to seek ap­proval from higher man­age­ment to re­place the new com­put­ers.

Dread­ing the worst, I broke the news to Wil­liam.

The irony: I’d been hand­picked to per­form in an im­por­tant new role be­cause I was a se­nior, yet here I was, mak­ing a ju­nior mis­take that would cost the com­pany a pretty penny.

Worse still, Wil­liam, be­ing the out­side sales, would be the one get­ting flak from the cus­tomer, which wasn’t fair since it was all my fault ... He did not speak for sev­eral min­utes. “Well?” I de­manded. “Hmm.” “Hmm what?” “Hmm,” he re­peated in an in­fu­ri­at­ingly in­scrutable tone.

“Let me think about it and when I fig­ure out some­thing, I will call you back.”

As promised, he called me back that evening. His plan was sim­ple: He would write an e-mail ex­plain­ing the sit­u­a­tion to our higher man­age­ment.

The next morn­ing – that time of the day when bosses check e-mails – my heart nearly stopped when in the mid­dle of an­swer­ing a call, a new e-mail dropped in, ad­dressed to one of our di­rec­tors, from him.

I dropped ev­ery­thing and de­voured the email.

To my sur­prise, he chalked up the mis­take to a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in­stead of pin­ning the blame on any­body. In fact, not once did he pin the blame on me.

He could have just washed his hands off the whole mat­ter and let me face the mu­sic all by my­self, or stabbed my back and ended my ca­reer. But he didn’t. In that one in­ci­dent, he taught me more about brother­hood, in­tegrity and hon­our than all the feel-good TVB se­ri­als I’ve watched in my life­time.

I re-read the let­ter sev­eral times, each with grow­ing ad­mi­ra­tion. He was a darn good sales­man, all right.

He used “we” through­out the e-mail and con­veyed a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. It was writ­ten in a pro­fes­sional tone, yet some­how, it was also ir­re­sistibly per­sua­sive.

No­body with a heart would skewer me for it.

True enough, in­stead of get­ting stern dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, all I re­ceived was a cur­sory warn­ing to be more care­ful in fu­ture.

I never made the same mis­take again. And I never looked at my sales part­ner the same way again.

Thanks for some good times, Wil­liam. Con­sider this a re­minder of the lunch we were sup­posed to have three years ago.

‘I did it my way’: Our colum­nist ad­mits that people born un­der the Leo zo­diac sign are ego­ma­ni­acs who don’t like other people telling them what to do. — Filepic

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