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.
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