The Unholy Alliance

Despite the wasteland which was the post 9/11 economy I was still fairly confident when I hit the job market and I was determined this time to get a job with a big company with a reputation as a good employer.  Almost immediately I scored an interview with Emerson, one of the highest rated employers in BC.   I made it past a couple rounds of interviews and it was down to me and one other person. The last round was a personality test where I was told “there are no wrong answers”.  Typically with these tests the choices are entirely arbitrary so I tried to pick up clues from my interviewer as to what he was looking to hear.  I didn’t get the job and the reason I was given was that I had described myself as more “expressive” than “poker faced” which apparently was a red flag that meant I could be emotional.

Thanks to a family friend I got a chance to work for a couple weeks at Creo, another of the best companies in BC.   I managed to get myself an interview there during my stay but I was told with my qualifications they couldn’t think of any job – in an organization with thousands of employees – that I could do.   I expanded my job search and was among the finalists for a purchasing job at General Fasteners but wasn’t able to close the deal.  What followed was a long dry spell, the longest  I had ever gone without working.  Thus when I finally landed another interview my standards were considerably lower and my confidence had been severely eroded.

I was interviewed by a confident young entrepreneur who had made his fortune off his encyclopedic knowledge of Compaq part numbers and knowing which ones could be substituted for each other.   The job was primarily inventory control, sourcing computer parts and flying them overnight to technicians who had time sensitive service contracts.  I was hired along with a sales manager who was a Ned Flanders clone right down to the green shirts and brown pants.  We were flown to the home office in Toronto for training and to give the young entrepreneur a chance to show off his new found wealth.  This included staying at his new house and hanging out on his new yacht with his new friends which included such luminaries as the remnants of the 80’s band Helix and members of the Toronto Rocks lacrosse team.

Right away I started to notice a pattern with how the new owner operated.  He worked with a manic intensity but more often than not it was counter productive.  He literally threw the stock onto the shelves all helter skelter, just like I had seen it in the home office, with no thought to how difficult it would be to find later when an order was placed.  Even the whole concept of a West Coast office was flawed.  His idea was to use the time difference to give him more hours in the day to ship product.  The problem with this logic was that the courier cut-off times were at the same time on both coasts.  Sales the first year were brutal despite non-stop cold calling by both myself and the sales manager.  The home office had kept all the national accounts and all we had been given to start were a couple local scraps.  Working with Ned was often tense.  He had a large family to support and he was under an incredible amount of stress.  He also did exacerbating things like when he figured out what I was owed in mileage reimbursement down to a tenth of a kilometer, not because he was cheap, but because he was fair to the point of absurdity.

This went on for about a year and then one day I showed up to work and a new sales manager was there along with his personal secretary.  He had been purchased away from a competitor and brought with him his own cadre of customers.  His specialty was printer parts and we did a good business for a couple years selling and exchanging  laser printer fusers.

While the three of us working locally had a great rapport there was a significant friction that developed between my sales manager and the young entrepreneur that owed the company.  The owner suffered from bipolar disorder and when he was not taking his medication my boss had to endure violent uncontrollable rages and lugubrious 3am phone calls.  It grew worse as our sales margins were squeezed by ever increasing freight costs and lower computer prices which enticed customers to replace than repair their equipment.  The owner, against the wishes of my sales manager, decided to have our fusers rebuilt using cheap third party parts.  This resulted in both a tsunami of defective returns and in our customers losing faith our products.  With the sales way down the local warehouse was closed and the sales manager, who was still under contract, worked out of his house for the last few months.  I stayed to the very end.  My boss was a terrific guy and he had taught me the secret of being a successful salesman – confidence.


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