Mein Blog

June 22, 2013


I have never suffered from modesty, false or genuine; in fact I can’t recall an instance where I ever was diffident. I never found self-praise to be in any way detrimental or damning. So, it’ll come as no shock to anyone who knows me when I say I’m not backward in coming forward in the trumpet blowing stakes.

Take negotiating, for example. No, not those hostage-taking things that are all the rage nowadays but honest (well, maybe not entirely honest) to-goodness negotiations, as in commerce. When I worked for the U.S. Government as a contracting officer (a KO, to use the vernacular) in Germany, I was involved in many high profile transactions. One that comes to mind was the deal with the Italian national broadcasting corporation, RAI, to provide several transmitting stations to facilitate the broadcasting of Armed Forces Network (AFN) TV programming to the troops stationed throughout Italy.

Among others, I dealt with Siemens, virtually on a daily basis, on individual contracts, many with a value of several million dollars. Obviously, there were the usual governmental checks & balances for these processes but it never ceased to amaze me that, as a non U.S. citizen my signature had the power to commit the U.S. to high dollar value contracts despite the fact I did not pay one red cent in tax to the United States.

In negotiations, I considered myself to be a pretty sharp operator and believe the results in the majority of the deliberations justified this opinion. Most of my counter parts across the table would be German, fluent in English of course, but for the thirteen years I dealt with them I gave no indication that I could speak German. This gave me a hidden but valuable edge which I invariably used to good advantage as I was able to understand the asides made by members of their teams in their own tongue. So, for example, when their team leader expressed the opinion that they would be quickly successful and out of there I would give it a couple of seconds then stand up, remove my jacket and cuff-links, roll up my sleeves and loosen my tie and carry on as though nothing had happened.

I used to take a savage delight during the hot summers of having dinner, heavily larded with garlic, the night before and ensuring that the smallest conference room, and table, were booked for the negotiations. Where possible I’d have the visitors facing the windows where the sunlight was at its dazzling best – or worst.

I’d be less than honest if I claimed success every time I entered negotiations. I’ve stated that my successes were mostly big time but when I lost there were also no half measures. One of my worse, toe-curling experiences occurred when I had travelled down from Frankfurt to Stuttgart to negotiate with a retired colonel who had gone to bat for the opposition. To say we disliked each other  would be to put a gloss on the truth. We detested each other with a passion. This worked both for and against each of us on occasion. This was to be singularly my occasion.

I should mention that I had taken to wearing spectacles firmly secured to a chain so that when I removed them they couldn’t be mislaid. So, on the day, I placed my pad, files, etc. in front of me and we began. After two hours it was going nowhere. The discussions were ineffectual; both of us convinced that the other was not open to reason.

There was no flexibility at all and it was obvious that there would be no agreement.

Finally, the Colonel suggested we broke for coffee and perhaps we might have a modicum of success afterwards. We left the conference table and in the next room coffee and  several Danish pastries were laid out. It should be said that I have a sweet tooth and a Danish or three are a delight. I restricted myself to two of the melt-in-your-mouth flaky concoctions and, finishing my coffee, mentally girded my loins to re-join the fray.

We faced each other with grim faces and I put on my glasses to help my steely glare – only to find I was sightless due to the half inch layer of flaky pastry adhering to my lenses.

The Colonel saying “And is that a final decision, Mr McGoo?” before exploding into laughter totally destroyed any semblance of propriety and I showed the white flag.


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