Point to Ponder:
"Being able to work with people was the most important thing for my success." - Advice from a very successful person and a great entrepreneur.
The man who gave me the above tip was a master at dealing with all kinds of people and difficult situations. He used to say that if things were easy then they (his employers, clients) would not need him. He saw dealing with difficult people and making them friends and/or customers as fun. He saw what others called "unreasonable people" and "unreasonable demands" as challenges to think outside the box and find creative solutions. Below is one of the many incidences that I have observed and recorded in my storybook about one of his students.
The small company (the supplier) that hired Fred had major issues with one of their European customers, one of the largest companies in the world at that time in the fastest growing area of the electronics market. The customer's head of procurement had flown specifically to the US with his team and summoned supplier personnel at their local facility. Fred was hired to solve customer issues so this was his orientation (Welcome 101). The VP of Sales in his company gave Fred the profile of the customer VP and his troops. "Highly Emotional Culture, Animated, Loud and demanding. Don't expect any manners from the guy. We call him........"
Handshakes were the only mannerly thing that happened in the meeting. Fred noticed that the more his company's (supplier) engineers explained the merits of their product and the theories of root cause with associated difficulties, more impatient and hostile the customer became. The meeting ended with harsh words from the customer VP, "God gave you guys brains to think. Use it!" Fred had never encountered these types of meetings or difficult people.
Fred reflected on the day's event and the next day asked for some time with the Supplier VP. He was in US for only a few days and had a very busy schedule; one of which could have been to look for an alternate supplier for the next product design. The only time he made available was at San Francisco Airport (SFO), a few hours before his departure.
The meeting started with the customer VP asking, "Well, so do you have solution for my problem?" Fred explained to the customer that he understood that the customer's company had put a lot of faith in his company by designing their new system using an application specific specialty chip (I.C.) from Fred's company. Since the customer had no alternate source, his entire product introduction depended on the ability of Fred's company to deliver the chip on schedule.
Fred offered a solution that did require redesign of product but a revolutionary approach at that time (1987) that would reduce testing and qualification time by 70% and get things back on track. The approach required that instead of each party in the supply chain doing its own testing and qualification, they would combine forces and do it only once, either at one of their facilities or at an independent test lab approved by the customer. Another part of innovative solutions was to do a lot less testing based on historical data and commonality of processes. The customer was delighted and thanked Fred for coming down to the airport. But the solutions required convincing his own engineers and quality personnel at home site to agree to this new methodology.
Sequel to the story: Soon after Fred was invited to the customer's production headquarters in Europe. The customer sent a chauffer driven company car to pick him (a supplier) up from the international airport that was 180Km from the customer's facility. His proposal of simplified test and qualification methodology was extremely well received by customer personnel. He was taken for a traditional dinner that took three hours.
And when Fred asked if he (supplier) could visit the customer's production plant, his wish was granted. The next morning, the same customer VP picked him up from his hotel. On the way, they took a detour in the country side and he gave Fred a short tour of the area. When they reached the production plant, the only thing Fred could gather from the conversation between VP and Plant Personnel was some apologetic tone with words, "Traffic Jam".
Often I have reflected on this story. What I've sensed is that Fred had recognized very quickly during the first meeting that the customer was nervous and disappointed. Anger and hostility were merely outward reactions. The Customer VP was nervous because he had bet his entire new product line on the chip designed by this supplier. Disappointed because instead of living up to his word to find quick solutions, the supplier personnel were busy explaining technical merits and difficulties. Being in an industry that pushes envelope every day, the customer VP was fully aware of the difficulties and problems. He was looking for assurance that he had put trust in the right people. Fred restored that trust, made a new friend and his company got more designs in the future from the customer.
* Men are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things - Epictetus (55-135 A.D.)