Modern Times

The Airport Job

The Eighth Sphere.

Travelling today on the train out of Hamburg, I met with a lady who told me how the new airport in Berlin was being – how can I put it, for these are Germans – mismanaged? Now that is not a thought for those who think German management is fantastic. That most of it is, does not mean that some of it isn’t. Because chasing the bottom line is as prevalent here in Europe as anywhere.

Because the company running the construction program keeps losing contractors. Sometimes they go bust. On other times they just can’t do the work properly because they are using foreign labour or whatever. This is not uncommon in a world where the business model is of squeezing the profit margins of those beneath you. Hammering those who are relying on you for work. It means you have real power in your dealings with them. The only problem with their business model is that its costing them a hell of a lot of time and money … all of which means lost profits.

Now remember our poor husband who had to stay up late at night to finish a pitch? They had phoned him at half past four on Friday, wanting his response by Tuesday midday.

You see, Richard’s company needs the work. So he’s desperate to land this contract. So desperate that he’s going to cut every corner to get that price nailed. Late at night, the pitch finally sorted in all its hideous details, he finally shuts down his computer and staggers up stairs to a bedroom long dark. You know what happened next. If you don’t, there’s a link at the end which you can read afterwards.

This is the bit you didn’t get to hear about.

Now Richard’s in North America and the construction project at the airport is in Chicago not Berlin. He has spent twenty hours of his valuable time in collating all the data. Running up the report has taken four hours, and will still need to be handed to his secretary who will spend more time typing it out clearly for presentation. Let’s say it takes him thirty hours and a few more of his company’s to organize this pitch. By 11am on Tuesday, it is ready and the “send” button is pushed.

He breathes a huge sigh of relief.

Richard is safe in the knowledge that his pitch is so generous that they just can’t lose this time. God, do they need the work. Everybody’s depending on Richard to land it. That is why he has to work so hard. That, and he believes in those he works with and the skilled men who undertake all the heavy work for their small company. They too are all desperate for work. They too sleep badly knowing that their wages are not keeping up with inflation. They too have seen their real incomes shaved to the bone in an attempt to keep their jobs.

The contractors told Richard they’d let him know on Friday.

Friday comes.

And Friday goes.

Richard’s weekend is miserable, made worse by his wife going off to see her parents, taking the kids with her. Too frustrated to play decent golf, he sits and broods over the work he has to do. And does maybe an hour’s work in the space of ten. If only they had that job! He is worried sick by it all. It keeps running around in his head. He tries to concentrate on this new work only for the airport to return and haunt him. His evening meal is a disaster, the pizza burned on one side, still frozen on the other. He chucks it because he’s too wound up to eat. Then he can’t sleep because he’s hungry. He doesn’t smoke so that can’t take his mind off everything chasing around in his head.

It’s still dark as he opens his eyes. Five fucking thirty. The last time he looked it was five twenty. He turns over, the covers runkled and his feet cold and his body steaming. Grey light filters between the curtains now. He gets up feels like a paper bag that’s been kicked. In the kitchen he sticks three heaped spoonfuls of coffee into the filter. He makes enough for two mugs. His back aches. His shoulders ache. His neck aches as he stands by the breakfast bar.

Monday morning and Richard is at work. A thin file of papers are all he has to show for an entire weekend at home without golf. It is the sort of thing he could whip up in an hour or two on a good day. He leafs through his diary. There’s the number. God! It’s on fucking speed-dial.

“Good morning, Illinois Concrete.”

“Oh, hi there, is Dan Watson around?”

“What’s the name?”

“Richard Williams, Dexter County Specialist Formwork”

“Oh” there’s that pause that tells Richard she’s speaking with someone he can’t hear. “I’m sorry, Mr. Williams, he’s out of the office right now. Can I get him to phone later?”

“Did he leave any messages for me? It’s about a tender” Richard is so desperate that he is asking their ruddy secretary about his work.

“No, he doesn’t confide in me”

Turning to the receptionist as she puts the phone down Dan winks. “Those bastards must be fucking desperate to phone us about that dumb contract. He does good work, only I wanted Coolidges on the job this time and needed to beat them down from their high horse. Having his pitch to wave under their noses saved us six and a half grand. You want to celebrate that tonight, Tracy?”

There are answers to this kind of behaviour. I know of a few, and they won’t affect the way you do business one jot. They focus on what you do best so that you do more of it – just like Richard does in the mirror to this piece which you can’t read here.


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