Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conversations with an idiot (2)
Or how to kill an overseas deal quickly and efficiently.

The time is early 2009, the place, Milan Italy, the topic is the last stages of a long term PR and Marketing campaign to bring in one of the largest Italian industrial giants as a buyer for my client's line of green technology factories. But there was rot in the fabric and the trouble began many months before after the Italians had approached me following a speech I gave at the LaBaule World Investment conference.

The topic had been biodiesel, the subject worldwide cooperation for all producers.

The Italian wanted to know if my client would be interested in discussing areas of common interest, and of course I said yes because in the gray areas of business you must remain positive. That first contact would be followed by a number of other meetings, discussions over Skype and a mutually ascending respect and cooperation.

Fter about six months he told me that he would be in San Diego for four days and would be glad to fly up to San Francisco for a meeting with my client to start solidifying what up to then was loose talk and mutual interest. Yes, his company was interested in using my client's technology and yes they were a very large company, well known throughout Italy and the world.

A meeting was set up in my client's office with two weeks of advanced notice. I briefed my client with several emails about the Italian company, its products and technologies and urged all involved to go online and look over who was going to be arriving. I stressed the differences between San Francisco casual and Italian business attire.

I arrived at the client's offices about an hour ahead of time only to discover that casual Friday was in full effect! The company founder, the VP of Finance and the COO were making a statement about not being pushed around. The founder did change his underwear, that was obvious, and his socks were not mismatched because he had none!

My Italian counterpart arrives in an Armani suit, impeccable silk tie and beautiful Ferragano shoes. He takes one look around and raises an eyebrow at me. There is an art to eyebrow raising that the French have perfected and passed on to the Italians, the Belgians and the Germans. This was a master of the art wasting his time in a stable.

Since the conference room I had reserved two weeks before was being occupied by an admin meeting we assembled in the founder's office. Chairs were collected and discussions begun. Our founder kicked it off by inquiring politely what this Italian company did. After two weeks of prep work, what a time for amnesia from a brilliant guy wearing cut off blue jeans with rips and a fuck you T-shirt!

It went downhill from there, the highlight coming from the COO (twenty years in the international business world), wanting to know about the name Progetti in the Italian company's name. It appears that he had done a lot of business with companies ending in Progetti and wanted to know if that was a family name in Italian industry. My client replied that it meant Project, equivalent to the US having thousand of companies incorporating the family name Industries, and no, there are very few US families called Industries.

After the meeting, my Italian friend and I repaired to a nearby wine bar and drank very decent Merlot for an hour while reviewing the meeting. All was not lost because the Italian would only tell all of his nearest friends and relatives about the meeting and would see about setting up a follow up meeting, this time in Milan at the company's headquarters. He did ask, in a light but pleasant manner if it would be possible that the Chairman of the Board of my client's company please dress appropriately, suggesting that a meeting between his Chairman, representing a multimillion dollar conglomerate and an equipment supplier implied a certain amount of respect and deference on both sides.

In Milan, home of some of the top men's couturier's, where you can have a suit hand tailored in 24 hours, there appeared to be no need for sartorial elegance on my client’s side.  My boy did buy a new pair of Dockers for the occasion, pulled out his twenty year old blue blazer from Target and blithely arrived at corporate headquarters all dressed up and ready to roll.

It was clear from the start that the lunch with the Chairman was a non-starter since his secretary came down and after one look at my client, started whispering in my Italian's ear. It seems that our lunch would take place at a nearby restaurant, one of his favorite places for fish. All talk of technology exchanges and sales became very slow and to my client's complete amazement never came through. Needless to say the meeting was deemed a complete disaster and the Italians were obviously never ever serious about doing business with my client's company.

If that were the end of the story it would have been merciful and no one really got hurt, especially on my client's side since ignorance was bliss.  Unfortunately my Italian contact had become a good friend and, aware of what I had to work with, decided to give my client one last chance.

His company, the Italian Government and Peru had been seriously negotiating to implement a facility like the one's my client built. My friend asked if he could submit a bid from the client to the Peruvian government as long as they could claim that they had a technology agreement with the company. All agreed because the Italians built much bigger plants and the need was for a smaller version.  The number one condition was that all negotiations between parties remain confidential in order to pacify Italy's negative role in not providing the technology.

Part of the protocol for working with this client is that we had to fill in the Salesforce sheets on all of our contacts; otherwise the company had the habit of taking your independent work and assigning it to their in-house sales staff. Since there were a number of unclear issues with the Salesforce submission because of the extreme secrecy of the project, the VP of Sales immediately contacted the Peruvian engineer on the contact report and he immediately cried foul because he was advised that this was an Italo/Peruvian deal and what were the Americans doing in the middle of it?  The Italians were embarrassed and my friend shortly thereafter embraced another career in renewable energy.

My client, for some inexplicable reason never understood why the Italians never signed a deal with them. It was the opinion of the blue blazered Chairman that somehow I had offended them after he had gone all the way to Milan.


Post a Comment

<< Home