My Business Mentor and Friend 

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In 1980, shortly after I established my consulting firm, I received a call from an IBM rep who told me that she would like me to visit the Controller of a manufacturing company with her. When I told her I would be happy to meet him and asked her to describe his business requirements, she hesitated for a moment before saying, “When I tried to convince him to buy the IBM server and the Manufacturing Software he told me that I’m wasting his time and shouldn’t come back unless I bring somebody who can address his business requirements.” 

The next morning we visited the Controller. His opening remark was, “I wasted enough time with your colleague who couldn’t answer my questions. Unless you can address my business requirements, it will be a short meeting.” I told the Controller that I was known in the industry as someone who was proficient in modifying the IBM manufacturing and distribution software and would like to discuss his requirements. Pleased I was able to answer all his questions he said, “I feel you’re the right person to implement the IBM manufacturing software. I expect you to get my company up and running in three months. If you don’t, I will sue you.”  

Unhappy with this comment, I told him before we left, “I work on a hand shake and would rather not get involved.” 

When we were in the street, the rep was upset and tried to convince me to do it despite the fact that his time table was unrealistic. Refusing to listen, she told me that the Server and Software sale would have made her quarterly sales quota. 

At that time I had an answering service during the day and after 5 pm the phone calls were forwarded to our apartment.  At 5:30 pm the phone rang and my wife was surprised when the Controller called and to say, “I met your husband today and I was impressed with his knowledge. He is a hot-headed person and walked out on me. Please ask him to come to my office tomorrow at 9 am.” 

When I came home, my wife conveyed the message and asked what happened. After I finished explaining she said, “He sounded like a nice man and wants to be your client. I think you should meet him tomorrow.”

The next morning I visited the Controller without the IBM rep, not wanting to turn it into a sales meeting.  His opening remark was, “I was impressed with the fact that you listened to my business requirements without trying to convince me to buy the IBM server and software. I know it’s impossible to get my company up and running in three months. That’s how I tested your integrity.  I found out that you have been in business a short time. If you didn’t care about the a law suit, you could have closed your company and opened a new one under a different name.” 

Next the Controller told me that taught Management at Colombia University and Accounting at Brooklyn College and when a student who always gets grade B on tests but gets a B+, he gives him an A, while if an A student gets an A-, he gives him B+. When he saw my puzzled look he said, “I work a long day and teach at night despite the fact I am tired. If I can drag my ass to school, I expect my students to achieve the best grades they can.”

“I don’t think you’re a popular teacher,” I told him. 

“You’d be surprised. My classes are always full. The reason why I told you this is because I expect you to give me your best efforts in meeting my business requirements. We are not a typical manufacturer; we are both a manufacturer and distributor.” 

When we worked on his projects his famous last word was, “kiddo, let’s go back to the drawing board. There must be a simpler way of achieving what I need.”  The Controller, who was 20 years older then I was, became my mentor and a dear friend with whom I discussed my business and personal issues dealing with a partner who didn’t work and my highly paid employees who followed his footsteps. His response always was, “letting people go is not an easy task. I also have the same issue letting employees who don’t perform go, but I force myself to do it.”

One evening when we had dinner he said, “you look unhappy, what’s the matter?”  

“I have cash flow problems and have difficulty meeting Friday’s payroll.”

“That I can easily resolve for you. Come to my office tomorrow morning and I will write you a check for future work.”

Every time I had cash flow issues, he advanced me money for future work. When I discussed my inability to part ways with my partner over dinner because I had the “amiable personality,” he told me that I must face my reality and do something about it before it’s too late. When I was finally forced to face the bitter reality that we had a substantial amount of debts, I parted ways with my partner and paid the debts without lawyers or courts. When our lawyer and accountant asked why I don’t have my partner assume half of the debts, my response was, “He will lose him home.” They just shook their heads, not understanding why I did it, but the Controller understood and congratulated me for finally making a hard decision. 

When Sept. 11 hit New York City, I received an urgent call from the Controller asking about his current project and if we were on time and budget. When I told him that we were, he hesitated for a moment and said, “I need to ask you a favor that I’ve never asked before. Could you lower your daily fee until you finish the project?  We just lost 30% of our business because of cancelled orders resulting from Sept. 11.” 

When I told him that we will finish the project at no cost, he said, “why are you doing this?”

My answer was: “We’ve known each other for the past 20 years and you never had an issue with my accent. Why don’t you understand me now? Let’s call it a late interest payment for all the money you advanced me on future work in the past when I couldn’t meet Friday’s payroll.”

After he retired, I kept in touch with him until I received the sad email from his daughter that he had died at a ripe old age.

About SMC & Dani Kaplan:

Since 1980, Dani Kaplan has worked with manufacturers, distributors food distributors and food processors as the trusted advisor helping them lower their operating costs, stream line their operation and control the inventory. 

Dani can be reached via SMC – http://www.smcdata.com/contact