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The Cowboy and the Diplomat
July 20, 2012
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Twice a month Shawn Brown will write a column that will, in his words, ‘engage the reader on a journey of (business) discovery’ by using his real world experiences from the beginning of his corporate career to his transition to entrepreneur and business owner. Each column will eventually be a chapter of his book Rules of Behaviour. The book will be available in 2013.
EDMONTON, AB, Jul 20, 2012/ Troy Media/ – My first year in Saskatoon as an Account/Territory Manager opened my eyes to the business world as they had never been opened before. One lesson I learned is that there is more than one way to do something.
Having only worked for one company, in one environment, for my entire career to that point – although beneficial in developing my managerial skills in numerous ways – had provided me with only a glimpse of the Consumer Packaged Goods industry, and the business world in general. In short, it quickly became apparent that my field of vision was limited indeed.
Moving to a larger city, and by the virtue of becoming an Account/Territory Manager covering the retail grocery, drug, and food services industries, took my scope of vision from 10 degrees to 180 degrees almost overnight. New channels of business, new terminology, and an account base that covered a good portion of Saskatchewan, would push me in many new directions.
As I reflect upon that time now, it is clear to me that the time spent in the following years in that industry would define my life and roles in the business world. Paramount was time management.
The company that brought me to Saskatoon was the largest firm of its kind in Saskatchewan at the time. With billings worth approximately $20 million, our closest competitor was doing approximately half of that. We represented many category leaders of all the retail food and drug products sold in Canada. But with that prestige came demanding sales targets, and dictated that only the strongest, brightest, fastest, and most organized would survive in that high pressure environment.
With the shackles of the unions removed, and really not knowing any better, I relished my role and responsibility. Although the demands of the position were great, I could organize my day the way I wanted to. I could structure my city and rural territories in a way that I thought they could be serviced best. And for the first time ever, I was introduced to sales, the critical component to virtually every business, and organization, on the planet. Although somewhat scary and quite obviously challenging at first, I jumped into it with both feet, and embraced it completely.
My team in Saskatoon was small, but diverse. Including myself there were four Account Managers, the Branch/Key Account Manager, and one of the two Managing Partners of the company.
Of the four Account Managers, you likely couldn’t get four more different personalities and individuals. All considerably older than me, they each had a different skill set and approach to business that I learned from. On one end of the spectrum was Rob Press. To this day, he is one of the most talented, focused and driven sales people I have ever known. He rarely took ‘no’ for an answer, and continually, month after month, year after year, decimated his, and often our, sales targets. Deviously cunning, he taught me tricks such as removing the fuse for the air conditioner of my vehicle when we had a National Sales Manager in town in the middle of July for a tour of the stores. If you have ever experienced a summer on the prairies, you will understand fully why air conditioning is not just a luxury. These people often didn’t make a second trip back!
At the other end of the spectrum was Jim Burton. Jim tried showing and telling me at almost every turn that ‘there is almost always a better time to do something than the present’. Jim was the best. And despite operating in almost complete contradiction to what the position dictated, and quite opposite to Rob, Jim got the job done and delivered the numbers he was responsible for. Watching these completely polar opposite forces at work was as entertaining as it was beneficial.
Running this operation were the Cowboy and the Diplomat. The Cowboy, as he was called in the industry, was the managing partner of the company. A man as vertically challenged as I was, he defied almost every rule of business, and most certainly the industry itself. He was as rough and crude as any man I have ever known. In an industry that dictated a suit and tie daily, he wore the same shirt and pants into the office that he had worn the day or night before working for hours on his ranch. And I always found his bolo tie and cowboy boots quite chic. Where the executives drove nice sedans and cars, he drove a lifted Ford ¾ ton, almost always covered in mud. And as for manners, and office etiquette, he had less than none. His conduct in the office, the stories he would tell, and the language he would use would have made a drunk sailor blush. And, almost always, these stories would be told in front of our admin lady, one of the kindest and sweetest ladies I have ever known. And the day he got back from his hernia operation and told us (and her) in frightening detail what it was like, and what he was experiencing at that moment, was really quite special!
His polar opposite was Dale Meyers, our Branch and Key Account Manager. And for anyone who was been following this column from the start, you will know that he is one of three people I dedicate this entire story and journey to . . .
Shawn Brown is the Founder and President of Forest For the Trees, a boutique business advisory service headquartered in Edmonton, AB. http://www.forestnow.com/
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