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October 31, 2012
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, Oct. 31,2012/ Troy Media/ – My arrival in Edmonton in October of 1993 signaled the beginning of a completely brand new era and chapter in my life.
A new city, new province, and a completely new company and position meant that I was literally starting over in every way. As luck would have it, a good friend of my brother’s had recently moved to Edmonton as well and said I could stay with him until I was on my feet and had a better understanding of the city and what was going on.
On the work front, I had no idea what to expect. The staff of the Edmonton office had been there for a while, when they were only an Alberta-based company. A few of them had taken various turns at the Key Account responsibilities at both the grocery and drug store head offices, but had experienced limited success. I was somewhat confused by this as they seemed like good and a fairly dedicated people. Not knowing the history or what the situation was with each of them individually, or as a team, I decided to put my best face and foot forward, and simply observe and ask questions until I could better formulate my own hypothesis. And, of course, start to understand the dynamics of a real Key Account.
It didn’t take long for me to understand the situation, and the true underlying issues.
First, it became quite apparent that previous to the merger the company had no use or respect for the Edmonton office in any way. Stuffing 10 people into a 200 square foot office with no windows kind of made that evident. My first winter there, driving to work in the dark, seldom leaving the office, and not having any natural light, caused me to go from 20/20 vision to 20/10 vision in about six months! Phil Hartman singing Frank Sinatra’s line ‘. . . you’re as blind as a bat’ rang through my mind many times that spring.
Past that, there was vile bitterness between two of the women managing the accounts with little to no direction from the Calgary office. It was clear that wasn’t helping, with the accounts, or the office morale.
Taking over the management of the accounts, I decided to play the role of mediator, and fence builder, while at the same time trying to ensure there were no further or deeper divisions. I knew that, despite the obvious pressures of a quick turn around and heightened expectations of me being there, things could go from bad to worse quickly. But if they truly wanted a permanent, long-term growth strategy, then my approach was the right one.
At the same time, I needed to understand what was happening at Horne and Pitfield, the head office for the I.G.A.s, and the number one reason I was sent to Edmonton in the first place. Shortly afer the woman who had been calling on them for a few years introduced me to Horne and Pitfield’s key and senior people, I decided to forge my own relationships and develop my own strategies.
There were some really good people at Horne and Pitfield, with three or four who decided to take me under their wings. They went out of their way to assist me and work with me. One of them was a gentleman by the name of Clint Fystro, who ran their Catalogue Program, a secondary advertising platform within their overall advertising and promotion platform. I could tell early on the secondary advertising program was going to be key for us if we were going to have any initial, and perhaps long term, success.
Clint was a really good guy who had a huge history with Baseball Alberta, and was an Alberta scout for the California Angels. We hit it off instantly, and after a couple of months, sometime in early December, we decided to go for a Christmas lunch.
That same afternoon my office had scheduled its own office Christmas party, which was to start at 3:00 p.m. I was looking forward to the party, especially in the context of further trying to bring the team together.
One of Clint’s favourite places was Earl’s in the West End of Edmonton, and I thought that was a great idea. We met there and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to have one Christmas drink with our meal. After all, it was December wasn’t it? At about 2:00, and a few drinks later, we decided a game of pool might be in order. I thought I would check in with my staff and let them know what I was doing, but that I would still make our party. They were great and said if I needed someone to pick me up to get back to the office, to just ask. Pretty awesome.
At 4:00, they phoned and asked if I was still going to make it. I assured them I was. When I showed up at the office sometime around 6, having had to crawl through the roof of my neighbor’s office to get in as I had managed to lose my keys, I saw my Christmas gift sitting for me on my desk, and wrapping paper and signs of a good party all over the office. I was literally sick to my stomach, and really feared I had taken a huge step backwards with everything I thought we had accomplished to that point.
Little did I know that was simply a precursor to building a massive book of business built on a platform of almost total debauchery. In every way imaginable . . .
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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