How are you perceived?

Ten rules to keep you off the asshole list

Today I read Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Asshole’ Rule: Life’s Too Short To Work With Them by Darius Foroux. The article speaks to those of us who have turned down money to work with difficult people. Bourdain recalls a story of working in a family business when his farther turned down a large assignment with a high return. The team and family were astonished and, when asked why he turned the business down, he replied because they are assholes. The reality is that Bourdain’s father classified the customer as a supplier hopper.

I, too, have chosen to not work with assholes. Sometimes it took me a while and a lot of money to learn the person was a jerk, and sometimes it was after the first meeting. Here are a few examples of my experiences.

In my corporate career, a fire extinguisher sales person visited me to extol the benefits of Halon fire protection. He pulled lighter fluid from his pocket and then lit my desk on fire–in a paper mill. Good thing for me, the Halon worked. I wanted to yell at him, but politely explained that he violated our safety protocols and would be barred from visiting again.

Early in my consulting career, I was invited to a global bank to present how our firm would build a global transformation program. We were asked for a detailed proposal so our global team spent about 100 hours getting the details right. After receiving our proposal, the bank’s VP of Procurement and Administration told us that we were the supplier of choice asked us to present our proposal to the team. We brought in 4 people from the regions where the transformation would take place to do the presentation of the roll out plan. There was limited feedback during the presentation and this episode was repeated at least three more times. At a conference, it was interesting to see that VP, who had been promoted to CPO, give a presentation on how to turn your employees into consultants. The cost of the proposals, presentations and visits to the prospective customer was over $75,000 to my company with $0 of resulting revenue. This person became notorious in the consulting world for gleaning free consulting on how to roll out programs; we were not the only suckers.

Another potential customer in the pharmaceutical industry send me a request for proposal. The choice was narrowed and I was lucky to be selected to make a presentation. The cost for the trip was about $2,000 and I was told that we were the leading contender, but the firm would do an auction, during which the auction software malfunctioned causing the auction to last about 4 hours. I was told that my firm won the auction, but a week later, the pharmaceutical firm explained that they were more comfortable with the incumbent, who had thought about it and now was willing to meet the auction price. Two months into the assignment, the supplier failed and the company asked me to help recover the program. I was not anxious to rebid the program.

After reading my book, the famous owner of several the major casinos in Las Vegas asked me to meet with his CPO. I went to the front office for the meeting and learned that the CPO’s office was in the basement of the casino. He came out and told me he was a busy man, directed me to wait, so I sat in his office for 50 minutes waiting for him to meet with me. His opening statement on his return was that he was the king of the casino business and while I had extensive experience with companies like GE, Microsoft, Birdseye and ConAgra, I was at the bottom of the food chain and would have to go to the small casinos then work my way up before I was worthy of his time. He then pulled out a drawing of a cow and asked me to break it into its parts. Having worked in the food business and consulting for two large food companies in the meat business, I could have told him what area of the cow each cut comes from, but I chose to leave that meeting and never return.

Whether you’re the seller or the buyer, being perceived as an asshole doesn’t make you a tough negotiator and certainly doesn’t deliver value for you or your company. Here are 10 rules to keep you off the asshole list.

  1. Always operate with integrity
  2. Never mislead suppliers
  3. Always outline events, timetables and your true motives
  4. Always give straight, timely feedback: good or bad
  5. Be respectful of other’s feelings and time
  6. Always be fair and firm
  7. Never exploit suppliers; the situation can reverse
  8. Be prompt for meetings and use time wisely
  9. Keep in control
  10. If you’ve been an asshole, acknowledge it and move forward

Let’s face it, we all can be assholes. I certainly can, especially when someone cuts me off on the road. I’ve learned how small the world is, so I work hard at maintaining professional relationships. Years ago, I had just accepted a position to lead procurement in a food company. Imagine how shocked I was when my new boss called one of the suppliers to gauge my relationship skills. Unfortunately, he chose a supplier that was uncompetitive in a major bid and had lost about $5,000,000 in business. I was surprised when the account manager gave me a great recommendation, explaining that he had lost a major contract, but couldn’t compete with the new offer. My new boss was happy that I could change a supplier out and still maintain the relationship. That was a big lesson: you never know who will show up and how relationships impact your career.

Do customers or suppliers think you’re an asshole?

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