My cousin Ronnie is a writer. The other day he sent me a short story that he wrote about my father, Henri Ades. Ronnie used to work as the Toronto Salesman for Protech Chemicals, the company that my father founded. In this story, Ronnie describes a sales challenge he had and how my father coached him through it…
My Uncle Henri would not stop going on about Peter Raymond.
“Did you call Peter Raymond? Did you make an appointment with Peter Raymond? Why don’t I see anything in your report about Peter Raymond?” He had a bug up his ass about Peter Raymond.
Peter Raymond was the senior purchasing agent for Jackson Exhaust. Jackson Exhaust was a huge automotive parts manufacturer that used a clear powder coating to paint their exhausts. We made clear powder coatings. But Jackson Exhausts did not buy their clear powder coating from us. They bought it from Valspar, our biggest competitor.
My Uncle Henri did not understand why Jackson Exhaust did not buy clear powder coating from us.
“We have a beautiful clear,” he said.
If you closed your eyes, you would think you were listening to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat if Sadat was the owner of a powder coating company and not the President of Egypt.
He was right of course. We did make a beautiful clear powder coating. But ours was not on the Jackson Exhaust automotive approval list. Also, our powder was about $1.00/kg more expensive and Peter Raymond told me as much whenever he deemed to pick up the phone when I called him. He told me I was wasting my time. He told me they were very happy with Valspar.
But when I told my Uncle Henri these things, he looked at me as if I had just told him that Yvan Cournoyer was not a fast skater. As if I had just told him that his wife, my Tante Nandi, did not know how to cook.
“Ronnie,” he lectured, “how many times I have told you? When they throw you out the front door, you sneak back in through the window.”
I loved my Uncle Henri. But there is no way he ever snuck in through a window.
“I am coming to Toronto next week. I want you to make an appointment with Peter Raymond.”
Peter Raymond would not take my calls. He would not return my messages. So I drove to Jackson Automotive and told reception I was there to see Peter Raymond.
“You should make an appointment,” said the receptionist.
“I tried to make an appointment. He won’t return my calls.”
“You should make an appointment.”
“Can you just tell him that Ron Zevy of Protech Chemicals is here? I just need two minutes. I am happy to wait.”
So I waited.
For six hours.
Peter Raymond walked right by me three times — twice I presume on the way to the bathroom, and once on the way to an extended lunch with Mario Rossetti of Valspar.
Not once did he acknowledge my existence. The receptionist smiled at me a few times. But I don’t think she felt sorry for me. After all, nobody ever forced me to go into powder paint sales.
Peter Raymond left his office door slightly ajar. If I tilted my head just so, I could see he was playing solitaire on his computer. Red queen on black king you f’ing piece of shit.
Finally, at 4:55 p.m. the receptionist picked up her ringing phone and motioned me in.
I got straight to the point. “My boss (I didn’t say my uncle) is coming into town. He wants five minutes to say hello. He knows you are happy with Valspar. He just wants to say hi.”
“Sounds like a waste of five minutes,” said Peter Raymond. I was about to tell him that my job was on the line, but he agreed before I had to prostrate myself. But first he put the black 9 on the red 10. Jesus what an asshole.
Our appointment was at 10 a.m. Peter Raymond let us in at 11:55 a.m. My Uncle, God bless him, went to the bathroom three times while we waited.
“Your salesman here is quite persistent,” said Peter Raymond.
My Uncle had a whole pitch ready for Peter Raymond. He repeated it to me in the car five times. How we had a better product. How we would provide better service. How cheap it was going to be in the long run. It was good. I knew it wasn’t going to work. But when we got into Peter Raymond’s office, my Uncle Henri decided to call an audible.
This is what he said to Peter Raymond… “You play tennis?”
I had no idea where he had come up with this but then I saw the Donnay racquet, the one Bjorn Borg used, propped up in the corner of the office. My Uncle had gone all Kevin Spacey in the Usual Suspects on us. He did that. He looked at family pictures. He looked at paintings on the wall. He looked for tennis racquets.
Peter Raymond reached over, grabbed the racquet and twirled it in his hand. He looked more like a majorette than a tennis player.
“Only in the summer,” he said. “Too damn expensive to play indoors in the winter.”
My Uncle Henri replied, “I know it is expensive.” He pointed at me. “This one expenses it. I pay for it!”
He was right. I expensed my membership to Mayfair Country Club, which had indoor courts.
Then my Uncle Henri threw me under the bus.
“I’m sure Ronnie would be happy to bring you to his club.”
Then he shook Peter Raymond’s hand and said goodbye. Not a word about powder coatings. Not a word!
When we got in the car, Uncle Henri decided to back up the bus and run me over a few more times. “Are you a good tennis player?” he asked.
I said I was pretty good.
“Well,” he said as he buckled up. “You have to let him win.”
So for three months, every Wednesday night, I played tennis with Peter Raymond. Peter Raymond was shit. Every Wednesday he beat me in straight sets. I would hit the ball long. I would hit the ball into the net. I would double fault. Then we would have a beer (he had three), and he would give me tennis tips. I needed to bend my knees. I wasn’t tossing the ball high enough.
I would write it into my report. Played tennis with Peter Raymond. Lost 6–3, 6–4.
Before I knew it, my uncle was making another sales trip to Toronto and asked if I could set up another meeting with Peter Raymond. Peter Raymond said yes without batting an eye. The meeting was set for 10 a.m. He met us at 10 a.m.
“Henri, you’ve got yourself quite the salesman here,” said Peter Raymond. “But maybe you should let him expense a few tennis lessons. I tried giving him some tips but he is really bad and not getting better. He hasn’t won a single set.”
But my Uncle Henri did not want to talk about tennis. He wanted to talk about clear powder coating.
“Peter,” he said slowly and carefully, “we would like a chance. Let us show you what we can do.”
And then Peter Raymond shocked the hell out of me by saying “Let’s do a 10,000 kgs trial.”
My Uncle Henri said, “Great.”
Peter Raymond said, “Henri, these things take time. They don’t happen overnight”
Uncle Henri said, “We aren’t in a rush. We are interested in a long term relationship.”
Peter Raymond said, “We know your paint. We have heard good things. It just has to pass the roof test.”
“Roof test?” I asked.
“Yes, we coat about 15 exhausts and put them on our roof for six months. We see how it deals with the sun and the elements.”
Six months was a piece of cake, I thought. Our polyester clear could withstand six months in the sun standing on its head. I couldn’t believe we were going to get the Jackson Exhaust account.
We all shook hands. Peter confirmed our Wednesday tennis match.
I knew better than to wait for praise from my Uncle but I still fished for a compliment. “10,000 kgs is a nice order,” I said. “Sounds like they are serious.”
My Uncle didn’t say anything. I knew a compliment was a long shot.
“I’ll call the lab and tell them to send a sample for the roof test. Our polyester clear will have no problem passing the roof test.”
Then my Uncle said something that really surprised me. “Don’t bother. We don’t want to do business with these guys.”
“Uncle Henri,” I argued. “you have been bugging me about Jackson Exhausts for years. I have been playing tennis with Peter Raymond for three months and letting him win. We finally get an order and now you don’t want to do business with them? I really don’t understand.”
My Uncle Henri turned to me. “You know anything about car exhausts?” It was a rhetorical question because he knew that I didn’t know anything about car exhausts. I told him no.
“When the car starts, it generates so much heat that the paint gets burned off the very first time.”
“Why do they need the paint then?”
“It’s just for display purposes. So it looks shiny and nice for the customer. Like when you go into a store like…” he struggled to remember the name of the car part store but then remembered “…Napa Auto Parts.”
“Why would they want to test sun resistance by putting it on the roof for six months if it never gets exposed to the sun?”
“Because,” he said as he popped one of my Tante Nandi’s sambouseks into his mouth, “they are idiots.”
“I agree. Peter Raymond is an idiot. But it is a pretty good order.”
He wagged his finger at me.
“If there is one guy doing something dumb, it means there is another guy letting him do something dumb. Who knows how many dumb people they have running the company. Don’t worry, there are other companies.”
Then he said something even more surprising than turning down a big order. “You didn’t do a bad job!”
I said, “Thanks.”
He smiled, “But it took you three years.”
Jackson Exhaust went out of business two years later. We heard they owed Valspar a lot of money.
I only played tennis with Peter Raymond one more time. I beat him in straight sets. 6–0, 6–0.
I guess his tennis tips paid off.
Ron Zevy is the president and founder of Tumblebooks and author of “Almost the Truth: Stories and Lies by Aaron Zevy” — a collection of stories, recollections and memoirs crackling with wit, brazen sentimentality and unfiltered self-awareness. A motley cast of characters, both real and imagined, led by the ‘I’m just a little weird’ Zevy, popping in and out of stories.
Given that my father has been gone for over three years, not only did this story stir all kinds of emotion for me, it got me thinking about my own perseverance, creativity and wisdom. As a leader, do I have the kind of perseverance to go after a goal until I achieve it? When I get kicked out the door, do I have the resilience (and creativity) to find a window to sneak back in? And finally, do I have the wisdom to know when to walk away?
Do you ever find yourself in a position where progress is slow and you feel like you are banging your head against the wall? What do you do? Do you persist or do you change directions? How do you know when to keep pushing and when to let go?
If you are currently in a situation where you feel like you are putting in a lot of effort and not getting the results you are seeking, it might be a good time to work with a coach who can help you sort through the options and help you to identify a clarifying course of action. I invite you to reach out and set up some time to talk! Here’s my email address — firstname.lastname@example.org — I’d love to hear from you!