Business and Boozing

Business and Boozing

Doing Business and Boozing.  Never a good mix. 

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Engage!”

Watching the past Rob Ford debacle I am reminded by the stupidity that many managers and CEO’s continue to engage in when they think that the work day is over. 

One of my favorite lines from the film Ocean Eleven (2001) is when Tess looks at Terry Benedict and says, “You of all people should know Terry, in your hotel, there’s always someone watching. Tess.”  This rings true today more than ever, yet many people in business choose to ignore it.  More importantly, many still don’t recognize that as an executive, manager or even an employee of a company, you are an ambassador for the brand and for the rest of the team.

Mark Dohlan, who was the CEO of Starnet in 1999, was a consummate professional.  By the way he dressed, you would have never know that he was from the prairies and worked on the west coast by the way he carried himself.  Always impeccably dressed, and never a hair out of place, he was ready to lead.

We used to go to a nightclub sometimes after a late night at the office, and Mark would sometimes come, but never be seen with a drink in his hand.  We used to joke, ‘hey Mark!  CNN is outside’, and by God he would appear from the fog of the dry ice in the club without a hair out place stating in a cool voice, ‘I’m ready.’

When I was in the casino business, one of the first things that I learned was that when meeting with Las Vegas casino executives, it was paramount not to have liquor on your breath.  You see, a lot of the senior Management in Las Vegas are Mormons, and they simply just don’t seem to trust people who drink.  Don’t even get me started on Mormons and how it is okay to gamble or have multiple wives.  What remains is that during my years living and playing in Las Vegas, if I had a meeting scheduled, then I would abstain from alcohol for at least 48 hours prior.  So important was my business, that during the countless times I had to entertain clients or go out with friends, I never really got inebriated out of the fear that it might ruin a business relationship with a casino.

That leads to another big mistake made, for the most part, by junior executives.  Never get drunk with a potential client, or even one that has been a loyal one for years.  Too many times, I have had meetings with a company where things went swimmingly only to be invited out by their team for drinks.  This is where people unwind and let themselves go.  That’s fine with your friends in the privacy of your house, but never with business associates.  

Somehow it’s always the new sales guy in his early 20’s, and it’s always his first job.  The issue seems to be that companies hire straight out of college and don’t indoctrinate their junior reps. enough on the fundamentals of sales.  Sure, Wharton Business will teach you about macro economics and Harvard sure looks great on your resume, but if you haven’t graduated from college party-life, then you can kill your career in one night.

I had to fly to New York to meet a software company that was wooing me to use their online sales platform, a really great enterprise system.  Of course, they could have come to see me, but come on.  It’s New York!  The day with their team went great, and I was really on course to signing an integration contract with our company.  That night, we went out; myself and five of their team consisting of one senior manager, a couple of techies and a couple of junior sales people.  Dinner was great and so was the bar at the W on Lexington.  Somehow, one the sales reps, a red haired female managed to over drink, and she started coming on to me.  As flattered as I was, it wasn’t going to happen because of my cardinal rule about not sleeping with people that you do business with.  Some people call it shitting in your own backyard.  I just call it stupid.

She was relentless, and could not understand why I didn’t want to get to know her better.  Finally, in front of all of her team mates, she freaked out on me and threw a drink in my face before storming out.  To my credit, I did nothing.  Of course, drinking soda water all night meant that I could see things clearly.

When I arrived in their office the next day, a senior executive asked if he could see me alone where he apologized for the whole incident.  The sales rep. had been reprimanded, and she was off my account.  I spent the rest of the day being polite with their team and learning more about their software system, but in the end I did not go through with the purchase.

Why?  Simple.  Her co-workers were there when the whole situation went down and they did nothing.  Was it a culture of corporate partying, or was her sex part of the sales process?  I have seen the latter by the way many times.  Here is one example of how it bit me in the ass financially.

We had a client from Texas named Scott W. who we had spent a great deal of time closing on a big contract for advertising and marketing services. 

Everything was a go, and we were all in Las Vegas at a trade show.  I noticed one of our competitors, a start-up with no experience or depth of talent at the show.  Great.  Nothing like competition.  They had a cute sales rep., and she was turning some heads. 

Scott was supposed to come for dinner with our team, but at the last minute called me to say he had another meeting to attend.  My spidey sense was tingling.  Later that night, out of pure chance, I spotted him at the center bar at the Hard Rock kanoodling with the cute rep.  Did I mention Scott was married to a Texas hottie with three beautiful children? 

The next day Scott came to see me at our trade show booth to let me know he was going with another outfit.  I looked at him, and he knew.  The look he had was straight out of the Tell Tale Heart.  He had slept with the rep., and felt guilty.  She had used her sexuality to close the deal.

Karma is a bitch.  Scott was convicted of embezzlement some years later, lost his family through divorce and ended up flipping burgers at the age of 42. 

But sometimes it happens to senior management. 

There was a CEO of a small investment bank and we were developing a financing with them in conjunction with a reverse merger on the OTC stock exchange.  What started with emails, progressed to phone calls and then to a meeting to negotiate the final terms in person.   We flew from Vancouver to Los Angeles in the morning, and by noon were in a conference room in Century City.  The afternoon was long, and even though we were on the same time zone, that little 3 hour flight can make you tired.  What’s worse is that I didn’t get much of a break during the afternoon for a walk or for one of my 20 minute naps; something we talk about in a later chapter.

By 6pm we had everything hammered out, and subject to approvals by our respective Boards of Directors, we had a deal.  And so we went to the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, one of my favorite watering holes, to have a celebratory drink.  What happened next was truly amazing.

The Managing Partner of the bank started to get very drunk very quickly.  I was fine with that.  Some people get drunk and loud; no big deal. 

However, he started telling us about some of his other deals, and revealed what I can only assume was confidential information about his clients, some of whom were direct competitors.  Here’s where it got worse.  A subordinate of the Managing Director took him off to the bathroom to clean up and when they came back I knew immediately that they had been snorting coke.  It was appalling.  I politely told them that I was meeting a friend, and walked out.  Instead of going to my hotel room, I went to LAX and got the last flight to Vancouver.  The deal was off.  I simply let the bank know that the agreement was not going to be ratified for no specific reason.

To this day, I am sure that the banker didn’t realize that his big mouth were the cause of the deal collapsing.  If he got drunk and coked out in front of me spilling the trade secrets of others, there was 100% chance he would do the same with one of my competitors.  To our credit, we did learn a lot about our competition that evening.

Finally, the story of the drunkest, sorriest excuse for an executive I have ever met.  Spanning over a decade, I have watched this man blow more deals than I thought was possible.  This was the CEO of a partner bank of mine who after months of me closing UPS on our payment processing platform, told a senior Vice President (at UPS) to “FedEx over the documents.”  Do you think we signed that deal? You can read more about him here.