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Don’t Take Yourself too Seriously: #1

You Might Find Yourself in Serious Manure

Occasionally, on these LinkedIn Articles, I am going to share some of my funniest stories from corporate America. These stories are what I enjoy thinking about and they make me smile and laugh a little.  I hope you enjoy them.

Let’s start with this one:

Don’t Have a Cow

Back in 1985 I was a mid-level manager living in Arlington, Texas, and working for Hallmark Cards. I was responsible for opening new Hallmark Stores and finding locations to re-locate existing stores to better locations in northern Texas and Oklahoma.  

That summer I was working with a salesperson, Bill, in Oklahoma City and a customer who owned about a dozen stores in Oklahoma and Texas.  The owners were brothers and both pharmacists. They were very talented businessmen…and very good at negotiating. One took care of the day-to-day business and the other one was responsible for the leases for all the stores.  

One of their stores was in the Mall in Norman, Oklahoma. It was a small space they wanted to move to a better location with a much larger store. This is exactly what my job was all about: you find a better location for an existing business and usually sales increase, sometimes by 30-40% and higher.  It was key to our growth strategy, so I was determined to get this deal done.

I caught an early flight from Dallas to Oklahoma City to finalize the deal so we could start work in time to have the store up and running before the holiday shopping season that year. The regional sales person picked me up at the airport, and we drove to Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma, about an hour south of Oklahoma City, where one of the brothers, Jack, had his pharmacy. We were meeting him there to get his final approval on the store floor plan. 

When we arrived, Jack told us that one of his pharmacists was out sick that day so he had to fill a few prescriptions before he could leave. This was one of those old-style pharmacies that carried a little bit of everything and included a small restaurant, so Jack toldus to go over and have some lunch, and he’d be with us as soon as he could get away. 

Over the next hour, the sales rep and I ate lunch and went over the details of the deal. We reviewed the blueprint of the new store layout – where all the aisles were going to be and where the product groups were going to be placed – and we determined cost estimates for the move. Finished with everything we could do without Jack, we checked back at the pharmacy, but he said, “I’m still busy. I called another pharmacist but he’s not here yet.” 

We returned to the restaurant to wait some more, and when we checked in again a little later, Jack was still busy. This went on for hours. We left the pharmacy and walked up and down the main street of the little town, taking turns making phone calls at the only payphone booth we could find. 

Finally, around four o’clock, Jack said he needed to run an errand and invited us to join him. Thinking we could talk business on the way, we climbed in his three-quarter ton workingman’s pickup, threw our briefcases and travel bags in the back, and headed about thirty minutes out to his farm. When we got there, he pulled around to where he kept the livestock and said, “I have to vaccinate some cattle.” 

Slightly perplexed at why this needed to happen right now, we said, “Sure, okay. We’ll hang back and…” 

“No, no, no,” he interjected. “This is not a one-man job. I asked you to come along because I need you guys to help me.” 

He positioned the sales rep out in the fenced-in pen where the cattle were kept. His job was to drive the cattle toward the chute, where I would hold them still so Jack could vaccinate them. I’d shove them out into another pen, and then we’d get the next cow into the chute. 

Over the course of the next three hours, we vaccinated sixty-seven head of cattle in the sweltering Oklahoma summertime heat. By the end of it all, we were sweating right through our suits. We had our coats off and our ties loose, we were filthy, and from the knees down we were caked with mud and manure. When we finally finished, Jack said, “I’ve worked up an appetite. Let’s go get something to eat.” 

At this point, the sales rep and I were looking at each other thinking, “What are we doing?” Jack was an important customer. He owned a dozen stores, so our relationship with him was critical, especially in the middle of a rather large and time sensitive negotiation, so we continued to accommodate his requests. We were both thinking that dinner would finally be the time to have the conversation we needed to have with him. 

We drove fifteen minutes to his favorite barbeque place only to find a bunch of his friends there drinking. Jack ordered a couple of pitchers of beer and settled in. Finally, I spoke up, “Hey, Jack, we really do need to take a look at this…” 

He cut me off: “Let’s eat first.” 

“Look,” I continued, trying not to reveal my frustration and exhaustion, “I’ve got a flight back tomorrow morning and I’d like to get this done–” 

“Hey, hey, hey,” he interrupted. “First things first.” 

Complying, we ate dinner, drank our beer, and talked to his friends. As soon as I felt I could bring it up again, I said, “Jack, could we please, please look at this floor plan?” 

“Oh, the floor plan?” he grinned. “Me and Jay decided on that yesterday. We’re good to go. We’re all set with that,” and then he just laughed and laughed. 

It turned out I didn’t need to fly to Oklahoma. I didn’t need to drive to Paul’s Valley. I didn’t need to hang out in a drug store and stand by a pay phone on Main Street all afternoon, and I certainly didn’t need to vaccinate sixty-seven head of cattle in my suit and tie. 

To this day, when I see Jack, or get a message from him, he always asks me if I’m available to go vaccinate some cattle. That’s the kind of experience that creates a relationship that lasts a long time. 

Enjoy the ride everyday, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

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