Saturday, 15 December 2012

It's a nice feeling when you are proven right...

... and it sucks when you got it wrong.

Throughout our lives, we come to situations where we have to make decisions. The easy situations are a breeze : do we wear white or blue to work today, shall we have fish 'n chips for dinner or do we go for the lamb chops, would taking Jalan Tebrau be faster than taking Jalan Larkin to get us to town? These are the easy decisions because whichever choice we make, the outcome wouldn't have a significant impact.

It is the hard decisions that would set us back a bit. Such situations are sometimes called `problems'. Such problems would be even more difficult when the decision you make is on behalf of a higher authority (eg. your boss). Add to that, you don't have much time to consider your options and there is a huge financial impact involved. Intense!

Many years ago, I was posted to work at my former employer's branch office in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. I was there to handle a coastal project for a resort hotel. After a few weeks in Fujairah, another job opportunity came along, this time to construct an effluent discharge pipe from a new sewage treatment plant, laid from the outlet on the beach and buried underwater for a few hundred metres to the sea. My colleague and I prepared the price quotation and after obtaining agreement from head office, we submitted it to the Arab main contractor.

We were then called for a price negotiation meeting. Now... for those of you who have been in price negotiations before, you would surely have in mind a top target value (ideal case), a mean value (kira ok lah) and finally, a bottom limit (cukup makan saja) below which there's no deal. There were two Arab gentlemen from their side. Me and my colleague on our side.

The Arabs started off aggressively... complaining aloud that our price was ridiculously high and that we were out to make a huge profit. I guess it's their standard tactic but in my daily dealings with the locals, only a few of them I would consider to have grace and politeness. I calmly asked them back what would be their reasonable counter-offer. They didn't offer any but pressed me to reduce our price. So I indicated a reduction to my middle value. Still no go but plenty of harsh words. Heck, I thought... no wonder God sent a prophet to these people. I kept my cool and made a final offer at my basement price. Unacceptable, one of the Arabs shot back... you must reduce lower, he said with a glaring face as if he's a headmaster reprimanding a schoolboy. And then he mentioned a breakdown of costs for machinery and material, in a move to justify why he thought our price was high. Well I thought, if you already know what it's going to cost, why don't you go ahead and do the work yourself?

I did not budge and the situation was becoming tense and intimidating. I could feel my blood pressure climb up a notch or two. I turned to my colleague and purposely spoke to him in Malay, "Aku rasa Pak Arab ni dah main kasar. Kita balik aje lah. Buat apa nak dapat projek tapi nanti rugi. Kau rasa macam mana?"

"Aku rasa kita takyah buat projek ni," my friend replied. "Tapi kau tak risau ke apa nanti Dato' kata?"

I had already considered that part in my mind. My boss would probably be not pleased that we did not secure this job. But if I had taken on the work at a very low price and then completed it at a loss, he would be even angrier. So I made up my mind, that was it. I told the Arabs, "I am sorry that our offer price is too high for you and regret that we could not form a working relationship. But thank you for giving us the opportunity to give a quote in the first place."

I then packed my files back in to my bag, stood up and coolly left the meeting room. The Arabs were stunned and speechless.

As we left the building and walk to the car park, one of the Arabs called out to my friend. I continued walking but my friend turned back to talk to the Arab. I waited in the car while this side discussion was going on. When my friend returned, he said that they would be asking our local sponsor to talk direct to our boss in Malaysia. They hadn't expected us to walk out.

"Tapi Pak Arab tu terkejut lah yang kau berani keluar macam tu," my friend said. I finally managed to smile for the first time that day.

I had already guessed that they would try to approach my boss after this, but I wasn't worried. If my boss agree to offer them a discount just to secure the job, then that is his right as the owner. It will then be his risk.

True enough, a call was placed from UAE to Malaysia the next day... and my boss was made to promise to come to Fujairah the following week for further negotiation.

When my boss flew in the next week, he asked whether I could accompany him for the second round of negotiations. I declined, saying that we have already offered them the best price and we should not be going any lower. Stubborn, aren't I?

To cut a long story short, my boss went for the second negotiation meeting alone, agreed to a huge discount and then got the job. He went back to KL, declared to the other head office staff on the good news of a new project he secured and arranged for another colleague to be sent to Fujairah and be the project manager. Fine by me.

The new project manager arrived a month later and handled that project separate from mine. From the very start, a few technical problems surfaced. I helped out as much as I could in sharing of resources, but otherwise kept myself out of it. The problems became worse as time progressed and the project ran into delays. I returned to Malaysia and later resigned from the company. But information from my ex-staff in Fujairah told me that the project that I initially declined to take on, had now run into losses.

Not for me to gloat about but I do feel sad for my former boss. As I said, it was a risk he personally took... and that I have been proven right.

Ok then, perhaps I should also share with readers on the times I have been proven wrong. I do still wince when I recall the occasions when I made bad judgements... but let's leave that for another day.


Zendra-Maria said...

Oldstock, sometimes people do make bad judgement calls even when all the cards are laid on the table. Good for you not to succumb to psychological pressure... congrats :)

Wan F said...

Oldstock. Fine that you have a boss willing to shoulder the relationship (even at a financial loss to the company). Some bosses would just twist things around after the fact, clean their hands and have a scrape goat to blame.

Oldstock said...

Kak Zen,

sorry for the delayed response. I wrote this piece as a follow-up to a comment I made on a friend's FB status update. This friend recently found work at a private university in a mid-east country. She was complaining on how the local Arab students were so very demanding in pressuring their lecturers to give them better grades when the student themselves were not up the mark. Some friends (myself included) advised her to be firm and be confident of herself.

Oldstock said...

Salam Kak Wan,

Long time no news. Hope you are fine.

Yes, I have previously worked under such a boss you have mentioned. What to do... life moves on.