Jeff Miller | Chief executive officer at Civil Contractors Federation
We know to succeed in business we need to plan and execute well. We need to follow through and continuously improve.
But what about those factors that will forever sit outside of our control? The things that happen that no amount of planning or hard work can influence.
I learned something about that in May 1995.
Truthfully, I was in a real bind. I had just started running my own marketing and communications consultancy. My new client was working with me on a financial awareness campaign for small business and we sought sponsorship from the six major banks at the time.
Within just days, five of the six banks signed up. Everything was looking good for the campaign, my client and my fledgling business. But weeks, then a month and more, went by and I could not land that last bank. At the same time, my client and the five banks already on board, were keen to get started.
But I couldn’t.
The way the deal was structured, that final sponsor covered the last of my considerable costs, and all of my profit.
So, as I saw it, I had three choices. Lose a lot of money I didn’t have; walk away and lose a lot of face. Or get that bank. But my phone calls, faxes and letter writing kept going unanswered.
One Friday morning, I decided enough was enough. If I didn’t have an answer by the end of that day I’d have to pull out.
Some weeks earlier I had accepted an invitation to a corporate lunch. I was so preoccupied with my soon-to-fail deal, a long lunch was the last thing I felt like. I went anyway.
Like over 400 others I mingled during drinks, found my name tag, checked the seating plan and made my way to my table. As I exchanged business cards with my nine other table guests, I knew my day was about to change. I was seated just one person away from the regional manager of the bank I needed.
By dessert, my deal was done.
Sometimes the things in business we don’t control work out really well for us. Other times they don’t — I’ve had more proposals rejected or outright ignored than I care to remember. All I can conclude is we have to keep doing our best, and be peaceful about the factors we can’t control.
We will win some and lose others — and it’s almost always not personal when we lose.
Over the years I have thought about the frustration I’d have felt that Friday had I stayed at the office and waited for a phone call. The fact is the call would not have come. My project would have folded. And all of that would have had absolutely nothing to do with me, my persistence, the quality of my proposal or even my self-imposed deadline. It would have come down to something quite unrelated.
My calls would not have been returned that Friday afternoon because the person I needed to speak with wasn’t at his desk. He wasn’t even in his office.
He was out to lunch.
Jeff Miller is the chief executive officer of the peak industry body for civil construction in Western Australia, based in Perth. He also serves on the Board of Halftime Australia, helping people transition from success to significance. He has led organisations for over 20 years and enjoys writing about his experiences: good and bad.