We Cannot Choose Our Colleagues

By Geoff FitzGibbon….

We had several excellent sales people in our dealership. They loved the cars we sold and were part of a great team. Citroën was doing many things right in those days, and its UK sales were really taking off. The way we felt about selling Citroën then must be similar to how Tesla salespeople feel today.

But one of the sales guys was difficult to work with. Yes, he was always ready with a quick joke and he had a “gift of the gab” that worked well with some buyers, but he was also lazy, disorganized and could be irresponsible. Fortunately for him, his sales numbers were good, even if his deals were not as profitable as those of the rest of us. I will call him Andy.

It was summer and vacation time came around. Each salesperson would look after the customer hand-over for his colleagues when they were to be away. That meant extra scheduling and organization in advance, to ensure the cars were degreased, thoroughly cleaned and waxed, had their pre-delivery inspection and service performed, and had a complimentary full tank of gas; those were the days before the oil embargo.

I was meticulous about getting everything set up and in process for my cars long before I took off for some beach time, but Andy could be less than attentive if he became busy.

I agreed to hand over a D Special to one of Andy’s customers on the next Saturday morning when Andy would be away. He assured me on Friday night that everything was set up. Through a cloud of cigarette smoke he told me I worried too much, laughed, and took off for a week of R&R.

Andy’s customer arrived at the pre-arranged time and introduced himself to me. I seated him by my desk, got him a cup of coffee, and excused myself for a moment while I went to Andy’s desk to retrieve the paperwork: the sales contract, owner’s handbook, warranty booklet, and the rest.

After opening the appropriate drawer, and after digging past several copies of Playboy and Penthouse, I came to his deal paperwork. Only the required sales contract was there; a copy of the vital preparation order was absent, as were the owner’s materials.

With a premonition of doom, I hurried over the road to the vehicle preparation shop. Its supervisor, “Sergeant-Major Nick” was his usual imperious and unhelpful self, but he did search through his work orders and confirmed there was no instruction for the customer’s D Special. 

Somehow, I persuaded Nick to get the car prepared immediately, and the workshop service manager agreed to hurry through the service work and tell me as soon as the D would be ready. I then ran back to the showroom.

I explained to the customer we had screwed up and offered to deliver the car to him later that day. He was remarkably understanding about the situation and suggested he would wait. He planned to stroll around our pretty village and have lunch in one of the local pubs before returning in a couple of hours; a real gentleman.

The D Special was ready 5 minutes ahead of time, after a nerve-wracking 2 hours delay for me. The hand-over went very well and he drove off delighted with his new car. I slumped down in my chair with nervous exhaustion. Not the best morning ever, but it ended well.

I tried to hide the screw-up from the GM but supervisor Nick let slip what had happened; Andy’s return to work was not the easiest for him. 

But Andy never changed from this experience, and we learned to triple-check his work whenever any of us had to hand over his vehicles. 

I bumped into Andy 25 years later at a company reunion and, apart from his hairline, he was exactly the same. He had bounced around from job to job and relationship to relationship, surviving cancer and seemingly unscathed by his many other close calls. He was eventually elected into local politics, which is a lesson in itself.

Someone up there must love him.

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