Accent on Living

IT is widely believed in business circles that the best way to size up a situation and reach the right decision on it is for all concerned to get together and thresh it out, man to man. A meeting is supposed to be much quicker than fooling away time in correspondence, and the written word is often so uncompromising, so confining, that the conference is preferred as a means of covering the details and ironing out the kinks. The participant welcomes the meeting, also, as a “chance to get the other fellow’s point of view,”though he already knows what it is and doesn’t think very highly of it anyhow; in fact, the other fellow’s point of view is what most meetings are fondly intended to nullify.

But enough of these generalizations: let us be businesslike and consider a practical example—the business conference initiated by D. Fowler Doakes, president of the Doakes Distributing Corporation, whose Double-D line of household appliances dominates the territory between Galesburg and North Platte.

Doakes is a jobber of, among other things, Goliath products, and he has long been baffled by the display materials provided by the Goliath home office in Cleveland. The displays are so big, he has found, that none of his dealers can make room for them. “Has the guy who designed these displays ever seen a store window?" is the tenor of considerable mail from his dealers; and some of the dealers — themselves businessmen — have even initiated meetings with Doakes in the hope that getting together, man to man across the table, would bring improvement, or at least diminution, of the displays. Doakes did, on these occasions, get the other fellow’s point of view, and he is still smarting from it. His letters to the Goliath people are without result. The problem plainly calls for Doakes to sit down, man to man, with the Goliath crowd in Cleveland. He will take along one of his own men, for backing.

Two months later (one of the peculiarities of the man-to-man conference as a timesaver is the long search for a date on which all parties can be there), Doakes and his sales manager present themselves at the Goliath offices. Doakes is feeling a bit rocky, his sales manager having kept him up half the night by listening to Doakes tell how he established the Double-D line, but he has settled firmly on what to do at the meeting: namely, to read a carbon of his most recent letter to Goliath about the window displays. So, at 9.45, Doakes and his aide are shown into the office of Goliath’s District IV manager. No one is in the office. The meeting is scheduled for 10 o’clock. What happens to Doakes thereafter is exactly what happens at all such manto-man sessions in the business world.

9.45-10.15: Doakes and his own man wait. They thumb through old trade journals, Goliath catalogues, and ponder the map of District IV — a triangle, roughly, taking in Minneapolis, Little Rock, and Denver. There are about twenty red thumbtacks on the map, and Doakes is pleased to see — although he has seen it before — that one marks his own town. Nirvana, home of the Double-D line. He points it out to his sales manager and winks shrewdly. “That’s us,” he says, He has just had his suit pressed, and he is complacently aware of the knife-edge crease in his trousers and, for that matter, in his sleeves.

10.15-10.50: Boomer, the District IV manager, appears. Greetings, backslappings, massive handshakes, jovial hubbub. Although he has, in fact, been drinking coffee around the corner, Boomer contrives the air of one just returned from a highly successful mission. “I wanted to make sure the Big Brass would be with us,” he reports to Doakes. Boomer tells his latest story. Doakes is just telling his latest story when Boomer accepts several telephone calls, finally giving orders that he is tied up on very important business — no more calls. Doakes finishes his story.

10.50—12: Scene, the Goliath conference room; not used often enough to be worth much buffing, hence slightly stuffy and dusty. A halfdozen small fry in Goliath’s sales and advertising departments have been rounded up by Boomer as a simulation of the company’s interest in Doakes’s proposals. Introductions, hearty handshaking, and Doakes is persuaded to tell his story again while they are waiting for the Big Brass.

Boomer decides to open the meeting without further waiting for the Big Brass. He begins with a windy panegyric about Doakes and the Double-D line: valued account, long and happy relationship, fair and square, famous throughout District IV, never cuts prices of Goliath line —in short, the ideal jobber. He produces Doakes’s latest letter about the display materials, reads it aloud, and announces that he is turning over the rest of the meeting to Doakes. By reading the letter, Boomer has left nothing for Doakes to expound. Doakes flounders through various compliments to Goliath and is soon reduced to reading aloud his copy of the letter. He is finishing, lamely, when the Big Brass enters. It’s only Goliath’s assistant sales manager, who explains that the bigger Big Brass are tied up in a huddle so momentous that nothing at all can be hinted of its nature. Boomer reviews for the new arrival the meeting thus far, and Doakes reads his letter again. Boomer declares that they will go into it further at lunch. Goliath’s assistant sales manager has another engagement. Sorry.

12-1.55: Lunch at Wilmerding’s Chop House. The small fry trail along, for it’s on the company. Several rounds of small, watery oldfashioneds; more stories; Blue Plate Specials. Boomer does a match trick and Doakes demonstrates how to set fire to a sugar lump and make it burn. End of luncheon session. The “meeting” is over.

The next Goliath display materials to reach Doakes, some months later, are only slightly larger than the earlier examples. Doakes starts a new series of letters to Boomer with a view to a meeting, eventually, if things don’t get better.