One of my earliest memories as an eighteen-year-old trainee sales rep was being put with an older salesman called Albert, who was soon to retire. It was he who showed me how to complete the weekly expense sheet. It’s hard to believe these days, but at that time we were given a cigarette allowance – yep, we were paid to smoke! Almost all our customers smoked and salaries weren’t high, so the allowance allowed us to be generous with our ‘smokes’ when selling to bookshop owners.
The main reason I remember Albert is his raincoat. It was a well-worn gabardine relic he always wore, even it seemed when rain was not forecast. In his final few weeks prior to retirement, he added to his expenses request form, “One raincoat – £50.” We used to complete our forms on a Friday evening and get our expense cheque a week later always on a Monday. On this particular Monday Albert looked displeased with his cheque. His expense sheet had been returned with the raincoat expense crossed out.
Unperturbed, the following Friday Albert once again itemized his expenses and included, “One raincoat worn on company business for 30-years!” and once again submitted it to Bob White, our sales manager.
When the expense cheque arrived, once again Albert was unhappy. The raincoat item had a thick red line through it with an arrow leading to the comment, “You cannot claim for this type of expense! – Bob.”
Time was running out and I sat beside Albert in his car as he filled out his final expense sheet before retirement. That was the last I ever saw of Albert, but not the last I heard of him. Sometime later Bob White was talking about the past and he brought up Albert and what a great salesman he was. He then recounted the tale of the raincoat. He told everyone about Albert continually trying to get him to pay for the tatty old item of clothing. He mentioned that he had refused to pay for it on several occasions and that he scrutinized Albert’s final expense sheet thoroughly and the raincoat was nowhere to be seen. It was then, apparently, he saw a tiny annotation – a small asterisk with a line to the term PTO (please turn over) – when he turned the sheet over he read the words, “It’s in there somewhere if you look for it! Albert.”
Albert was a great salesperson and taught me a lot about creativity and that there’s always more than one way to get what you want out of any situation. I remember that often when I come to what seems like an impasse – I pause, think of Albert – what would he have done?