Ever Worked for a Hard-Trading Employer?

For the last couple of days I’ve been at an industry convention, and seeing so many people we know caused a colleague and I to start musing about one’s personal and professional reputations. The first apparent anomaly we worked over was the case of the known rascals who somehow manage to keep going. At least for a while.

But then we moved on a bit. I remembered a revelation I had early in my career. I got hired right out of college by a privately held, by an incredible meglomaniac, somewhat legendary independent oil company. Thoroughly green, I began to assimilate my corporate culture, and soon started to learn how my bosses dealt with partners and vendors. They were hard traders and I began to learn to pressure, dodge and weave, stonewall, etc. I really didn’t think of myself as acting in the manner of a scoundrel - they were just showing me how to do business.

Since I appeared to be absorbing my lessons well, I was handed certain responsibilities early on. While I don’t remember the particular business at hand, I do remember that the revelation came all at once as I sat in my office one day, getting ready to make a likely to be cantankerous phone call. I thought, “Hmmm…, ol’ WSK might just spit me out on my can any minute, and rapidly forget me, but if I stay in the business, these people aren’t going to forget dealing with me.”

Immediately, I shifted gears towards a more make-it-work-for-all-of-us approach. This shift had to be conducted in somewhat of a stealth mode, but I did it, and quickly noticed a change in my business relations. While earning the enmity of certain parts of our accounting department by walking certain checks through, which trumped our standard net due +90 late pay policy, I managed to build a base of industry acquaintance that served me well when I later (something not on the horizon, then) started my own company. Circumventing the late pay policy was only part of it; negotiating services, rights, etc. became a much more viable proposition when dealing with me.

WSK did eventually become aware that I was, in his eyes, “kid-glovin’” certain transactions, but things ran well on my watch, so he tolerated my “weakness.” Often enough he accepted my explanation that some late pays might be advantageous, but if they killed off our contractor/subcontractor infrastructure, they were counter productive.

That was over twenty years ago. When I went to work for WSK, people still thought in terms of getting a job with Acme, Inc. and staying there for the rest of their working lives, or at least retiring from that company. That all changed in the 1980s.

I can’t really say if that thought, oh so long ago, was a bubbling up in my awareness of some inherent sense of fair play, or perhaps the early stirrings of the awareness that nobody besides WSK was really on his team. One way or another, the last couple of days have had me renewing acquaintance with many, many folks upon whom my livelihood has been dependent, and made me so glad that I paused to reflect before making that phone call.

So, how about you? Have you found yourself in the position of being somewhat compelled to hard trade on some employer’s behalf? Were you able to do anything about it?

You use the word “hard trading” for business practices that would sound incredibly obnoxious, if I was a supplier, vendor or service provider. How did this “hard trading” company stay in business if it kept abusing the people that dealt with it? Is it just par for the oil business to jerk vendors around? Just curious.

No two ways about it, pal, ol’ WSK had a reputation as one of the blackest of the blackhearts. I’d like to think my post revelation efforts ameliorated his effect on various businesses to some degree.

One way or another, it did allow me to be percieved as a survivor of his cruel regime rather than an evil henchman when I finally left his employ.

I don’t think it’s any more par to jerk vendors around in the grease biz than it is in many other industries. But it certainly happens. I spent many years as a vendor, and there are big firms that I’ll absolutelly avoid forever - some of them have an ‘x’ or two in their name.

WSK didn’t actually, as a general practice, rip people off. He just brought so much more money to the party that he could hammer’em into a corner.

The known rascals I mentioned in my first paragraph were the scammers and rip-off artists. I’d guess they appear in other businesses, like commercial real estate, investment banking, etc., as well.

I was just wondering about those of us who rather innocently entered a professional career and came to realize that our flagship was flying some version of the Jolly Roger; and, then, how said souls might’ve dealt with it.

Many businesses work on the “my people will call your people” principle. The top managers, who have the ability to decide what other companies their company will deal with, are insulated from direct contact with those other companies. So the people who actually have to deal with the bastards do not have the power to say “you guys are jerks and we’re not going to work with you anymore.”

Commercial real estate? No way!! :eek:

Hmmm… well there is that large jar of Vaseline I have to keep handy when dealing with some investors.

[Snagglepuss voice]I’ve been rapiered! Touchéd even![/Snagglepuss voice]

I think this shows a lot of insight on your part. I think a fair percentage of hard-trading types actually don’t mind having a little good cop/ bad cop angle going on. They are comfortable in their bad cop persona, and if there is cooperation that needs to be done, they delegate the “make nice” aspect to their staff.

While you’re working for the bad guy, though, you do have an obligation to put his business interests ahead of your future career. For an obvious example, it wouldn’t be right to undercut prices and terms trying to buy your way into your next job. That doesn’t sound like what you were doing. It sounds like you were maximizing the effective good cop/ bad cop technique.


At one point I was working for a very charming, glib guy who tried to scam everyone. I was more naive that I thought - I thought it was just “hard trading” as you put it. Once I was elevated to a position where I was able to see what was actually going on, I was expected to participate. What a learning experience. I’m just lucky that I was never named in a law suit!