The new boss discovers that sometimes learning can be painful, especially when the BOFH is your teacher...

Year 1997 - Episode 36


Normally the appointment of someone to middle management is accompanied by all the pomp and ceremony you'd expect from the changing of a vacuum cleaner bag, but today things are different. This new boss is supposedly a cut above the rest because unlike those before him he has a university degree in management. So now we have a lean, keen and completely green boss on our hands.

His first green and keen move is to organise a meeting between himself and some global network providers to obtain a better bandwidth pricing system - a group of individuals who'd sell their own grandmothers for five quid. The boss is so far out of his depth he needs a diving bell.

To save him from the feeding frenzy (and the company from bankruptcy) I force my way onto the negotiation team. Judging by the voicemail I receive from the various players this isn't a popular move.

"Call me Alan," the new boss gushes as he meets with the various potential suppliers for the first time. He's obviously been on his share of huggy-feely team building weekends and believes that the informal approach will enhance negotiations.

If I had my way, we'd enhance negotiations by locking the suppliers in a room with several half bricks and only deal with the last one standing - a policy that's served me well in the past.

"The proposals all seem to be a little on the steep side," is the boss's opening gambit. He doesn't realise they're about 50 per cent more than we're paying now - what suppliers call the 'initial-shaft' position.

"Well that is with increased bandwidth potential," one responds.

"You mean it's exactly what we've got now, except it has more potential?" I reinterpret for the boss's benefit.

"Potential for growth without extra carrier installation, yes."

"And as we already have over-spec carriers installed it means we'd be paying 50 per cent more for no reason?"

"Potential does cost money," another supplier chips in. "And I believe that our plan provides the maximum potential."

"While still actually delivering nothing extra..." I add.

The meeting goes on like this for a while with the boss doing his horse-trader act, fooling no-one. Eventually he manages to think up the final offer masterstroke.

"Well what can we get for this?" The boss asks, being sneaky and writing down a figure which is about 40 per cent of our networking budget.

"I'll give my grandmother a call," one of the supplier responds, reaching for his cellphone.

From then on it goes downhill. At the end of a couple of hours of negotiation the boss is a broken man and liable to replace our current bandwidth with a bank of 300 baud modems via some BT-call boxes.

Strategically, I call for a lunchbreak, and get the boss out of harm's way as quickly as possible.

"It's all quite technical isn't it?" He blurts once we're out of earshot.

"It's a snowjob!" I reply and proceed to educate him on the ins and outs of price fixing - apparently a topic that isn't covered under the Bachelor of Parochial Management Degree. I bring him back to the comms room so the PFY can back me up.

Our comments fall on deaf ears.

"But I'm sure they know what they're talking about," he mumbles naively. "After all, they've been in the business for a long time."

"Because they take advantage of managers," I respond. "Honestly, you can't believe anything anyone tells you in this business."

"That's a terribly cynical attitude," he responds, as expected.

Looks like it's time for Plan B.

"Well it'll cost a fortune to upgrade the potential of our comms risers."

"Why?"

"I think it's best if the PFY shows you the problem we're talking about."

Ten minutes, a scream, and a plummet of one floor later, I'm flying solo in the negotiation processes as yet another boss fails to check that the grating is securely in place on the 'floor' of the comms riser.

Oh dear.

"Gentlemen," I begin upon returning to the boardroom. "Due to a workplace accident Alan is unable to be with us for the rest of the negotiations, which puts me in the position of having to make a decision about our next sole global-network provider. I feel it is best that you come to an agreement among yourselves as to who that sole provider will be while I wait outside for your decision. Oh, you'll find the bricks at your feet under the table."

Sometimes you've got to pay a little extra for customer satisfaction.