The Crash: Chapter Ten
Last week in The Crash the receptionist, Donna, had some bad news. This week the new Engineering Manager, Brad, gets his first major challenge: winning over Harry Jepson, a longstanding customer who's set to go elsewhere due to problems with the car parts Jason's company has been supplying him. But winning over the customer is only half the battle...
"Nice lunch. Thanks. Good to meet you." Harry smiled and held out his hand to Brad.
His handshake was firm and he smiled as if the common phrase was more than just a pleasantry. It was easy to see why he'd been such a success in business over the years.
Brad shook hands with Damian too and promised to be in touch about the proposed changes to the pressing process.
Jason hadn't exactly agreed that the changes would be made, but Brad was confident that once Jason saw how the benefits of adjusting the process played out, he'd be happy to authorise what Brad was suggesting. After all, like all business owners, he was in it for the bottom line.
Once Harry and Damian had driven off, Jason turned to Brad.
"Come into the meeting room," he said.
Brad followed him back inside, and noticed that Gaby was on the reception desk. Presumably Donna was taking her lunch.
Once in the meeting room, Brad sat down opposite Jason.
"How did you think the meeting went?" Jason asked.
"Well. They're not cancelling the order yet, and won't if we can get the changes made at the right price, which I'm confident we can."
"And you told the customer this before we'd confirmed it for ourselves?"
Brad didn't know why Jason had phrased it as a question, since he'd heard Brad say the words himself.
"Of course. If I hadn't, they'd have gone elsewhere immediately and we'd have had to waste time and money winning them back."
"And you didn't give any thought to what would happen if we couldn't make the changes? We'll look like right fools."
Brad thought, but didn't say, 'you looked like a right fool anyway.' That was unkind and largely untrue. He only wanted to say it because he was so cross with Jason for not appreciating his effort to win back a customer who was being lost through no fault of his own, since the problem had arisen long before Brad set eyes on Triple J Auto Parts. He was beginning to regret letting Gaby talk him into taking the job. Sure, he liked a challenge, but there was a difference between taking on a challenge and aiming for a miracle, and it would take a miracle to turn Triple J Auto Parts into a halfway decent company as long as Jason was at the helm. As long as the economy had been booming, JJ had been able to succeed on its coat-tails, but when it came to making your way against the tide, you needed good products, sound business sense, and great management skills, and right now Jason seemed to be coming up short on all fronts.
What Brad actually said was, "We didn't commit to making the changes, only said we'd look into it. If we look into it and find we can't do it, what have we lost?"
He was impressed at how reasonable he'd managed to sound in the face of Jason's wholly irrational anger.
"We've lost our top customer."
"We'd have lost him anyway."
"Maybe not," Jason said, without any great conviction. "We go back a long way."
"And you can go forward a long way once we make these changes."
"If we make these changes."
The conversation was rapidly taking on the aspect of an endless circle. Brad wondered how long the two of them could go on arguing backwards and forwards, getting progressively more heated, if one of them didn't do something to change the tone of the dialogue.
"Let's look at how they'd work," Brad suggested, pulling one of the scratch pads on the boardroom table towards him, and grabbing a pen from the pot in the middle of the table. All the pens were decorated with the company's distinctive red 'Triple J' logo.
"Look," Brad went on, before Jason could argue with him, "we make these three components for Jepsons." He sketched rapidly and three diagrams appeared.
"If we made these parts from the same steel we do currently..." He marked two sections of one part and one section of the second part with arrows from the left and added the label, 'basic'. "...And these parts from premium steel..." He marked the remaining parts with arrows from the right and the label, 'premium'. "...Then we'd be placing half the size orders for basic and premium steel, so they'd both still be at bulk rates, and it'd only add a small amount to the per-unit cost."
"A small amount that we can't afford," said Jason, who seemed determined not to be won over at any cost.
"I haven't finished yet," Brad pointed out.
"I'm all ears."
Brad ignored Jason’s sarcasm and continued drawing, this time boxing off two sections of the more complex parts that were made from premium steel.
"If we changed the process for these parts..." Brad indicated the sections he'd just boxed off, "... so we pressed both parts from the same sheet instead of separately, we could get more from the same number of sheets, and that would absorb part of the additional cost. Then, because we're using premium steel, we can raise the forging temperature by a few degrees, which would also reduce the number of failures, so overall we'd get more per batch. The savings from that would wipe out the rest of the additional costs."
"But it would cost more in fuel."
"Negligible. The cost per unit would fall well within the price bracket that Jenner's have already indicated they'd be happy to pay."
Brad was pleased that he'd managed to produce a clinching argument. There was no way Jason could object to something that allowed Triple J Auto Parts to produce the products Jepsons wanted, at the price Jepsons wanted, with just a few tweaks to their existing machine settings and a single change to their purchasing policy. With that one innovation, Brad had already paid his first three months' salary.
For a few seconds, visions of enhanced Christmas bonuses, promotions and pay swam before him. Then reality reasserted itself. Jason did not look happy. He was looking at Brad's drawings as if expecting them to jump up and bite him, or perhaps to make off with a month's profits.
"How long will it take to get this set up?"
"Maybe a week or two." They were into practical process decisions now, which was usually a good sign. When a customer started talking 'when' instead of 'whether', you mentally prepared the order sheet for signing.
Jason hadn't given up with the objections yet, though.
"What are we meant to do in the meantime?" he demanded, still looking daggers at the drawings.
"Keep on as we are, I suppose. It's better than nothing. We could always give Jepsons a temporary discount to reflect the higher failure rate. It's still a lot cheaper than actually losing the order."
"Heaven help any business you ever run. What would happen if we gave everybody discounts that put our takings below cost price?"
"We're not giving it to everyone. And it's only for a few weeks, to avoid the far bigger cost of lost business, and potential lawsuits." Brad found himself frowning and chewing the end of his pen. This conversation wasn't going as planned. Jason was supposed to be pleased that Brad was solving his problems for him. Instead, he seemed to be furious, and determined to make implementing Brad's solution as difficult as possible.
"We shouldn't be having to spend money, just to keep out of trouble that we shouldn't have been in to start with."
"I agree," Brad snapped, losing patience and almost biting through his biro in his attempt to keep his temper under control. "But you will observe that I wasn't here when the decisions were made that created this situation. You were." Brad knew he was sailing dangerously close to the wind, but hey, there were limits, and Jason seemed to be set on overstepping them. Brad had found this job, and he could find another one.
"I wasn't Engineering Manager." Jason was on the defensive now. Not to mention verging on purple with rage.
"No, you were Managing Director. Which gives you overall responsibility for any decisions taken under your authority. And I find it hard to believe that you just left the old Engineering Manager alone to do his job, given how difficult you're making it for me to do mine."
The two men stared at each other, and the energy between them seemed to have turned into an almost tangible thing.
Finally Jason took a deep breath and indicated the drawings on the table.
"What do you need to make this happen?"
In turn, Brad let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding.
"Authority to change half the steel supply to premium grade, and about two hours downtime to retune the machines."
"OK, do it." Brad was impressed to see Jason demonstrating the decisiveness that had made him so successful in spite of his prickly nature. "We'll trial it for a fortnight."
And Brad would have to be content with that, because it was clear that Jason would neither apologise nor admit he'd made a mistake in blocking the changes. Now that he'd agreed to them, Brad was supposed to pretend that he thought Jason had been with him all along.
"No problem," Brad smiled, but inwardly he was seething, and it was a relief to get out of the cold, tense boardroom and walk through the factory floor to the production office, where he'd start getting the changes under way without the interference of his arrogant, controlling boss.