Whining, dining with Dr. Death
I was meeting my
friend Simpson for lunch.
"Iíll be back round 1:45,"
I announced to Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, as I headed out the
office door. She looked up from her reports and eyed me suspiciously.
"Are you having lunch with Simpson
"So donít bother coming
back," she said, returning to her work.
I was aware of her concerns. Simpson
was in a similar business and he had a tendency to dwell on negatives.
Quite often I had returned to the office after one of our lunches and been
surprised to see we were still open and operating. He had that effect on
He wasnít unusual. Privately, most
business leaders practice the art of whining. It keeps them on their toes,
protects against the evils of over-confidence. When the media come
calling, the show begins Ė never display a weakness, be positive.
Simpson, who was still waiting for his
first media contact, had no need for the show. He simply spent his days
planning for success but dreading what he sees as his inevitable failure
"Well, Simpson," I exulted as
I sat at his table in the restaurant. "Howís it going?"
Wrong question. He ignored me.
"Youíre buying. Iím
"What do you mean youíre broke?
You were just telling me about the $5,000 you spent on that entertainment
center for your home."
Simpson managed a pitiful chuckle.
"Thatís right. When all is gone
and I hit the streets, Iíll be the only bum in the Tenderloin caring a
35-inch television set on his shopping cart. That cheers me up."
"Business that bad?" I asked.
His moaning turned heads in the
restaurant. "This is it," he said for the thousandth time in the
years Iíve known him. "Weíre all in big trouble. Look at this
He motioned to a slew of empty tables.
"It used to be impossible to get a
reservation here. Theyíre dying, just like the rest of us."
"What do you think the problem
is?" Wrong question.
By the time he was finished, lunch was
over and I had sunk down to his level. The country was in a shambles, the
international market was a joke, and the forecast for the future was doom
and gloom. We agreed to sell everything, but who would buy?
Doctor Death, as I have come to fondly
call Simpson, had performed his magic once again.
Since in my mind I was now just as
broke, we split the tab. The waiter was the big loser in the conversation,
since neither of us could any longer afford a big tip. We got up to leave
and ran into the proprietor of the restaurant. Having eaten there for
years, we knew her well. We also knew her business was suffering.
Nevertheless, we felt obliged to ask.
It was a ritual, performed at every opportunity by struggling business
people. You ask the question and pray for a negative response. She did not
"OK" she replied. "Not
bad." Analysis: Pathetic. Lucky if she gets through the week.
"Is it picking up?" asked
Simpson, sensing blood.
"Oh, yes, I think so."
Analysis: No way.
We said goodbye and walked outside,
feeling much better about the world. It was a good restaurant and the
proprietor was a fine person and deep down inside we both hoped she would
pull out of her tailspin and return to her glory days.
Thatís not what made us feel better,
though. It was that silent camaraderie among business people in distress.
And the camaraderie is heightened when another businessperson is in more
distress than you.
While there is genuine sadness and
concern for your compatriotís misfortunes, there is also an undeniable
sense of self-worth in knowing that, so far, youíre a survivor.
Suddenly, Simpsonís problems (and the
ones he envisioned for me) seemed inconsequential. We may indeed go under
some day, as Simpson continues to predict, but we wonít be next.