Ethics and that Wavy Line
I recently sat on a panel where the subject was “Ethics in Parking.” Many of us woke up quite early after a late night in Las Vegas, where we were celebrating 20 years of PIE with our good and gifted friend, John Van Horn. We woke up to participate in a roundtable breakfast discussion on ethical boundaries in our parking world.
The gathering sparked my memory of an event that happened many years ago in my previous employment. I thought you might enjoy the true story. Of course, as always, the names are changed to protect the guilty.
I used to sell commercial air conditioning equipment as a Sales Engineer for Trane Air Conditioning for 24 years before co-founding the business that spawned ECO Parking Lights (those names have not been changed). Don’t think little furnaces and stuff like that. I was selling huge, expensive and technical products to major manufacturers and other large commercial users.
One of my clients used the company’s large “chillers” to make chilled water to cool their processes and their facilities. These were very expensive, and to sell them was a home run. Because of their value, my client chose to bid these over the Internet, through something called a reverse auction.
In a reverse auction, it’s exactly as it sounds: You start the bidding high and drop your price as you see fit. A typical auction drew four invited pre-qualified bidders. Each bidder would log in at a defined time to be welcomed by this company and asked to begin with an initial bid. The bids might take place over the time period of 30 minutes.
As a bidder, you would get to see the lowest current bid, but not who the bidder was. Whoever submitted the lowest price at the closing of the bid would be the ultimate successful bidder and get to provide the equipment.
I hated this process. Our product was superior to our competitors and, in my opinion, was a value added product that made winning an online auction rare. After a specific bid event one day, I had had enough of this unethical bidding practice.
I sent an email to the head purchasing agent and everyone else I could think of indicating how unethical their bid practices were, and that if it were such a great way for us to sell our products, why couldn’t I purchase their products in a like manner?
The email landed on deaf ears ... or so I thought.
A couple of weeks after sending the email, while sitting by the pool on a Florida vacation, I received a call on my cell from the purchasing agent’s personal assistant. She said, “Mr. Pinyot, would you be available for a meeting with Mr. Buyer next Wednesday at 2 PM at our corporate offices?” I quickly responded, “Yes, it would be my pleasure.”
Wednesday came and I ventured in to see Mr. Buyer. Clearing security, Mr. Buyer greeted me and escorted me to a reserved conference room. As we walked the halls, we chitchatted about people we both knew who worked there. He was delightful.
The instant we entered the room, Mr. Buyer slammed the door shut and opened up a tirade that was profoundly shocking. The other gentleman (who was already in the room waiting for us) never identified himself – must have been HR and there only to make sure that Mr. Buyer didn’t shoot me or something.
Suffice it to say, Mr. Buyer was furious. After calming down just enough for me to understand that his main language was, in fact, English and contained words in excess of four letters, he said, “What did you expect to gain from sending your email?”
Already knowing that I would never be able to sell him even a newspaper or a McDouble ever again, I said, “I got what I wanted.” He said, “I don’t understand, what did you want?” I said, “I’ve been trying to get you to meet with me for quite some time, and I could never get you to agree to meet. As you can see, I accomplished my goal.
“Now, I have a face-to-face opportunity to explain why your business practices are unethical.” I added: “To respond to me as you have only confirms my opinions and validates that I am correct.”
He stood their speechless. He was completely shut down. I added, “I purchase your products, and I’ve never required your company to reverse auction your products in a bidding war to get my business.”
I finished by saying, “I know that this meeting will never help me to get your business because it is outside your character to allow me to win work with you after this. Perhaps this meeting will lead you and the company to change your bidding practices and put a much needed end to this pathetic process.”
After we completed the meeting, he escorted me back to the entrance – in a trance. Mr. Buyer never bid another project through reverse auction again (and never purchased another chiller from me).
Jeff Pinyot is President, ECO Parking Lights/ECO Lighting Solutions. To comment, contact him at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 501-2892.