How Dale Carnegie Tenet “Let The Other Person Save Face” Earned Me An Exceptional Year End-Bonus
Late one evening at home the telephone rang. “Mr. De Rycker, this is Robert Lowe. I have dined this evening with Harold Naideau, the European president of AVON Products. Avon banks with our Westminster branch in England. He is looking for a general manager to start an Avon operation in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. I have recommended you. He will be in touch with you tomorrow. Please keep me informed.”
This call was manna from heaven. After six years of increasing profit contributions to the Gimbel group, and increasing income rewards, an ominous threat had appeared on the horizon. It was rumored in the market that De Poorter, a Belgian wall-to-wall carpet manufacturer had plans to open a sales office in New York. The Gimbel carpet department had regularly placed substantial orders with De Poorter. It was to be feared, if this rumor was verified, that the Gimbel buyer would henceforth place orders directly in New York. This would render our role in Belgium redundant.
To make matters worse , a rumor was next picked up in Holland. Our main bicycle manufacturer had similar plans to operate a New York sales office. Were we to lose these two manufacturers’ business, our profit contribution to the parent group would be severely hurt. No amount of pro-active marketing could offset such a gash in our flanks. I had been mulling over this problem for some weeks, and could not come up with a suitable solution to counter this menace. A declining profit contribution to the Gimbel group would inevitably result in a static income. Not an acceptable prospect. The unexpected call from Robert Lowe announcing a possible new position opportunity could not have been more fortuitous.
I met Mr. Naideau the following afternoon in the Hotel Amigo foyer. He was the most positively minded and energetic man I have ever met. In the half-full-half-empty-bottle story, for him the half-empty bottle did not even exist. He started by saying that Avon was the biggest cosmetic company in the world and specialized in direct selling to the consumer. I do not recollect the global sales he mentioned. Today it is five billion dollars. He had started an operation in the U.K., specifically Northampton, two years earlier, including manufacturing. His board of directors in New York had authorized him to start the preliminaries to embark on a Benelux operation. His first step was to appoint the future general manager. He needed a young man with a personality suitable to the Avon motivational philosophy.
Apparently the evening before, Mr. Robert Lowe had highly recommended me. My first white collar job was offered to me by Mr. Lowe when I left the army. I later resigned to move to the American Embassy, but he continued to show interest in my career.I laid out the highlights of my career story to Mr. Naideau, and my previous encounters with Messrs. Adam Gimbel and Stanley Marcus, and laid emphasis on our most recent theme marketing. He listened intently to the whole story without interrupting. When I was finished, he continued saying “Now let me tell you the story of Avon.”
I deduced this was a good sign. He took me through an annual report, sales brochures, a product catalog, and pictures of the offices in New York and in Northampton. I was impressed. He explained that the Avon ladies contact their customers, selling primarily via the use of sales brochures for each sales campaign. While the sales campaigns are generally of a two-week duration in the United States, Europe, specifically Belgium and Holland , would have three week campaigns. The sales ladies buy products directly from Avon and sell them to the end user, under a status of independant contractor. He further set out the sales organisation structure; one sales lady to a territory of two hundred and fifty families; one hundred and fifty territories to a zone managed by a zone manager; twenty -five zones to a division, managed by a division manager; all division managers reporting to a national sales manager; in turn reporting to a sales and marketing director. The Avon Corporation and the general manager’s position obviously had dimension. This was marketing at its best. My enthusiasm showed.
Mr.Naideau then went on to say that the candidate retained would be trained in the U.K. operation as a divisional manager. He explained that the division manager’s position was the stepping stone to a general manager’s position, and later to a staff position at New York headquarters. He emphasized that in view of the fact that the training would last six months or so, the company was of the opinion that my wife would need to accompany me. He closed and invited me to breakfast the next morning, so giving me the opportunity to talk things over at home.
That night we burned the midnight oil. Georgette, my wife, and I were enthused. This was an exceptional opportunity. Based on the numbers Mr. Naideau had quoted, i.e. 20.000 sales ladies potential in Belgium alone, and the forecasted average order per sales lady, Belgium had a $ 25 million sales revenues potential. Adding Holland, we were talking about a $ 50 million sales revenues market. This was a giant leap forward from Gimbel. The next morning I told Harold Naideau that my wife and I were thrilled at the prospects, and at my second croissant, he appointed me there and then as the future general manager of Avon Benelux. I would start at $ 30.000 annual and move to $ 50.000 when starting the Belgian company. I was thirty-two.
The envisaged 6 months training in England streched to three years, performing as a division manager. The board of directors in New York took their time to approve moving forward in the Benelux. During those three years, I was given the opportunity to manage all divisions from the lush and green South of England, through the London Metropolis, upwards to the Textile Belt of Lancashire , then up to the Roman’s impenetrable North. Up in Glasgow, I had just taken over the Scotland division and started a new training course for 40 zone manager. One of my trainee division managers Jim Smith had been asked to set up the meeting room arrangement. Jim had set up a long table seating twenty-five and twenty-four on each side. As I started to speak , I realized that those sitting at the end seemed miles away. It was not a good setup. I started my standard opening script. I had done so a number of times already and I was each time able to connect with each and every one of the zone managers. Yet, no one moved. Not an eyelid flickered. The atmosphere was heavy, hostile. Forty- nine dour looking ladies were summing me up. Several minutes into my speech, I realized something must be teribbly wrong. I put my speech papers aside, and said, “Ladies, let’s start all over again. You tell me what’s on your mind”. Then all hell broke loose. In spite of repeated calls to Northampton H.Q’s over a long period of time, the zone managers did not receive their sales literature; salaries came in late; approvals lacked for car repair, etc. They were exasperated and fed up.It was time to move in. I had a telephone brought in and called the general manager Jim Michaelsen. I told him I needed an open line for a couple of hours with several department managers to clear the deck on these overwhelming number of complaints. He agreed immediately, and Jim and I went around the table taking each complaint at a time. If I had chosen for the option, “I’ll take care of it when I’m back in Northampton” I would have lost credibility right there and then. Taking immediate action saved the day. By that evening I was accepted as their new leader and I never had a more responsive group of zone managers . When they committed to a goal, they delivered.
The next morning we all received our “Campaign 10″ literature. The first thing an Avon employee does is to flip through the campaign sales brochure. One after the other the zone managers started laughing. Campaign 10 is tradionally a men’s products campaign with special offers and new product introductions. The sales brochure had a double spread on men’s products. Obviously two different copywriters had written the text. The title on the left page read, “For Men” ; the title on the other page read, ” For Gentlemen.” Hilarity prevailed. It washed away all the remaining stress of the preceding day.
Jim Michaelson called back the next day and announed his visit for the following week. I had just started the presentation “The Story of Avon” when he arrived. He waved and sat at the back row. At the end of the afternoon he seemed very pleased, beaming with pleasure, and invited the division manager trainees and me to dinner that evening. He had retained a real classy place and we had a great evening with him. He knew how to create ‘détente’ and also how to motivate men. At coffee time and after dinner drinks, he said that he had an announcement to make. He said , “Ray, you have been with us now for two and a half years and I’m of the opinion _ and so is Peter _ that you are ready for the general manager’s position in Belgium.” He raised his drink and so did the assistants and said simply, “Congratulations.” It was a great moment in my life. I recall every detail. Prior to starting the Benelux operation, Harold Naideau called me to New York to work on a detailed action plan, and at one point told me that the Chairman of the Board wanted to have lunch with me at his Golf Club. It was a hamburger lunch, nothing fancy. But as Jim Michaelson he was able to motivate men. He told me that he would stay close to Belgian progress and when I would reach 5.000 sales ladies in Belgium, he would visit with me. Throughout the next two years I often thought of his promise, and asked myself whether he would remember to come.
At 5.000 sales ladies, true to promise, the Chairman announced a courtesy visit with his wife. Via my mentor Senator Emile De Winter _ who had been instrumental in getting Avon started _ I asked that a gala dinner be organised in “Le Cygne” on the Grand Place in Brussels, inviting the relevant Ministers who had contributed to facilitating the start of the company and their wives, the Chairman of Morgan Trust and his ‘entourage’ and wives, and other V.I.P.S. and celebrities . I had my management team rack their brains to identify a suitable gift for the Chairman and his wife, to mark the occasion during a afternoon Avon happening at their Hotel Amigo ‘s Salons, in presence of my entire management staff and their wives.. The standard gifts surfaced first, diamond studded cufflinks, or a engraved crystal Val St.Lambert ashtray. Then someone mentioned Toone. Toone, a Brussels art establishment man, runs a small theater operating Chevalier dolls. Chevaliers are knights from the middle ages, similar to the three musketeers, and each goes a long way back in time. The idea on the table was to ask Toone to sell us a Chevalier; dress him up with new Brussels lace sleeves and collar, and display him in a wooden case resembling a miniature theatre. The idea appealed to me instantly; it was creative and appropriate; the Chevaliers had their roots in Belgian history. We gave the assignment to our advertising agency and they did a fabulous job of freshening up the dusty and rusty looking original, and the miniature theatre box looked just great. By opening tho doors like in a horse stable this gave a clear full visual of the Chevalier hanging inside. Furthermore, Toone had written a text in English congratulating the Chairman, and telling him the history of the Chevaliers over the last couple of centuries. The text was written on parchment and carried the Brussels Town Hall red waxed seal. Ten minutes before Mr. and Mrs. Chairman entered the room, the advertising manager Bob A. sauntered up to me and whispered, ” Are you really going to do it ?” Puzzled, I asked why. He hissed “It looks like a coffin” I looked around and the quickly averted eyes of my executives indicated that he had already spread his
his poison. I felt a tugging sensation in the pit of my guts. I thought, perhaps he is right; it does look like a coffin. It was a stupid thing to say particularly at that moment. Five minutes before giving a speech to your Chairman in the presence of his wife and the entire executive team, you need that kind of remark as a hole in your head. The saying “The buck stops here” applied. I had no option but to go through with it. If Bob A. had been loyal and sincere, he would have proposed me an alternative to save face. It is not unlikely that Dale Carnegie there and then wrote his tenet: ” Let the other person save face.” My speech focused on Belgium, some of its history, and how Toone and his Chevaliers symbolized the character traits of the Belgians. I injected all the emotion into the speech that I could muster. The Chairman looked moved; his wife had a tear in her eyes. It was a great moment. He responded saying he would cherish this unique gift, place it in his drawing room, and have all his children and their children pay their respects at each visit to his house. Harold Naidea later confirmed that our gift was prominently placed in the Chairman’s living room, and all guests, family or business friends were told the Toone story. Prior to retiring to their room, the Chairman and his wife sought assurance that I would be seated next to them at the Gala Dinner that evening.
The Gala Dinner was planned at the restaurant ‘Le Cygne’ in Brussels on the Grand-Place. The Avon American delegation was substantial, the Chairman and his wife and the International President Hays Clark and his wife. In addition the Belgian Who’s Who was equally substantial: three ministers, a string of senators, the Morgan Trust executive, the American Chamber of Commerce executive and my mentor Senator De Winter and his lady friend, and my wife. The cocktail lounge connected to the restaurant; so while enjoying our drinks and conversation, we could see the impressive table layout that awaited us. I caught sight of the Chairman’s wife, petite and beautiful. I admired her poise. She was the epitome of elegance in a charcoal colored Channel suit, and she was nursing a full dry martini. Some time later, I again saw her across the lounge, sipping what was obviously a new full dry martini. A warning bell sounded in my brain. As host, I needed to be attentive to all details and a flawless evening. But I was too late. When the signal came that we could move to the restaurant, I took her arm to conduct her to my right side at the table. Immediately I was aware that she had passed the point of no return; a slight stagger; slurred speech, a panic look in her eyes; in addition, the Chairman’s anguished face.I took a firm grip on her arm and seated her.
As planned, the maître d’ hovered close to my chair. I said low key, slowly and clearly, “Please, bring us a dish of pitted olives, right away, thank you.” As I sat down she clasped my right wrist with her left hand and it was as if a steel claw held my arm. Nothing in the general manager’s training book tells what to do in such a situation, so I did nothing. I did not move my arm. Obviously she needed to hold on to something firm. Within seconds the entire table was aware of the situation and immediately the conversations focused on the happening. Like a mentalist I had learned to size up a person in seconds and assume countenance that would put instantly at ease, speaking with understanding and taking a sympathetic stance. I offered her olives and she took a couple. I continued talking to her, never losing eye contact. I talked about positive issues, and offered more olives. She did not release her clasp on my wrist; more olives. As the meal service started, it was obvious that the maître d’ had seen my predicament, and all my plate contents had been cut in small pieces so I could eat with my left hand fork only. Her plate was identical _ very small portions and cut in small pieces. All through the meal our lock-in must have been the main subject of conversation, but _ more important, I guided her through the crisis. By coffee time, she released her grip, patted my arm and smiled. We had a face saving situation.The Chairman looked pleased and relieved. I could give my speech standing. So engrossed by the events of the afternoon and evening, when driving home late in the night I recall asking my wife, “What did we eat tonight ?”
Come Christmas time, the Chairman himself sent me my year-end bonus. It was exceptionally genereous. A small card was clipped to the check reading simply: ”Raymond, Thank you.”
The legendary French aviation pioneer and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote : “Hurting a man or woman in their diginty is a crime”
During the entire “Cygne” happening, I was totally mindful of Dale Carnegie’s tenet: “Let the Other Person Save Face” and have attempted to apply the tenet on a sustained basis.