So I’m the new sales guy at Varian Associates making my first sales trip to visit the DSS (Department of Supply and Services) in Ottawa. In those years the section of the DSS that I visited was in some second world war temporary buildings in Ottawa, I seem to recall these buildings were on Wellington Street.
Later in the decade, perhaps in the eighties DSS moved to Hull. I was to visit a curmudgeon who knew everything about electron tubes and his name was Treve. No one ever knew that Trev whose proper name was Trevethan had a first name. It was not until he died many years later that in his obituary, I learned his first name was Basil. Shirley you can understand why he did not share his name with everyone.
I digress, this story is about selling in the seventies. The building I was visiting was a three-storey “temporary” building from the forties which had housed a part of the Canadian military during WWII. The building was well maintained but certainly did not fit into the modern world of the seventies. The lobby was a little dark with a couch, a couple of chairs and a low table like a coffee table. The waiting area was perhaps 20 feet from the front door and perhaps an equal number of feet from the receptionist that guarded the hallowed hall where the DSS buyers roasted young salesmen.
Trev, the guy I was to meet was a legend. If you were to sell electron tubes to the Canadian Government then you had to sell them to Trevethan. In the lobby were a couple of other guys, much older than me. By looking at the tags on their brief cases I determined they were seasoned veterans from a couple of Varian’s competitors. To be honest I don’t remember which companies they were from, could have been RCA, GE, Westinghouse, Raytheon or one of many other tube companies still thriving in the seventies.
I was the new guy and had never visited the hallowed hall before. One of the two guys was summoned to Trev’s office leaving me and the sales guy from Raytheon and we never spoke. The guy from Raytheon spoke up and asked me to watch his briefcase while he went to the bathroom. I’ll call him Bob which I recall was his name. I diligently watched his briefcase. Bob I would guess was in his sixties and had been selling electron tubes for decades longer than me.
Entering the front door was a well dressed guy, also in his sixties from another tube company. This entrance was solely for the people meeting with section of DSS dealing with elecronic components and back then electron tubes were expensive, replaceable components used in many radars and communication systems used by the military. Oh how times change!
OK so the guy is entering the door and he sees me, the young whippersnapper from Varian and he looks at the briefcase on the table, remember the one that I was watching. He looks at the tag and says “Where’s Bob?” I told him that Bob was in the bathroom. The newcomer looked at me and said “Can you keep a secret?” and I seem to remember saying “I guess so.” He then grabbed Bob’s briefcase and dashed out the front door, I immediately followed as I was supposed to be watching that briefcase and I see the visitor put the briefcase on the snow covered ground and then proceed to fill it with snow. I just watched incredulously.
We returned to the waiting area and the newcomer simply placed the briefcase back on the low table and left the building. So there I was sitting on the couch behind this low table with the briefcase that I was watching filled with snow feeling somewhat strange. I really did not want to be there when Bob got back, I hoped against hope that I would be summoned to my meeting with Trevethan before Bob returned.
No such luck!
Bob returns and notices immediately that his briefcase had been disturbed and was wet. He opened it, looked at me and asked “Was Jim here?” I nodded and he simply said “Sh*t!”
It turned out that these two guys from two competing tube companies had been playing practical jokes on each other for decades! I got to know each of them as we met at trade shows and conferences over the ensuing years. I was known as the guy who was not very good at watching briefcases.
I wonder if anything like that is going on today. I do doubt it? Do you have a similar tale?