The craziest thing I ever said to my boss, and didn’t get fired.
(this is an absolutely true story that happened to me about 15 years ago. Names changed for privacy concerns. Originally written on Quora, and now looking to reach some real people.)
This is going to sound ridiculous, but it happened. Apologies for the long story, But I am reliving this as I tell this and I still panic.
14 years ago, back when I was a 22 year old garment chemical salesman in a small company, I managed to win an account with a notoriously demanding French MNC. It was a reasonable account but was prestigious for our small company
. In the day of crowded, smelly sweatshops, their manufacturing plant had rolling landscaped lawns, outstanding work conditions for their uniformed workers and a demanding but fair management.
The plant head was this tall handsome Frenchman, Guillaume who would ask salesmen for the chemical formula for the products they sold. (I am a polymer engineer, and I knew enough to sound intelligent — He said to me “if your company had hired bright people like you earlier, we would have been a loyal client by now”.)
It was a fun visit — I got friendly with all the plant engineers and even ran into the Guillaume’s super glamorous wife, Louise — she looked ten feet tall to me — with high cheekbones and gorgeous clothes. I heard she handled the front end of merchandise and schmoozed with clients all over Europe. She looked the part for sure.
Anyways, two weeks after they started buying our product, I got a call from my GM — “Prameet, you have to run to Guillaume’s plant right now. He has a problem and he doesn’t want anyone else but you”.
I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or sentenced but I knew my job was on the line. I raced to the plant where the mood was grim. Guillaume came out to meet me holding yards of printed fabric “Your product has ruined an important shipment for me! this fabric stinks!” and by god, it did. It stank of a combination of rotten eggs and dying fish. “I have got a 100,000 units of this — “ “Is this the guy from that damn company?” Louise stormed in — cigarette dangling and as tall as a skyscraper “I am going to SUE you guys — I am losing 900,000 Euros on this shipment alone! Get out and fix this or you are not going to leave this plant.”
I made my way out to the massive shop floor — where all the equipment was shut and silent (The worst sight to see on a shopfloor) with yards of stinking fabric everywhere like some sort of horrible germ attack. The tech guys wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. I got them to start running the machines so I could tinker around. Was like a death row request.
I walked around the shop floor for the four loneliest hours of my life. Changing temperatures, chemical dosages and whatever else I could try. I must have looked a sight muttering to myself, looking under equipment runs, taking pH at different points. And the fabric line just kept humming. And stinking. It was late afternoon and it started to finally to get better, and the smell had come down to a mildly unpleasant odour instead of knocking you out. I still didn’t know what I got right, but at least something was working.
I met Guillaume and explained my theory and what I had done. He was a tech guy at heart, and in spite of himself he got interested in my abstract explanations of how polymers cross-link and some times don’t. I actually made it sound that it was because he was using a GOOD product that he had process issues and his tech guys and his equipment needed to be calibrated to it. In the state I was, I believed it myself.,
But he ended by saying “okay I understand this and think we can make it work from here. But Louise will kill me if don’t salvage what we have already made. The shipment has to leave tomorrow and it takes three days to make all this again”.
It was then that I said it — the six words that were either going to be genius or put me in prison.
“Put them out in the sun.”
He blinked at me. “Wot!”
I don’t know what made me say it — the green sunny lawns that I could see from the windows probably. But I knew it was the dumbest thing I could have said.
Promising a do-or-die simple solution instead of getting him to re-run the fabric with some satisfying changes in process or dosage — which may or may not have worked but at least would have looked intelligent — is tech support suicide.
I decided to push on and built a whole reasoning behind it and to my amazement, he agreed. The next half hour saw about 20 workers scurrying out with hundreds of yards of fabric and laying it end to end across the beautiful lawns. I stood there and supervised this ridiculous operation trying to look calm and cool and like this was an everyday thing but honestly I was in danger of collapsing from the panic I was feeling.
In the midst of all this, Louise came out and her eyes went wide in shock “what the fuck are you doing?” I began to splutter before Guillaume explained to her very quickly in French that I had a solution and was trying something that could just save them from their irate customer.
She looked like we were trying an African tribal ritual to save them. I guess it was a measure of her desperation that she didn’t throw me and Guillaume out (At this point, Guillaume was suffering from a version of the Stockholm syndrome — we were well beyond a client-salesman relationship now. We were saving the world together).
She shrugged “I don’t believe this. I don’t care — you have two hours to try whatever the fuck you want. After that I am calling your company management”and stormed back into her office.
There hasn’t been any other day where I willed the hot Indian sun to be as hot as it could get. I just sat there watching the fabric gleaming whitely in the sun. I didn’t have the guts to walk out and smell it to see if it was getting better. If a miracle was going to happen, I wasn’t about to review its progress every 20 minutes. Best to give God some time and space.
Guillaume couldn’t take the stress and skulked back to his office to read up a couple of chemistry books and smoke his pipe.
Two hours later, Louise walked out — “how is it looking?” I had no heart to say anything “why don’t you look for yourself?” trying to look as assured as I could.
She sent a woman scurrrying out to get a patch of the fabric. Guillaume walked out as the woman came back. My heart hammered like a dam as Louise snatched the fabric from her and sniffed it.
“Its still smelling!”
Guillaume took it from her and sniffed it deeply. Paused and broke into a broad smile “C’monnnn louise! its not!” and turned to me beaming. “You were right”.
I just shrugged. I might have looked calm or whatever but honestly I just couldn’t say anything. I just wanted to collapse. I took the fabric to smell it for myself but honestly I can’t say if I smelled anything or not. I had smelled a ton of fabric that day and my nasal sense was dead as a doornail.
All I could feel was relief and a feeling that I needed to get on my motorcycle and ride back before I passed out. I stopped at a pay phone on my way back and called my GM who was waiting for my call “It’s solved. No problem any more. They are ordering some more product” and went home and crashed for 12 straight hours.