It began as a small, family operated import company in the 1920’s. They brought olives and olive oil from the old country. Their first location was a small store front in New York City’s Little Italy. They survived the Great Depression. After World War II, they, like much of the country, flourished. But company seemed to flourish more than others. They were making money…a lot of it. And everyone knew it. A growing company means more employees. A family-owned business could mean a lack of expertise in certain fields. They were a company in need of a first-class training program to keep them on their upward trajectory of growth. It was a ripe opportunity ready to be picked by me…Fred Siegel; Training Consultant. All I needed was to give them my pitch, and I’d be set.
Oddly, they didn’t have a website, or even listed phone number. After greasing a few palms around town, somebody slipped me a number. I called. I asked for HR. But the gruff male voice that answered doesn’t put me through. I keep trying. The same guy always answers. Most times he hangs up on me. Sometimes he puts me on hold, where I listen to god awful muzak and an odd occasional clicking until the line eventually goes dead. I finally realize the phone is not going to do it…it’s going to have to be in person.
I drive to the company, still in the section of Little Italy. Parking is a pain as there are so many black sedans and panel vans everywhere. When I do get to the building, the store seems deserted. I look through the glass…nothing. I notice next door is their warehouse. It’s the middle of the day, so must be traffic in and out of there, so I waltz over. Again, emptiness. I check my calendar…it’s not a holiday. I vow to try again.
Day after day I try. Storefront empty. Warehouse empty. Every day I’m checking, knocking on door, with no success. The routine is interrupted only once when I see men in one of the ubiquitous black sedans taking my picture. Figuring they’re tourists I walk over to them and offer take their picture. They quickly pull away. New York…it’s a funny place.
At another dead end, I go back to my network. Greasing more palms, I finally get a name of the founder and president…Mr. Corleone. I don’t have a first name, but I hear others refer to him as Don. Through a friend of a friend, I get a phone number. I call. Over the obnoxious clicking sounds I hear his exclaim he doesn’t talk business on the phone. But he hangs up before we can set a meeting. I try again the next day, but the number’s disconnected.
I begin to think this training gig would never happen, when fate stepped in. A friend of my friend’s friend tells me that Mr. Coreleone’s daughter is getting married. The news doesn’t excite me much until he instructs me on the customs and courtesies of this particular family. Turns out it’s their tradition that the head of the household grants favors to those who petition him. It supposedly ensures a blissful marriage.
For the next three months I bus tables, wash dishes, and take out trash. While the money I’m making is more than I earn as a consultant as of late (and free leftovers!), that’s not why I’m doing it. You see, I got a job at the catering company that will be doing the Corleone wedding. I finagle a spot on the crew for the big day; third assistant glass dryer to the master dishwasher.
Under my white catering uniform I have on my blue pinstripe suit with a red power tie. It’s a bit bulky but I manage. During the set up I get a lay of the house…or should I say mansion. It’s a huge manor set behind high stone walls on Long Island. Everything is set.
As the wedding party arrives, nobody notices me slipping away and taking off my uniform. I’m now just another guest effortlessly mingling with the guests. I spot the man I assume to be Mr. Corleone. He’s elderly, but he carries himself with and air of dignity and confidence. After a series of toasts I see him retreat to his library. Men follow him. I follow the men.
He’s holding court. I mill about in the hallway with some others. I bide my time. Finally a man ushers me into the room. I screw on my best “sales” face. He offers me his hand, the large signet ring glinting in the light. I grab it, pump it furiously, and exclaim “Donny!”
Hulking men begin to close in on me, and I don’t notice the slight hand gesture from Mr. Corleone that waves them off.
“Who are you? What may I do for you on this day of celebration?” he asks in a low raspy voice.
“Donny, it’s me…Fred! We talked on the phone a while back. And it’s not a matter of what you can do for me…it’s what I can do for you!” He gives me a quizzical look.
“You come to me on the day of my daughter’s wedding and, unlike others, you don’t ask for my help? Instead you offer your services to me? I am intrigued…please…continue.” He gives me my opening and I take it.
“Donny, you’ve got a growing company, more business, which means more employees. And what challenges does that present to you?” I give a it a beat, but don’t wait for an answer, “TRAINING!”
“Training?” he repeats softly.
“Yes sir. Training, starting with a capital ‘T’ which rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for PRODUCTIVITY!” I say in my best sing-song voice. “ New drivers get up to speed quicker with formal courses. Less mistakes are made with invoices. And don’t even get me started on reduced accidents. I imagine the olive oil business must have it’s share of dangers.” The group of large men in the library gives a slight chuckle.
“Yes…yes…” Mr. Corleone contemplates, “I can see some areas that you may help my family. Be at the warehouse tomorrow afternoon at three.”
“Yes sir! I’m looking forward to fulfilling your training needs, and I guarantee you, it’s going to be a offer you can’t refuse.”
“An offer I can’t refuse?” Mr. Corleone repeats gently laughing….”An offer I can’t refuse…I’m going to have to use that line…” he chuckles softly as I’m escorted out..
Next: Landing the Gig, Part II: Training the Family – Published on November 17th, 2020.
Craig Plain has been watching too many movies during the pandemic and it’s obviously influencing his writing. To read more of Craig’s writing his work facilitating and training process improvement events, check out his blog at “A Facilitator’s Blog” at https://www.afacilitatorsblog.com/
Craig “Doc” Plain, Ph.D. is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, an award-winning Speaker, a Shingo Prize Winner, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, and tenacious practitioner of magic. Doc has over 20 years of process improvement experience. Additionally, he has been involved in training development and delivery at Fortune 50 companies, the military, and several universities. Doc’s dissertation was on the impact implementing process improvement programs has on the social capital of an organization, such as training. Craig was the Air Forces first Instructor for their Black Belt program. He has also been guest lecturer at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Purdue University. Doc has presented conferences for International Society for Process Improvement (ISPI), Academy of Human Research Development (AHRD), and American Society for Quality (ASQ). Doc is capturing various stories of facilitating and training at “A Facilitator’s Blog.” (https://www.afacilitatorsblog.com/)