Monday, November 29, 2010

Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out: Part 17

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A couple of installments ago, I recalled that:
"A rage management problem, combined with a healthy streak of paranoia, had appeared in Clay (not his real name), our business development guy at CNET, as he became increasingly convinced, in spite of much evidence that I'm no business sharpie (I hadn't, for one thing, tried to get him to raise his offer) that we were using CNET's offer as a bargaining chip to get a better deal elsewhere. "If you're shopping our offer around, I need to tell you right now that this offer is off the table!!!" he screamed into the telephone one afternoon. I understood this was just twitchy dealmanship - just doing his job, albeit in a brutally ungraceful way - and that the people I'd actually be working with at CNET, guys like Martin Green, were far more temperate and low-key. But coming to the end of this long, long, saga, "off the table" was not a phrase I received calmly."
It wasn't the only time threats were made as this process played on. I recalled bad romantic relationships I'd had where wails of "That's it: we're finished!" inevitably followed each quarrel, no matter how trivial. And most of our disagreements seemed to exist entirely in Clay's mind. He'd hear threatening tones where none existed, and would find ways to take umbrage at the most neutral, friendly language (and I was predisposed to feeling as friendly as any human being could possibly feel, seeing as how this was the guy who'd push through our deal!).

At first I figured it was a negotiation tactic; that Clay was functioning as both good and bad cop. But soon it became clear that the guy was unhinged; ranging, in a single breath, from honeyed corp-speak to fiery eruptions to haughty spite. I began to handle him like nitroglycerin. But on those occasions when circumstance compelled me to gingerly, politely take well-reasoned issue on some point or other, he'd launch into full-on harangues, his fury seldom organizing into coherence. It was spectacular.

He raged at me, he raged at my lawyer, and he raged at his coworkers (I sat in his office as he growled into the phone to a flunky about how she really wouldn't want to see him get angry). When he wasn't raging, he was pontificating about food and food communities - topics he knew nothing about. And I was expected to enthusiastically concur with his dull-witted ideas.

In spite of the tantrums, Clay considered himself the epitome of professional decorum - and as a sensitive, caring good guy, to boot. So as I began to treat him much more carefully, he sensed the distance and would "reach out to me". Clay, alas, needed me to be his friend. He was excited about working this deal with the famous Alpha Hound! And, given that he was the force behind CNET's interest in our acquisition ("I'm buyin' you" was how he characterized it), he was definitely not someone to splash cold water on. And so I found myself in the torturous position of needing to keep my good buddy Clay feeling like a Chowhound family insider while submitting myself to abuse from Clay the deranged thug....all while praying that Clay the petulant nightmare girlfriend wouldn't fly off the handle and break off our engagement.

Fear and exhaustion can lend a certain clarity, and I remained firmly locked onto the goal: to get through this period, close the deal, and wave bye-bye to Clay, who'd move on to finding some fresh meat to torment and acquire. I would then take a two week vacation and return to collaborate with the reasonable, smart folks who actually ran things at CNET. I simply needed to persevere for a few weeks until December 15 without setting him off. Unfortunately, just about anything could set Clay off.

Read the next installment (#18)

1 comment:

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