Friday, 6 July 2012

FEATURE: A salesman’s woe

Michigan, USA

Percy A Ostonal ... KSA-bound
IT WAS a mixture of excitement and sadness leaving my wife and only child in Manila in April of 1980 to work in Jeddah, KSA.

As OFW, I worked for a contracting company engaged in sales, rental, lease and maintenance of heavy equipment (civil, electrical, mechanical ,mining, agriculture), light and medium cars, off-the-road vehicles and large transport trucks. 

First and foremost, I hated so much being away from my family for two years to fulfill a contract but I have no choice. I opted to sacrifice for a monthly pay check, plus sales incentives/commissions.

But the money was not sufficiently enough to save some dough for the future. 

Lucky enough, after awhile awaiting working visa approval and release, I was selected and hired as the only Filipino to join a four-man sales team to run a newly-built and state-of-the art car showroom. 

The three automotive salesperson recruits were Arabic-speaking nationals from Egypt, North Yemen and Lebanon.

After almost two weeks of company orientation, usual sales training and presentation, vehicles technical product specifications, pricing, sales documents preparation,  automotive division, office facilities and personnel introduction, trucks/cars inventory depot tour and lectures on culture and respect of the land, we were given a "dry run" or final briefing on divisional sales coverage among ourselves. 

As non-Arabic speaking salesman, our British sales manager-boss immediately assigned me to call foreign embassies and on rotation basis and to spend a few hours in the showroom. 

The arrangement was near perfect except that unless a Saudi-customer spoke English, I won’t have a chance of getting the sale. It would be any of my three fellow salespersons who will do the sale – like a walk in the park.

Quite a period of anticipation and one Thursday afternoon, a group of five African Land Rover 4-wheels drive truck buyers from the seaside Somali capital of Djibouti came with four suitcases of Saudi riyals to buy 15 units of the brand. 

I thought it was largest sales deal I ever made so far with my short stay in my employment. 

But it was not until the highlight of my sales and marketing profession of 40 years that it came when I least expected it.  

Rounding-up all embassies was fun and talking to lots of diplomatic mission officials gave me the opportunity meeting military attaches and ambassadors. 

Our super luxury Range Rover cars were really meant for ambassadors and those   construction sites not accessible by regular two-wheel drive were no problem at all with Land Rover trucks.

Those days, countries with construction companies and expatriate workers of their own operating in the kingdom had that colonial and traditional attachment buying British-made automobiles over Toyota, a Japanese brand. No wonder – Saudi had close colonial ties with the British.

Interestingly, the country of Libya belonging to an African continent was not under the British rules. But because of its "familiarity" of this type of vehicle that could work efficiently in rugged terrains and sand dunes, the country wanted the brand as well, just like her neighbors.

Yes, I did so many visits to the Libyan embassy and spoke most of the time to their top military attaché. 

In the end, I got a purchase order for five Land Rover trucks for their first import, intended for their military use shipping out via port of Jeddah. 

I remembered my sales manager saying: "Wella, its a break through, that nation has potential buying power, make sure your follow-up continues.”

Exactly what my boss said, "walang patid ang bisita at phone calls ko sa mga top brasses na military ng Libyan embassy” and because of that, we forged a friendship together and I remembered being promised with bigger order to come"(It was sustained business visits and follow-up phone calls to all Libyan top military brass that I manage to befriend the officers and remembered being promised with bigger order).

Two months after that, our sales manager, shop and maintenance manager chief accountant, all mechanics, all salespersons and two executives from our Dammam (Western region) office had a general meeting and it was all about huge Land Rover 4-wheel drive order from the Libyan government -- 200 units!!!

It was quite a disappointing footnote in my career history of being deprived credit for such sales effort as well as decent sales commission. 

Apparently, it ended as "corporate sales" and no one got the "best-in-town" salesman recognition other than my boss. 

Upset and was not fully convinced, I went and spoke to company owner's "right-hand man" and explained to him my sentiments.

He told me: "I am with you Mr Ostonal, and other than monetary compensation, if you can find a better-paying job in Jeddah, we normally don't give RELEASE PAPER to your "iquama" (work permit), but with the unique situation you have, I deeply understand you and I will authorize giving one specially for you".

Had it not been for this gentleman, Mr Ayesh Hamdan, I won’t get a job at a Saudi government-owned desalination and electric plant. 

With his help, I won back the respect I deserved as a person and as Filipino.

"Salam alaykum katir Sadik … masalam"  (thank you very much my friend … goodbye).

(The writer was a former OFW in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from April of 1980 till March of 1984, before migrating to the US in the fall of 1985. He has since settled with his family in the State of Michigan.)  

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