Last Sunday I posted the ridiculous story of my very first day on my first 'professional' job, which mostly involved downing multiple beers in a gay bar. Details of the day are here.
That story is one that I have told in class a few times, and this week I started thinking that maybe I should post some of the other offbeat, and hopefully humorous stories from the past that I like to share with the students. So here is the second installment of 'Sunday Stories', a little tale of a dinner at a nice restaurant in the Eastern US, with some former colleagues and some external consultants, and a trip to the wine cellar.
In about 1997 or so, I was working for a major manufacturing company and was participating on an Enterprise Resource Planning software selection team. About 10-12 of us spent 6 months or so traveling around the country, meeting vendors, reference accounts, and external consultancies all who had an interest in our business. The contract my organization would ultimately sign for the software was for about $10M, and the bill for external consulting likely ended up at another $10 - $15M on top of that. So the vendors and consulting companies that were helping to facilitate the evaluation process all had a huge vested interest in the purchase decision.
The evaluation process was nearing the end, we were down to two vendors and two external consultancies still in the running for the contract. One of the vendors invited us to one of their main US training centers for a few days to get a feeling for their corporate training capability, and to do some additional process modeling of some key functions that were critical to our organization, and would be a major factor in the decision process. One of the consultancies sent a few folks to work alongside us, trying to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise with the solution.
On the last night we were in town, the consulting company guys invited the few of us who were still in town to go out to a nice dinner. The party was about 3 or so from the consultancy, including one partner, and perhaps 5 of us, none of whom were 'senior' managers or executives. So the 8 of us headed out for dinner to a locally famous restaurant, well-known for its cuisine, and for its expansive wine list.
We arrived at the restaurant, were seated, some drinks were ordered, and the sommelier soon came by the table to offer some wine recommendations. As no one at the table knew very much about wine, the sommelier (sensing a major score I came to believe), invited us to accompany him to the wine cellar to sample a bottle or two, and make a better choice for dinner. When no one immediately volunteered to go down to the cellar, I raised by hand, and after that another guy from my team named David agreed to come down as well.
When we got down to the huge wine cellar, the sommelier showed us around a bit, then left us to look around while he got some samples for us to taste. We tried two or three 'dinner' wines, and two or three 'dessert' wines, made our choices of which ones we liked best, and at once the sommelier said he would take care of everything. We made our way back upstairs to the table.
The dinner was fantastic. The food was excellent, and while really no one at the table was a big wine person, the wine was so good that many, many bottles were consumed, once a bottle was empty, another one immediately took its place. All told, it was a really great meal, some business was certainly discussed, but mostly it was just a group of guys who had been working some pretty long hours unwinding and cutting loose a bit.
When the meal was finally over, the waiter brought over the bill, and as was typical for these 'selection process' outings, the external consultants that were trying to win the project insisted on paying the tab. When the partner examined the bill, his eyes bugged out, his mouth sort of hung open, and he seemingly could not utter a word.
Turns out the dinner wine that David and I selected in the wine cellar was $750 each, and the dessert wine was $400. Yikes! Of course down in the cellar, we had never bothered to ask the prices, since we knew the consultants were paying for the dinner anyway, and we were being wined and dined all over the country by vendors and consultants trying to win this huge contract.
The total bar tab with the pre-dinner and after-dinner drinks (some of the guys ordered some really expensive single malt whiskey), and the wine was about $9,500. With the food, tip, and taxes added in, the grand total bill for dinner for 8 people was over $12,000.
So essentially, I helped turn a nice, low-key dinner into a $12K debacle.
The partner soon regained his composure, took out his American Express card and paid the tab. On the way out of the restaurant, he cornered me and David and in a very low key way said, 'Don't you ever do something like that again'.
Ultimately, I did not feel that bad about what happened, this consultancy eventually did win the majority of the contract to provide services on what became a massive ERP implementation, so their $12K 'invested' in this dinner certainly was not wasted.
There are lots of sweet assignments when working with enterprise technology, and being on the selection team for a multi-million dollar software purchase certainly is one of them.
Happy Sunday everyone!