It was a six-figure mistake that just boiled down to this: Steve wasn’t reading the book correctly. Now we were all going to pay.
I gunned my red-and-black ’86 Ninja 600 up the final hill on the road to the Infiniti dealer where I was the lowest salesman on the proverbial totem pole, briefly touching redline in third then clamping the soggy brakes down hard for the left turn into the back lot. It was a Saturday morning in the spring of 1994, and despite my best Tom-Cruise-in-Top Gun impression on the way there, I was already 10-minutes late for work. Normally this wouldn’t matter much; our sales staff tended to filter in by dribs and drabs between 8:00 a.m. and the sales meeting at 8:30, which rarely started on time anyway.
This Saturday was different. The general manager for our (pathetic little) dealership group was in town, and he’d demanded everybody arrive by 8:00 for an emergency meeting. I was going to be the last man into the basement conference room, which meant that I stood a good chance of going back home that morning without a job. The Ninja squeaked to an uneasy halt and dieseled for a petulant half-second after I killed the ignition. Struggling to get my shirt’s top button closed and my tie pulled up to match, I ran towards the door, hobbling a bit because the sole on my right shoe had worn through to the sock some time in the previous week. In every sense you could think of, I was on the bubble: flat broke, still below the monthly draw after 17 days, starting to develop the panicky tic that betrays the poor fellow who needs your business too much to excite anything but your contempt.
There was a general nervous titter as I burst through the door, breathing hard, and darted towards the only open seat in the room. It was empty because it was directly in front of the general manager. “As I was saying,” he spat, giving me a look that seemed to indicate that today was my last day in the near-luxury sales business, “you’ve all really screwed the pooch here. I’d like to fire every one of you. None of you would make it a week on a real car lot. But since God looks after fools and morons, you’re all getting another chance. And we’re gonna spend some real money to turn all of you losers … into winners.”