Pictured above, beautiful Stockholm.
Last week in my post “OF GIANTS AND DWARFS” I took you, the dear reader, back to 1966 to meet Lenny the check-forger. But Lenny turned out to be a mere piker. Compare him to Herby Fischer¹ – the stockbroker from American Express who churned Dad for over a million in the late 1980s. Now that guy had a plunger. A big one.
Strange thing was, after Dad took him to court and won, inexplicably, seeking no one’s advice but his own, Dad reinvested with Herby! Everyone can get taken once. But to go back to the same guy afterwards?
But Herby was ultimately not the biggest plunderer. More about him later.
Neither gentleman made it to the letterhead of Olcott International, my employer as of 1983. Based on the amount of cash they carried away, however, they should have — at least as cost centers.
Steven Sites¹, however, did make the letterhead. He was on the famed pantheon of “Associates” thereon. That meant he was a BIG, the real deal.
Soon after I started my first job, I mean, not simply a first job but one at the family business with Bernard Olcott as CEO, efficiency expert, attorney at law, certified engineer in three states, computer consultant, construction foreman, automotive engine and air conditioner mastermind, ladies’ man, and unfortunately, easy mark, a pudgy man waddled over to my desk on the lower level. He extended his hand. “I’m Stevie Sites,” he said. I recognized the name immediately and stood up. A giant had graced my stoop!
I told him that I recognized his name from the letterhead and asked him about his accounts. I had no idea what he was about to tell me.
For the cognoscenti among you, Kolster Oy is not a yiddish dairy; it is the premier patent law firm in Scandinavia, with offices in Helsinki and Stockholm. Together with the other accounts, this was one huge chunk of business!
For whatever reason, Stevie spoke excellent Swedish and had some type of prior patent background. Taking Stockholm by storm some years previous, he visited all the corporate patent owners of note in that Nordic paradise. Just about all of them had signed up with Stevie and Olcott International. To that I could relate, as I was newly experienced in closing overseas accounts myself – see my post, “FIRST TEST.”
Once a calendar quarter, commission checks were cut for each “Associate.” As I was one of two authorized (as opposed to the other kind) check signatories (other than Dad), I could see that these could be for tidy sums.
Only one problem.
Stevie’s check was late. Way late.
“Can you talk to your father and see about my commission check? I really need to be paid,” he explained. Stevie wiped his brow with his hand. He looked stressed out.
It really wasn’t up to me to discuss payment policy to commission agents with the CEO. Especially during my first few months on the job. Nevertheless, when someone asks me for help, I am usually inclined to lend a hand.
All the same, this was awkward. How was I to handle this?
Dad and I had the habit of dining together for lunch in those days. Typically we would go to the Shop Rite supermarket in North Bergen, New Jersey to buy ground beef (Dad called it “chopped meat”), and then broil it up at his house. This was the location of the famous “left turn from hell” – please see my first ever post called “YES DEPOSIT, YES RETURN.” It was as good a time as any to ask him about Stevie.
Well, I didn’t get very far. When I asked him about it, Dad blew me off with “Stevie drinks” in a quiet sullen voice that indicated the discussion was over.
Looking back at this in hindsight from the year 2016, I think I can understand some of the background. At least superficially.
Business in Sweden? Customer Aquavit, I mean Acquisition? Account Management? What’s missing from that word association? Why, vodka (or the aforementioned Swedish preferred hot-water), of course! I surmise there must have been lots of it. Pouring everywhere. Swedish patent peeps gargling the stuff on cobblestone streets of the Gala Stan, the old town.
Sweden’s liquor of choice.
As Dean Martin would say, “you bet your sweet bippy they drink in Stockholm.”
So what was the problem? Maybe it had to do with reimbursing expenses for one of Stevie’s binges in the Swedish capital. Most likely it had to do with Dad’s pecuniary nature. He just didn’t like to pay for anything. And it would even manifest itself when one of the giants asked for payment, on the back of solid accomplishments.
Seeing no way to bridge that gap – clearly Dad didn’t want me involved – I withdrew from the issue and told Stevie that I was unable to help the next time he chased me down. Dad probably advised him pointedly not to come to me for help with such issues because I did not hear from Stevie again.
I don’t know whatever happened to Stevie or if he was ever paid. I do know that he was the last of the stationery giants, the “Associates,” and he disappeared shortly thereafter. His huge accounts similarly drifted away over the next few years. And I was left to ponder how to find other giants going forward for the benefit of the company.
How the Hell was I going to resolve the conflict between the rightful payments to the giants on one hand and Dad’s unwillingness to pay them on the other? And what did that mean to the long-term prospects for the business?
Meanwhile, dwarfs were storming the ramparts to steal the loot that should have been paid to people like Stevie. Like Herby, as mentioned above. Forget about Maria¹ the bookkeeper in the 1980s who simply repeated Lenny’s check forging. The master dwarf from the Bahamas was soon to arrive, bringing with him an excavator to haul off millions that should have been directed to the business.
I would have been wise to have asked myself when meeting new friends of my Dad, “is he a giant or a dwarf?” Either one was a distinct possibility.
And, significantly, how to steer him towards future giants and then make sure he paid them as agreed (as opposed to being seduced by greed)?
How about a sure investment at the Ocean Club Estates in sunny Nassau, Bahamas?
¹ – Steven, Herby, and Maria are not their real names.