All pictures of holes in hand, Bobby drove us back to Kansas City International Airport for our flight back to Newark. I remember looking out the window on our descent, seeing only white. Suddenly, below me, the New Jersey Turnpike appeared in patches out of the murk, looking cloudy, grayish, and flakey. It was snowing, and it looked like it had been at it for a while. We were so low over the white roadway, I thought we were going to land on it.
From brown Kansas to white New Jersey. To be sure it had been a kind of odd-ball trip. Going to Kansas to take pictures of holes. More typically, my business trips back then took me to London, which was a very different kind of experience. For one thing, England (the tourist web site has a page for “things to do on a rainy day.”) is a very “wet” country, and I developed a liking for pints hand drawn from the draught. No need to buy a membership – everyone was a member!
This post is about England.
Gone were the days, such as during my first trip to the UK with my Dad in 1969, when the food was tough to keep down – please see my post “WITH AN MP IN LONDON.” By the late 1970s, probably due to a parliamentary commission, chefs were imported from the (European) mainland to improve dining quality. The program was a huge success!
My days in London in the early 1980s were spent visiting big clients like The Wellcome Foundation and Imperial Chemicals Inc. (known colloquially as “Eye See Eye”). One time, my Wellcome colleague Ken Watson and I literally negotiated the following year’s trade mark renewals over pints at an outdoor pub during a rare sunny English day. He would call out a country like “Zambia” and I would respond with a figure like “£95” as a unit price. Maybe he would hem and haw, or say “forget that one, we have someone there we have to use,” or ask for a better price (I would endeavor to get back to him), or even sometimes accept outright (leading me to wonder if our price was too low).
It all started one day in 1983 when Dad signed me up for a “Trade Mark Conference” chaired by David Tatham, the top man at ICI. This turned out to be an intensively productive weekend conference where I met many of the industry players and created endless opportunities for future marketing calls in the old country. The conference itself took place at the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel, right by the River Thames, across from Eton. Natch, we went to the local pub after our sessions. While there, I was leaning on a railing and noticed it was vibrating. I brought this to the barman’s attention. He immediately put on a top hat and started singing. As far as I know that railing is probably still vibrating.
As a pleasant surprise, after graduation from Tufts, a number of my buddies ended up in London, which created a personal network for me away from home. After a busy day of appointments, it was child’s play to find a pal to hang out at either the Australian or the Grenadier (which is supposedly haunted).
It’s not always sunny.
London had interesting effects on people.
One girl I knew peripherally at Tufts, “Franny,” remade herself as “Francesca” in London and opened up her own line of men’s boxer shorts for £20/pair, an exorbitant amount at the time. She chased me to buy them, but I turned her down, to her dismay. Little did I know that I would be selling boxers at Polo Ralph Lauren in 6 years’ time — please see my post “DESCENT INTO RETAIL.”
Another friend had an older sister who relayed the story that one day while sitting on the tube (the London subway), some punkster adorned in leather and safety pins sat down on the floor in front of her, staring intently. The really odd thing was that he had a rat on his shoulder tethered to a small chain. A live one. “Would you like to pet him,” he offered. She politely declined and got off at the next stop, miles before her destination.
These guys don’t order “steak and biscuits” at the local diner.
It was in London one time that I met one of my Dad’s “giants”: Dr. Guido Modiano of Milan. For years, I had heard his name rolling off my Dad’s lips. According to Modiano.com:
“Dr. Modiano lived and studied in several European countries and in the US. His technical background and his vast knowledge of the legal aspects of the Italian, German and US legal systems enabled him to successfully focus on both international and European IP matters.”
Before traveling, I happened to have been in touch with Dr. Modiano to arrange an appointment in his office in Italy. After all, he had been the man to bring Montecatini Edison and Pirelli to Olcott International, huge clients. We discovered that we were going to be in London at the same time and I invited him over to visit me at my friend Niccolo’s apartment on Cadogan Square, where I was staying. This elegant man arrived and we exchanged pleasantries for half an hour. He complimented me on the neighborhood (I had nothing to do with it; Niccolo just happened to live there). He asked about Gloria — everyone was crazy about her. He spent the rest of our short time praising my Dad for creating a business out of patent renewals. As he walked down the stairs to leave, I felt like I had been blessed by the pope himself.
I regret only seeing him that one time.
Thus, for whatever reasons, England became my most productive stomping grounds on behalf of Olcott International. I tried unsuccessfully to recruit some French trade mark companies as clients as well. Figuring that I was close enough, I would hop across the channel to stay with my friend Jean. For one week, I plucked through the Paris telephone book, cold calling companies and made a number of appointments. While I was always complimented on my knowledge of the language, I was never able to close one as a client.
I did, however, strike up a friendship with a Madame Bierry at the French Patent and Trade Mark Office on rue de Leningrad (which was changed to rue de Saint-Petersbourg in the 1990s for obvious reasons) who generously and kindly guided me through the bureaucratic labyrinth to successfully resolve various patent and trade mark questions that periodically arose.
In Kansas, I felt like I was able to effectively take pictures of holes. Which was a small thing. In England, I was able to serve and obtain large accounts. Across the channel I developed a personal relationship with the Patent Office. These were large things, which I tried to leverage continuously.
However, there was a very big difference in the quality of my work experience while on the road (maybe 20% of the time) from that what I felt in the Weehawken world headquarters (80% of the rest). It was, unfortunately, not enough to compensate.