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The Big Squeeze, "Play the Game, Get the Money"

by Patricia E. Moody, CMC, pemoody@aol.com

Cab drivers know everything – where to get a homestyle meal, what hotels to avoid, and what time to leave for the airport on Friday afternoons. That's why I listen to them, not all of them, but one special driver, Tommy, a three hundred pound frequenter of Suffolk Downs Race track, an endless source of wisdom and practical advice. That's right, grasshopper, I've got my own guru.

One day Tommy gave me a ride into Cambridge to the Charles Hotel. I had called a legendary editor, a guy I had worshipped from afar for years. This idol had all the big business writers – Michael Porter, Mintzberg, Cusumano. I cold-called him and pitched two books in ten seconds. He agreed to see me. "How shall I recognize you?" he asked.  I responded that I would be wearing pearl drop earrings. He said he would be smoking a Lucky Strike and leaning on a column in the lobby. It was like Bogie and Bacall all over again. My stomach was a dead weight. I was a wreck. And that's when Tommy took over.

Tommy took a circuitous route down through Chelsea and around The Big Dig – he was hoping the extra drivetime would give him a chance to get me ready for the big meet.  He talked a little about the Red Sox, and about his family – he was supporting a paralyzed son.  But as we crossed through Harvard Square, Tommy looked back and delivered his greatest line ever, "Play the game, get the money. Play the game, get the money."

I lurched out the door and headed into the lobby. Sure enough, New York Editor was waiting, propped ever so casually against a marble column, trails of what must have been Lucky Strike smoke pluming off his fingers. We sat on the terrace, and in 15 minutes I pitched him two books. He wanted both – of course – but he offered advances whose total came only to what one solid business book would earn.

I took a sip of water and a breath. "Play the game, get the money. Play the game, get the money." Tommy's mantra ran through my mind like the Pepsodent jingle. We ran an auction, and in the end, he got his book, I got my advance, and the second book went to a different publisher. Happy, happy all around.

Business, and especially supply management, is a game that's all about the money. Everything we attempt is, for example, meant not just to lower costs but to truly create competitive advantage. When supply management professionals think beyond their daily operating challenges to the end game, they are going to be making all the right little decisions that take them to the best winning result.

Here's another example:
A Midwest producer of agricultural and home lawn equipment made a mower, a real Cadillac of a product with chrome wheels and elegantly pinstriped fenders that they sold for $1700. Their competitor started cranking out $1100 units that, although they were ugly and boxy, outsold Midwest and was eating into market share. Now Midwest could have squeezed suppliers and dropped their price. They chose to take a different strategic approach, however. Midwest's new management team, all veterans of bigger equipment producers, flew in, sat down, and in 24 hours created a new low cost mower designed to sell for $1200 and still look great. The first week Midwest sold 800 units – their gamble that consumers wanted a unit that worked well, looked great, and was priced competitively, gave them the confidence to believe that the combination of great engineering and astute purchasing, and a new price point, would give them the endgame, which is, as we all know, competitive advantage. And it worked!

Patricia E. Moody (http://www.patriciaemoody.com) is a business writer, corporate storyteller, and author of a new book, The Big Squeeze, 10 Ways to Cut 10% of Your Company's Expenses Right Now! (Oaklea Press)

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