It must be the Royal Henley Regatta this week as there’s pictures of the boater-wearing men and elegantly dressed women all over the papers.
J and I lived not far from Henley which is on the River Thames and despite its proximity to Maidenhead, I don’t think we ever went together. I attended a few times in my capacity as a host for IBM and BT, where I took a selection of my own clients, but it would have been nice to have gone with J, but only if all the corporate goodies had been available – the Pimms and Champagne tent, the private cruiser to follow the races, the fancy tented dinner afterwards etc etc.
Two Henley stories come to mind.
The first involved some ladies from San Francisco who were doing a house exchange with me at the time and one of the things I’d suggested they do was to go to Henley. I told them it was a ‘fancy event’ and to make sure they were dressed appropriately, which for some reason, they thought meant shorts, t-shirts and trainers! Needless to say they were refused entry but nevertheless set up ‘camp’ just outside the gates, had their picnic, listened to the music and generally people watched all day. They said they still had a great time despite the sartorial setback.
The second story involved a client I was told to get to Henley when I worked for BT. He was quite an important guy and my boss wanted to ‘press the flesh’ and try and get a big contract moving. Nothing I did during the day worked. He wouldn’t drink, he picked at his lunch, wouldn’t engage in conversation, and even when Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pincett, Britain’s Olympic rowers and guests of BT, were presented to him with all their gold medals hanging from their necks, he was a pain in the ass.
And then I recognized somebody. A few years previously, I’d been sent out to San Francisco to sort out a deal and had to work with a small Russian software house. After the deal, the software house were inundated with orders (nothing to do with me I hasten to add) and a couple of years later I’d read that the four founders had sold the business for $2 billion! And the guy I recognized, Anatoly, had been one of the founders.
I went over to Anatoly alone just in case I was mistaken, introduced myself and we had a good old chat. He told me that he’d set up another software company and he and his co-founder were just about to sell that for $4 billion and just then his co-founder arrived – an absolutely stunning Russian lady, all hat and heels.
After a few minutes I asked if they’d like to come on the BT boat for the next race which they said they’d be delighted to do – all I had to do was get my client sufficiently motivated to join us.
I went back over to him and he asked who I’d been talking to (obviously meaning the female) and I said quite nonchalantly, ‘oh - just a couple of Russian billionaires’. Well, he was off like a whippet and the rest of the day was a flurry of jokes, champagne and great chat, and when we eventually bumped into my boss later in the day, my client couldn’t have been nicer or more communicative.
It’s amazing what introducing a reluctant client to a gorgeous, Russian billionairess can do!
PS – faux pas of the week – I’m at a 4th July BBQ and this guy introduces himself. ‘Hi – I’m Richard.’ ‘Hi – nice to meet you, I’m Tom.’ ‘ What part of America are you from Tom?’ ‘Actually, I’m Scottish.’ ‘Must be a pain always being thought of as American?’ ‘Not as much of a pain as when people think I’m from Ireland – where are you from Richard?’ ‘Cork actually.’