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Harry S Truman, the US President, had a sign on his desk that said, 'The Buck Stops Here,' and any good boss will know what that means. This story took place in 1977 and it developed into a state of near panic in the most distant branch of our retail sports chain. However, the initial phone call from the shop manager was one of huge excitement, "We've got a bloke here whose spending a fortune," I was informed. The branch manager then went on to list the items the customer had already bought and I was told he was still spending. The order was truly enormous and so I obviously asked, "How is he paying?" Something didn't smell right about what I was being told and I have always put trust in my gut feeling. Within days events were to prove me right and, just as with dear old Harry Truman, the buck stopped firmly with me!
This event took place on a Saturday morning in a shop which was a hundred miles from the office where I based myself. The completed order totalled several thousand pounds and the customer attempted to pay by giving the manager an official looking order with a billing address. When he was informed he couldn't take the stocks until they'd actually been paid for, the chap became verbally aggressive and accused us of wasting his time. He angrily said he would return on the Tuesday morning for his order, which he did, but still no money had changed hands and so he wasn't allowed to take any of the stock. My message, via the manager, told the customer that he was unreasonable to expect to do so and at this comment the man exploded. I was informed that his demeanour changed completely and he reacted like some kind of nut job. In the days that followed he terrorised the staff with his weird behaviour and, sadly, buck passing occurred.
The threats he actually made to the manager I know not, but they worked, for the poor chap took a holiday such were his concerns. I was forced to send one of my larger members of staff to relieve him, but soon, Mr. Nut Job (as I had now christened him,) was frightening him as well. His final threat was that on the Saturday he would be travelling overseas, and he was going to take the stock with him, come what may. He had stated he'd visit the store at 10'am to collect his goods, and woe betide us if the order wasn't ready. During a Friday night phone call my relief manager told me he had phoned the police, but had been told nothing could be done for no crime had been committed. I realised he was at his wits end so I said what I knew he wanted me to say, that on the morrow I'd be at the shop to personally meet the Whacko!
I arranged for my driver to pick me up very early and by seven o'clock we were enjoying a healthy fried breakfast in a motorway cafe. During the journey I'd pondered on what I may be facing, for I'd been told he was a big, fit looking guy. I wasn't unduly worried for I knew I had stronger arms than most people and the odds were I'd be stronger than him. However, I'd reached the conclusion that if he had the physical skills of a Lou Gibson or an Aljey Etheridge, I'd still be in trouble, and if he could fight like Joe Frazier I'd be dead. By 9'am I'd arrived at the shop to find a nervous staff who were very relieved I was there. I'd told them earlier to put all of the stocks, Mr. Nut Job had selected, back on the shelves and I made sure that had happened. I can still picture the customers who were in the shop as 10'am drew near, one was a big man, looking at and swinging some cricket bats, another was a powerfully built bloke who was trying on rugby boots. I realised that with the right words I could turn the presence of these customers to my advantage.
A few minutes after 10'am, I saw Nut Job for the first time as he arrogantly strode into the shop. Meeting arrogance with a greater arrogance he was greeted with a booming, "Good Morning," from me. Jenny still hates it that I have this side of my personality. I handed him one of my oversized visiting cards and told him who I was and why I was there. Pointing at the cricket bat and Rugby boot customers I said, "Those two are the sort of customers my business wants, Your sort, I want nothing to do with!" I went on to say that he had wasted my staffs time with his dramatic nonsense and that his so called order had been returned to the shelves. I added firmly, "NOW I'D LIKE YOU TO LEAVE!" All the time I'd been standing in such a position that he could neither head butt me, or knee me in the groin. As I'd hoped, his eyes kept flickering to the two customers I had mentioned, and I was sure he thought they were there in case of trouble. There was half a minute of silence as he considered his options and then, obviously deciding on acquiescence, he offered me his hand. Saying not a word, I shook it, squeezing hard, and this terroriser of my staff, silently turned and marched out of the shop. He'd been with me for less than five minutes.
I'm told that Colin Bowbrick's younger brother once said of me, "I like Ken, but he's far too sure of himself!" I think that's what came across to Mr. Nut Job for in those days I possessed an outlook of absolute certainty and self belief. Perhaps my potential adversary wasn't used to such a confrontational style and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. We never heard from him again. I have not mentioned peoples names in this story for I have no wish to embarrass the branch manager who let himself down badly. He'd proved to be a weak buck passer and he lost both my and his staffs respect, in time he became part of my past. However, I inwardly chuckled for days after this event as my status as the fearless hero soared, I still can't explain how my mysterious self belief always gave me courage. I don't know your thoughts but, on reflection, I think I was lucky to get away with things so often. My only regret is that I never got a sign for my desk saying, 'THE BUCK STOPS HERE,' for I always believed in leading by example just like President Harry S Truman.
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