Episode 2: I jump on a plane to meet and negotiate with a mystery client

Last week I told you about a $50 million account I was trying to win.

Will I win it? Maybe. I’ve done a lot of these and from experience have learned two important rules:

1. the bigger the deal, the weirder things will get (read the story below)
2. the more you talk after making a point, the worse things will get

To discuss a deal with me, click here

To control a negotiation, you need to know what the other side might do, so I like to outline their likely “behavior.” Here’s a quick cheat sheet from my last negotiation notes.

1. The guy we are meeting is a  junior negotiator and he won’t know when to back off. He will want too much.
2. Why? Because the driving goal of every human is to secure more “goods.”
3. And, whenever a tangible good is scarce, a junior negotiator is genetically programmed to act agressively.
4. He will try to get as much as he can for his side.
5. If we offer weak resistance and give him what he wants, even the small things, he will just ask for more…until we are left with nothing.

Last week, I wrote about an invitation to travel on a private plane…from a caller who wouldn’t say who he was, or even where we were going.

I could tell this was leading to an intense negotiation (where the notes above would be helpful.)

Here’s the rest of the story: What happened when I got on that plane.

Many would have said “no thanks,” to this strange invite, but I grabbed my go-bag, a basic business-survival-kit, then did a call with my family and headed for the airport.

Oren’s Business Survival Kit

– Handful of Advil gelcaps; several phone charging bricks
– Two suits and an AmEx card
– Love of adventure and the unknown

I pulled into short-term parking at Palomar, an airport by my office whose runways hugged some of the most beautiful beaches on the California coastline.

I saw two men, who waved me over to a laughably small Lear jet on the tarmac. I don’t like small planes for good reason. The nose of the jet pointed due east. We would be heading over the mountains.

I would be getting a bumpy ride in this pony-sized jet.

The client’s lieutenants looked like accountants (they always do.) Predictably, they were both in their mid-thirties, cheap suits, bad shoes and the personality of driveway gravel. I couldn’t tell them apart except for the color of their ties.

The one with the blue tie gestured toward the hatch, which opened as if on cue. I climbed up the air-stairs into the small jet.

Well, if everyday is a “gift” then today was….socks.

The pilot waved without turning around in his seat, the hatch sealed and before I could put my phone into airplane mode we were bouncing around the skies above Carlsbad, headed for, my best guess, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Soon after takeoff, the pilot was bugging out, flipping nobs and throwing switches, speaking somekind of Irish Klingon into his headset. Stiff downwinds were throwing the plane left and right …

An hour and forty-five minutes seemed like a day and a half. We broke through the clouds, and landed on a barren landing strip outside of what looked to be an abandoned warehouse in the middle of a vast and unfriendly prairieland.

“Where are we?” I asked the one in the Yellow Tie.

He opened the door to reveal two black Range Rovers with tinted windows idling on the tarmac. In the distance I saw a highway sign: MOSCOW.

Shut the front door. I was in Idaho?

The accountants led me into the warehouse without acknowledging the vehicles. I took out my phone and started to snap some pictures of this situation to send to my partner Jack.

These weren’t the kind of tourist photos you take in Manhattan, these were the kind you take for evidence in a kidnapping case.

“No photos,” said Blue Tie menacingly. I put my phone away and followed them to the center of the warehouse. Our footsteps echoed like water dripping from the beams of an empty cathedral. Suddenly, both ties stopped and turned around.

“Our boss is here to discuss a management recap with you. He wants to quietly pull $50 million out of a deal, very quietly.” said blue tie without any inflection at all. “We’re looking to keep it off the radar.”

He continued, “Let’s discuss it. Where would you take this deal?”

When done correctly, a management recap (or recapitalization) provides an opportunity for company owners to take a substantial cash payout while still maintaining a controlling interest in their company. If you want liquidity like this, start here.

I’d go off the grid,” I said without thinking twice. I continued,

Moscow, Tel Aviv, Beverly Hills. Boca Raton. Geneva.”

“How many contacts do you have for this?” Yellow tie asked without even considering my answer. He and Blue Tie obviously were used to having all the power in these meetings. Whoever they worked for had to be a “Heavy.”

And then the question that I knew was coming, it always does. “Can you give us a few names, some references?”

I don’t give my investor list out,” I said. Because, well, I don’t.

“Then, who is the most high profile person you can get on the phone right now?” Chimed in a third henchman that had appeared at the doorway of the warehouse without my noticing. His tie was red.

“What about Richard Branson, can you get Richard Branson on the phone right now?”

Is this like … what, a test?” I said, more annoyed than anxious

“Yes, it is,” said Red Tie. So, what about it. Can you get him?”

Richard Branson, really?” I said, pulling out my phone and getting ready to dial. “My grandmother can get Richard Branson on the phone.

“How about Chuck Norris,” said Blue Tie, looking pleased with himself. “Nobody ever knows where he is.”

In Virgin Islands until October,” I said. “Unreachable. Hey, I have an idea, what about Steve Sanders from 90210?

“Ian Ziering?” said the Ties, almost in harmony.

I don’t know what it is about Steve from 90210, but everyone loves that guy. Now there’s somebody nobody would know how to reach these days.

I started to dial Ian.

Blue Tie remarked, with the first traces of a personality he’d displayed since I met him, “My wife is in love with Steve, but she never forgave him for the way he cheated on Kelly. I mean, Kelly was such a nice girl. Why would he do that?”

“Ask him yourself,” I said, handing him the phone.

“Hello?” Blue Tie said tentatively into the phone. “I gotta know, how could you play Kelly like that?” And then Blue Tie went silent, listening, his eyes squinting with concentration. He handed the phone back to me.

“He says he had to two-time her because of blah blah blah.”

I didn’t care about that soap opera crap at the moment.

Then Blue Tie nodded to the other ties, and they marched me out of the warehouse, and up to the door of the second Range Rover in line on the tarmac.

The door opened. I slid in next to a powerful bear of a man with an intelligent face and piercing blue eyes. He looked like Tony Soprano only with a way better suit.

“Hello, Oren,” the man said without shaking my hand. “My name is…”
He didn’t have to complete the sentence because I can recognize most Los Angeles billionaires.

This was Marvin Davis.

Anything he was involved in would be worth millions to me, if I could get in on it.

To be continued…

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