Sunday, September 18, 2005

Following salespeople

Nobody dast blame this man. You don't understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back-that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and your finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory. - Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

America, according to most press reports, and economic quantifications, is a nation of consumers, not producers. By virtue thereof, it shouldn't be surprising that we are led by salespeople, how else might we come to buy all these goods. Now a good salesman, as the old saw goes, can sell ice to Eskimos, in other words, can make you believe you need things you don't, and don't need things you do. This is all well and good until reality bites, or in this case Katrina strikes. Op-eds in the papers, talking heads on TV and press reports of success are not going to rebuild N.O. and its much needed infrastructure. I reckon Arthur Miller had it about right, salespeople are "out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoestring." Unlike farmers, builders and producers of things, salespeople don't know there are limits, they don't have the requisite experience to temper their enthusiasm.

Remember back to your High School days and the election of a class President? While some people took the whole affair quite seriously, many others laughed. In the end, the officers were elected. Imagine, if instead of penning a few letters to the school paper and attending a few meetings about where to place trash receptacles, a real crisis were to hit the school, say an earthquake. Would your elected class President be the person to whom you would look? or would the crisis changed conditions lead you to look elsewhere? I don't mean to single out any official, it is just that there are not, to my knowledge, many class Mayors, Governors or Senators. However, there are, I suspect, a great many officials who are salespeople. As Warren Buffett is wont to say, it is only when the tide goes out that you discover who's been swimming naked. I think we will see who are the salespeople and who are the real leaders in the months ahead.