thoughts from sam deuchar


An unbalanced diet of pixies and professionals

I transacted recently – after a long week on a late Friday afternoon – with a car salesman from one of the big brand motor companies.

Surprisingly, it was a very good experience.

Previous interactions some years back, left me with an impression of complacent arrogance and excruciatingly, breathtakingly bad customer service. Something has clearly changed – and hats off to the big brand on pulling themselves together. The salesman in question, Okkie, was really passionate. Totally in love with his product. He even got me excited about diff locks and ambient lighting… but that’s another story.

Now, Okkie is not a small man. He acknowledges this by jumping – no sorry – wedging himself into the front passenger seat. He tells me that I must excuse his roots.

“I’m from the Free State,” he explains, “So I’ve had a balanced diet throughout my life – a chop in one hand and a chop in the other.” He chuckles, shifts into top gear and turns the corner.

I liked Okkie. I have no doubt that we will do more business in the future. And he got me thinking too. His balanced chop-in-each-hand diet made me reflect on some of my recent business development experiences. Business Development is exciting, hugely rewarding, definitely humbling. But it’s definitely not a balanced diet. The quality of HR talent operating in the South African market makes this impossible. More like a rump steak in one hand and a rotten apple in the other. Given my background in human resources and a passion for crisp cold sauvignon blanc, I reckon I’ve got some basis on which to comment.

Levels of experience and experience aside, one hopes that companies with big powerful brands out there who are doing everything they can to attract and retain the best of a tight talent pool, have the best of Human Resources expertise to represent their brands. Bizarrely this is not the case.

This week I interacted with Angela – the pantomime pixie. She’s an HR business partner on one side of an unbalanced diet. On the other side, three classy, professional, knowledgeable Human Resource professionals left me with a sense of relief and quiet satisfaction that Human Resources has come along way, baby! When it’s done right, it’s one of the most high impact professions that a business can have within its core.

From top to tip, Rand Merchant Bank’s highly competent, transformed Human resource professionals left me with a profound feeling of deep content. I did not walk out clutching a million rands worth of contracts. I left with something far more valuable: an assurance that all is well in some parts of my beleaguered profession.

It was a one-hour engagement around talent brands, the challenges to talent attraction and some genuine information sharing in the beginning of a slow dating process that perhaps will lead to genuine partnership. Thank you RMB for leading the way in genuine Human Resource professionalism.

And then there was Angela. Angela the pantomime pixie.

Her employer is a choice brand in the media space. A brand which could be described as a preferred employer and carries the assumption of sexiness, a powder puff of glam and a perception of thought leadership. So this should make enticing talent so much easier. Right?

Well, good luck to them.

We were requested to come and see Angela, who would make contact with us to meet and discuss the assignment. No contact. So I did it myself. I made contact with Angela. Mmmmm. The telephone call to establish an appointment was a struggle. A tussle of vagueness around availability, why we needed to meet and a bored reluctance overall. A meeting was eventually agreed to and I followed up with a diary request. No confirmation. Given a verbal confirmation telephonically, I thought we could chance it. Mmmmm. Not clever.

My intrepid colleague and I tackle the brawl of the early morning traffic to make the appointment on time. Announcement of our arrival, finds the security lady dealing with a perplexed Angela on the reception telephone. Who are we and why are we there to see her for a meeting she has no knowledge of? We listen to a 2/3-minute crackled conversation, but it is quite clear that the turnstile is unlikely to open without the wave of Angela’s wand. So I stretch across the turnstile and offer to speak to Angela on the security telephone – quite confident that her temporary loss of memory will be restored once we speak.

“Hello,” I say. “It’s Sam.”

“Who?” says Angela.

“Sam,” I say. “Sam from Rebmormax”.

Silence. Dumbfounded. Clearly no recollection whatsoever.

“We have an appointment,” I explain.

Decisiveness enters her tone for the first time: `No, we don’t.”

I defer to my 48 years of so-called EQ skills and answer with as much patience as I can muster. “We do,” I assure her. “I spoke to you. I sent you an email invitation.”

“Uh, well okaaay,” says Angela. “I am in a meeting. You will have to wait.”

By this time my jacket has been caught in the tea rush heading through the turnstile and my undignified position stretched across the desk is making me feel, well, stupid.

We are let through the turnstile and shown to a back area seating facility. We can see the first floor stairs. We sit. We wait. We don’t talk because we think we know what’s coming. But we don’t.

Like a socialite coming down the stairs of a ballroom for a fancy dress function, our eyes are drawn to a spectacular sight. Angela is making an entrance. A large shiny hairdo with long tresses that end in ringlets make way for 4cm acrylic nails decked in gold glitter nail polish.  A vast collection of gold and jangly bracelets on both wrists add to the astonishing effect. A peplum black dress, gold belt and burnished gold boots complete the picture. Joan Rivers would have been speechless.

An audition for Toby’s Christmas pantomime, perhaps?

The meeting was a textbook patter of empty understanding and vacant disinterest in the professional lives of the colleagues she held in the palm of her hands. A person who shouldn’t have been in the job. Gatekeeping the talent entry points to a growing brand that no amount of artificial gold luster could account for.

Bloody scary. And no apology for keeping us waiting or messing up an appointment. We were speedily dispatched. Doggy substance beneath her shoes.

Two meetings. Two experiences. Two extremes. An unbalanced diet of pixies and professionals.

To Okkie and RMB: thank you.

To Angela: pantomimes require pixies – the auditions are around the corner.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on July 4, 2012 by in Human Resources.


%d bloggers like this: