In the early 1990’s, I was working as an Asian Products Trader for Shell Oil Company. Our trading office was in downtown Houston. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was just starting to open their country to foreign trade, and I received a phone call from a Beijing trader asking if Shell could supply a cargo of gas oil. I understood the magnitude of gaining the Chinese as a customer and received permission from senior management to supply refined products with open credit. This led to our first contract to supply the PRC from a Shell US refinery.
My contact in Beijing later requested that my trading managers and I travel to Beijing to discuss future trading opportunities. We boarded several long-haul United flights and arrived in Beijing where we were escorted to the ‘foreigner’s’ hotel. During the United flight to Beijing, we met other Western energy employees who were also scheduled to meet with the same Chinese officials on the same day as our scheduled meeting.
On the morning of our meeting, we were told by our Chinese escorts that my Chinese contacts were not available. No reason was stated nor information given on when the meeting would be rescheduled. We surmised that they had double booked meetings and were too embarrassed to admit their mistake. Instead of leaving or getting mad, we decided to see Beijing and off we went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. This was before capitalism, traffic jams, and pollution. I never saw another Western face and people stared at us.
The next morning, we were told that our Chinese contacts would meet with us. We had a fruitful meeting which led to more gas oil cargoes. Their senior manager treated us to a lavish Chinese lunch and could not have been more hospitable. Our patience paid off and I never brought up the delayed meeting.
This morning, I read an opinion in the London Financial Times (FT) titled When a rude boss keeps you waiting, why not walk out? (Pilita Clark, January 25, 2020). The subtitle of her opinion is: “If you decide to leave you will gain the satisfaction of preserving your dignity.” She writes about an Australian consultant friend who arrived for a 30-minute meeting with a CEO and left after waiting 20 minutes. “People on LinkedIn assured him he had done the right thing. Several said the CEO’s behavior was depressingly common and many said they had adopted a rule to leave after 15 minutes.”
The delayed CEO realized that he had acted rudely. “He emailed the next day to apologise and arrange a new meeting, this time for an hour.” Part of servant leadership is apologizing when you have made a mistake and work to rectify the error. CEOs are human and make mistakes like other people. My hope is that the relationship grew after the apology.
So, when do you walk out and when do you wait? This is not an easy answer and depends on the situation. I leave enough time in my travel schedule for the unexpected delays and give the other person the benefit of doubt. Ms. Clark brings in personal dignity as a factor: “Ultimately, the best argument for the walkout is the deep satisfaction of preserving one’s dignity.” As a Christian, I find this a poor argument. I get my dignity because I was first loved by God who gave me my being. I like being treated respectfully, just like any normal human being. However, when stood up or kept waiting, I still know that I am made in the image of God. Waiting can be upsetting but it should not harm our sense of personal worth.
At the end of the opinion, she tells a story about a hedge fund manager that was kept waiting by a CEO and was eventually greeted by a woman with “no hands-on experience in the business” to answer his questions. The fund manager became upset and immediately started selling his equity holding in the CEO’s company. The stock declined in value and the fund manager felt satisfied. “It could have gone the other way, of course. But even if it had, I am sure the pain of loss would have been dulled by the simple joy of revenge.”
Revenge is not joyful because it continues the cycle of suffering. Selling equities based on waiting time is a poor business practice, and I don’t believe it is dignified. It would have been far more dignified to tell the young woman that you wished to meet with the CEO and hopefully, this could be arranged in the future. Then, kindly thank her for reaching out, and leave. Perhaps the CEO would have recognized his error, apologized and made amends? I do know that my patience with the Chinese improved our budding relationship and helped me recognize their dignity as people created in God’s image.