Infallibility

Published: Oct 30 , 2014
Author: Stephen White

There is a sweet story about a car mechanic who is fixing the engine of the car belonging to an eminent heart surgeon. The surgeon arrives in the repair shop whilst the job is still not quite completed. The mechanic calls the doctor over to have a look under the hood.

“You and I do the same job, Doc.  I opened the engine’s heart, took the valves out, I am repairing and replacing anything damaged and then I will put everything back together and when it is finished, it will work like new. Just like you do. So how come I earn $40,000 a year and you earn $400,000 a year?”

“Ah,” replied the surgeon, with not a trace of modesty, “you get to earn the same money as me when you do all that with the engine running”.

This story came to mind when I was reading about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has been largely missing from view of late, reportedly because of ill-health. Today it was revealed that ‘foreign surgeons’ have been flown in to Pyongyang to operate on a cyst on his ankle. I do not know what the going rate for an ankle operation is, but the call-out fee must have been colossal.

One can only speculate that their self-confidence, mixed with a liberal dose of their own infallibility made them accept the challenge. They are brave men. If Mr Kim makes a recovery, they will be heroes, at least in North Korea. But if he does not, they might be negotiating their exit visas for some considerable time, possibly from behind bars. 

In this sense there is a connection between doctors and negotiators. Like doctors, negotiators are easily held to account because the results of their work are so transparent. They get famous if it goes right and they bring the deal home, scorned and maybe worse if they don’t.

But like some doctors, many senior negotiators have an inflated view of their capabilities. Such a one is Dominique Strauss Kahn.  Even though he was forced to resign his position as Managing Director of the IMF after a sex scandal in 2011, he continues to chase political fame, possibly as the next President of France.

Last week one of Strauss Kahn’s major business partners Thierry Leyne committed suicide, and a slew of poor deals were revealed.  

I expect this will only increase DSK’s appetite for power. Watch this space.

Politicians, mind you.  When did they ever knowingly negotiate anything?  Rhetoric and hot air – that’s more their game…

Stephen White


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Muck Shift

Just when is a deal not a deal…? I heard this story from a friend of mine the other week; there are some lessons to be learned! So, my pal is a developer and is building some houses on what is essentially a square site. Two sides of the square can be accessed from the road in a neighboring housing estate and the other two are beside a field owned by another developer. There is a huge pile of muck to shift before the actual building project; this phase is known in the trade – and not unreasonably - as a "muck-shift"! As there will be 80 -100 lorries coming in and out each day for 6 weeks, it was considered more convenient to access the site over the field, so an approach was made to the developer to discuss the terms under which he would allow access. This is a standard arrangement and the deal typically is that the field would be returned to the owner in its original condition. Developer makes a bit of money, where otherwise he wouldn’t; homeowners in the adjoining estate are less inconvenienced; builder does not need to spend money cleaning the streets and getting them back to a usable state at the end of the project. Win-win.

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