Sylvan ultimately did give us that letter of intent. The price was in line with our expectations, so it was signed and the deal proceeded into the phase known as due diligence. That required an extended visit of almost an entire month, while teams of accountants and lawyers nitpicked through every potential reason not to complete the deal.
Towards the end, we were told that the chief operating officer of Sylvan was going to make a visit to the San Jose campus. I’ll never forget what transpired during that fateful meeting.
Señor Salom’s driver picked us up around 1:30 pm. It was a thirty minute drive from the hotel to campus and the meeting was scheduled for 2:00. This meeting was important because, as we had been informed, Sylvan never completed a deal without a personal visit from “the dude.”
Señor Salom had told me in a very serious tone that he was in no mood to negotiate. In his mind the deal was sealed. In fact, he declined to even attend the meeting at all, deciding instead to let me handle it. After all, that was how I was supposed to earn my commission, right?
As we meandered through the busy afternoon traffic I could see dark storm clouds looming over Barva, the 9,000 foot dormant volcano that overlooks the city of Heredia, the “county-seat” of the province with the same name and home to the San Jose campus. That should have been an ominous omen of things to come, but it being the rainy season, I didn’t give it more than a passing thought.
The traffic had us running a little late and as we entered the meeting room, there sat the dude and Louis, the young and very buttoned-down MIT educated executive of Mexican heritage who had been the point-man on the deal, and a guy we’d come to know quite well. The dude didn’t seem very pleased. Of course, he’d been snubbed by Señor Salom, so that could’ve been the reason, together with our slight tardiness. Hey, this is Costa Rica and hadn’t anyone informed the dude about “tico time?”
As was always the case with Señor Salom, he liked to show off by having students from the school’s marque hotel and restaurant management program serve important guests in the most formal manner possible. So the first round of refreshments were brought in and the meeting ensued.
However, another event occurred at that precise moment. Something I’d yet to experience in Costa Rica, but that I have since come to understand is not that infrequent an occurrence in Heredia during the height of the rainy season.
A thunderstorm of epic proportions broke out and to make matters more complicated, it began to hail violently. The reason that complicated matters is simple. The roof over our heads was made of tin, and the sound of the hail on the tin made for a deafening roar that drowned out any possibility of a coherent business meeting.
So we were ushered to a more interior room where the noise was still significant, but a tad reduced. Another round of refreshments welcomed us.
By this point the dude was a bit more than perturbed by the inconveniences posed by the Costa Rican weather. Not to mention the fact that we’d informed him that negotiation was not on the agenda of this meeting. Seems for some reason he had the notion that negotiation was exactly the agenda of this meeting.
By the time of the second round of refreshments, the dude had had enough. He let out a startling string of expletives letting the young and wide-eyed students know that he did NOT want anymore bleeping coffee and croissants. I, along with my two assistants, eyed each other with dismay, being more than a bit amused by the spectacle of this big-shot public company executive completely losing it over bad weather and dessert.
The hail finally passed and we were able to conclude the meeting. When Señor Salom got wind of what had happened he was none too pleased. He called me into his office the next morning and informed me in his Latino macho style that in no uncertain terms would he ever sell his university to this bleeping batch of hijueputas. I nodded and agreed on the outside, while on the inside visions of bankruptcy and total financial ruin danced in my head.
Needless to say, through the grace of god and my steadfast determination to not let the last two years go up in smoke, I was able to smooth things over enough for the deal to somehow proceed. But I’ll never forget that fateful afternoon meeting and the hailstorm that almost did my Costa Rica deal in.
After the due diligence process was completed a period of time went by when nothing at all really happened. It was very unnerving, but Sylvan was in the midst of pursuing other, larger deals. In short, they had bigger fish to fry and we would just have to wait. This further infuriated Señor Salom and once again I felt that my deal was in jeopardy.
Finally we were told that the deal was scheduled for closing and I quickly boarded a flight to San Jose to hold Señor Salom’s hand during the process. He was a wreck because at the last minute Sylvan’s lawyers had demanded that the purchase price be escrowed pending the resolution of a legal issue.
After a couple weeks of hand-holding and nail-biting, the legal issue was resolved and the purchase price released from escrow. After two years the deal was complete and finally, it was payday. I left Costa Rica with only a piece of paper in hand by which Señor Salom had agreed to make a wire transfer that day for the balance of my commission, less the retainer that I’d originally been paid, plus a loan he had extended to me in the course of the deal.
My flight from San Jose to Charlotte, North Carolina landed around noon. I always left my car at an airport hotel that let me park there for free as a benefit of being a frequent guest. I took their shuttle from the airport and upon arrival, threw my bags in the back of my Cherokee 4×4 and headed for home, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
It was December 5, 2003. Forty-three years prior to that day, at Cone Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, I got my start in this world. But today was special for another reason as well. It was, hopefully, going to be the culmination of the last two years of desperately holding this deal together.
I’d vowed to myself that I would not leave Costa Rica empty-handed, having worked too hard and taken too much risk. But my wife had grown impatient waiting for me to return, it was time to come home.
As I drove the long and monotonous superhighway that led to home I couldn’t help but obsess about all the things that could go wrong. Would Señor Salom simply refuse to pay me? He could do that you know. And if he did what could I do about it? Sue him for sure, but with what money? And how long would that take?
Not long after I crossed the border I arrived at a small town where a branch office of my bank was located. I decided that I must put this to rest. I entered as nervous and fidgety as a first-time bank robber and made a b-line to the customer service desk.
“Could I help you?” the pretty young southern-belle sitting behind it asked.
“I would like to know if by chance I’ve received any wires into my account today, please?”
She peered into her computer and after a few moments of punching keys she looked up at me with a sheepish grin and said words representing the sweetest music my ears could’ve heard at that moment,
“Would it perhaps be possible for you to give me a loan?”
At that moment I felt as if I’d levitated a few feet off the ground. The rest of the day was spent floating on this cushy cloud of accomplishment. I’d done it! I called my wife, my dad, my mom and my employees and let them know that “the eagle had landed.”
Everyone was happy for me, especially those in line to now, finally, be paid. As I sat in my office the next day and stared at the number in my bank account, a number I had certainly never seen before, the idea of making a fast get away back to my personal paradise of Costa Rica with all that loot, just sort of disappearing, did cross my mind.
Then I came to my senses. I decided to do what was right and start paying. By the time I was finished that number had diminished to one far less impressive.
What I’d accomplished did display a good deal of tenacity. I had hung on for dear life, perhaps longer than I should have. I tend to do that.
The cushy cloud I referred to above evaporated and I fell back to earth with a thud. That great sense of accomplishment was replaced with a feeling of okay, so now what?
And isn’t that usually the case? Especially when the end of your game is all about you. Why had I worked so hard and for so long? What was “this” really all about? In a word, ME.
I’d been driven by ego more than anything else. I had to prove my worth to the world and closing this deal had become the means to that end. It certainly had not cured any financial problems, but only created even bigger ones. And in the wake of two years of this singular obsession, I had some serious personal issues in tow. I’d operated for those two years wearing “impact blinders” that only allowed me to see one narrow way, my way.
I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe that reason was for me to write about the error of my ways. Perhaps to help others not to make similar ones.
The moral of the story: before becoming so committed to a particular course, it always pays to step back and really search inside yourself for the answer to the question of, WHY?