Mingling. It would be useless at this point with only a few moments before the clock hits 1:10 p.m. The only ones left to enter are the professor and the tardy students.
“If you are here for Introduction to Negotiation you’re in the right place. I am Professor Yamamoto.” The professor promptly starts the class and quickly divides the room into groups of fours. “Don’t worry about grades for today, I just want to see your negotiating styles.” Before introductions? Someone wants to see how the future salarymen of Japan react to strangers. “My TA will give you and your partner a paper describing the situation and objective. You have 10 minutes during which, I’ll be going around to take notes and make comments. Then we’ll do more formal class introductions.”
“Oh hi! So it’s you and me? I’m Tanaka. I went through the analyst program at Bear Stearns, their New York headquarters in fact.” Why do they all think that the “business experience” that MBA programs look for is two years as an analyst at a bank? The Rolexes and top-of-the-line cell phones in the room belie many dreams of earning money behind long hours and a company-owned mahogany desk.
“I’m Asami. And I didn’t work at a bank.”
“May I ask where you worked at?”
Asami ignores him and inspects the paper. You and your partner are talking with a contractor to remodel a house’s bathroom. Design and consultation have already been done and paid for. The absolute most you can spend is ¥2,000,000. Speed is important but not as much as quality as you want fixtures to last. But ideally, you want both for the best price you can get. Below are the numbers:
A voice pipes up from the other side of the room. “Are they all this stupid? I don’t need an MBA for this!” As the class roars in laughter, Asami realizes this might be a class he’d gladly do business with.
“So, is it us two versus you two? I’m Satou and he’s Takahashi.”
“Is that your phone?” The other one interjects, looking at a featureless brick on Asami’s desk. “You should, hm . . . definitely upgrade.” Really? Why bother spending money on a phone that will get disposed of later tonight? Then again, this current phone is lasting an entire day longer than the last one.
The negotiation starts with the other pair laying out their proposal. ¥2,200,000 for the whole project. More than 40% markups for materials and labor? Those have better be spectacular fixtures and craftsmen. His partner stammers through. How much for the fixtures? How much for contractors? What about using only two workers instead of three?
Eavesdropping around, Asami realizes that all the other groups do have the same situation. That makes comparing everyone to everyone easy. Of course, most groups went to the medians, around 25% – 28% markup on labor and materials, ending up at just a little under client budget. The goal of negotiation is to get what you want and the nice and easy way is to create a situation in which everyone gets some of what they want. But the character isn’t determined from nice, easy, average, mediocre situations. So what of his little foursome?
His partner was just about to agree on exactly ¥2,000,000 for the project to last a week longer. But still . . .
“If you’re so keen on saving money, we can always cut code compliance.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Asami finally cuts in. “Since the design is final, we’ll buy the tiles, fixtures and paints. I know the best warehouses and can find them all for ¥450,000. You can do the rest for ¥1,100,000 — and finish on time.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Seeing your markup on labor, I could have been ruthless and had you start at ¥1,000,000.” A 10% markup on labor is ruthless. A smarter person would have upped that to around ¥1,225,000, 28% markup on labor is closer to the going average.
“Why should we drop down to 15% for the labor and nothing for the fixtures?”
“Because you lost my trust when you tried to rip me off. The legal way to negotiate this down was to cut into your margins. The illegal way was to have blackmailed you by threatening to report your sub-code work.”
“But . . . But . . . ”
“Trust is not an asset you have right now.”
“All right, time is up!” The professor makes his way to the front of the class as everyone perks up. “After I tell you my background, I’ll then hand it over to you to introduce yourselves. Try and sum up yourselves, especially your business experience, in less than a minute.”
Twenty minutes of one-minute bios later, and that is time he’ll never get back. He knew it, everyone came from a bank. Everyone else did the right things — went to the right schools, had the right jobs at the right big investment banks. And all those right things have led to them having spent their past two years as analysts working long hours hovering over spreadsheets with associates screaming at them with VPs screaming at the associates with the Managing Director screaming at, well, everyone really.
Asami’s turn. “During university, I was a receptionist for a general contractor,” doing all the inventory, accounting, and managing of laborers while the boss was in his office drunk. “And for the past year, I have been doing business development for a small real-estate group,” because restaurants make great fronts for other “businesses.”
“You’re the youngest here!? Only one year of experience? . . . ”
“That’s all I needed.” Asami could also point out he’s just been promoted to “Vice President” of the “business development” group but no need to tower over snails.
When the class ends, he hears Tanaka, Satou and Takahashi approaching Professor Yamamoto because he never came by the group. The prof quickly tells them, “Satou. Takahashi. I’m not the only one whose opinion you should be worried about. And all three of you, you’ll know what I think of you as the semester goes on.” And Asami thinks he just might learn something from this class.
Outside, Shimizu is waiting for him. “Meet me at this address tonight,” she tells him, handing him a note and then taking off. Below the time and address, she’s written: “Tanaka, 56. Generic salaryman tool who got promoted beyond the Peter Principle because he’s the boss’ best friend. The stress of being in over his head makes him want to be tied up by boys whom he calls ‘daddy.’ Yeah, I know.” Just another variation of what lots of old men want. “His son is a year older than us. See if you can pick him out.” Too late for that — unfortunately.
“Oh, you know Shimizu? She’s in my business communications class. Is she your girlfriend?” Tanaka looks like he wants to walk after her.
“Then why do you hang around her?”
“She knows things.”
“If you like and respect her, maybe you should ask her out?”
“No.” Because it’s not a good idea to get involved with the dominatrix you hired to teach you to dom. Is there ever a polite time to explain that?
“If you don’t have any classes tomorrow, maybe we could hang out?”
“I have things to do tomorrow.” Things? People? Same thing really. Dealing with one tool would be bad enough, no need to deal with another so soon.
As he walks through the hallways, Asami makes a mental note to himself to see, before he gets that framed piece of paper, how many of his classmates he can dominate. Metaphorically of course. Physically would cost them.
“You? You’re prolly just some hot-shot kid who only looks good.” Tanaka protested.
In what seemed to be a blur, the old man suddenly found his arms tied with the “kid’s” tie.
“Bold words from an old man whose 21 year old secretary mommies him. So what was it today? Did she have tell you her read on what the new clients might want? Analyze the prospectus?” It had been nagging Asami all day, why would an old man want a young boy as a dominatrix to call “Daddy”? The visit to his office that afternoon had proved . . . enlightening.
“That was a very insightful report you turned in last week.” No need to tell the old man how he got the report if he wasn’t asking. “What a good report your Mommy wrote for you.” Unfortunately for Asami, Shimizu had already made an offer to the secretary. Though perhaps, Shimizu’s “book business” was a better match for her.
“So how much is she paying you to do this?”
“Oh, I’m not getting paid to do this. I’m paying to do this.” Asami pauses for a moment to let one of the implications of that sink in. No need to point out the other implication that students pay teachers to do things. Though he notices Shimizu leaving the room already.
“Does someone want some playtime before he has to get down to work?” With a confident hand, Asami pushes a popsicle into the old man’s mouth. Though his hands are tied, he still has enough range of motion to not make too much of a mess and Asami gives him a few minutes to finish.
“But before we get started with work . . . ” Asami unloops his belt from his pants. “Someone needs to learn that there are some things that Mommy shouldn’t do . . . ” And he slowly wraps one end of the belt around his right hand.
On the old man’s face is a battle between begging and shamefulness before he finally says, “Daddy . . . ”
And that is all the permission that Asami needs.