My wife and I were shopping in our local glass retailer for some new doors for my new office. (I say local, their enormous factory, office and showroom, is a half an hour drive away). This company supplies glass all over the country. But it is old, the personnel look old, even the young ones. The office space is dull. The moment you get a chance to say what you are looking for, you are handed over to someone else. You start off with a normal person and end up talking to an egg plant. It seems that no-one really wants to be bothered to sell you anything, you really have to drag it out of them. We wanted to order two glass doors with frames – not that tricky really, you might imagine?

I guess the reason for this built in empathy could be that the company is making so much money, selling their over-priced glass, and have so many established contracts that couples like us are just a necessary pain in the backside. The weird thing is that everyone knows that, in Belgium, it is the private customers who come in on a Saturday and pay cash that fund the personnel’s bonuses. Because in Belgium cash money is often ‘black money’ and black money is the currency of wining and dining! So one might imagine that the personnel would be doing everything possible to get my wife and I to part with our hard earned cash?

On the way back from the glass store we stopped off at the office of our Landscape architects. The company is young, the personnel too, they seem to have loads of them. But whoever you speak with they all seem pleased to meet you. They are efficient, they come on the day they say they will. They do a little more than was asked for and their prices seem reasonable.

The conclusion from this story and many other observations I have made with similar companies, is that CEO’s form a company, just like departmental heads form a department, and from there a culture grows. In the case of the glass company, 50 years ago it was probably pretty dynamic, but after year on year success it has slowly become complacent. The owner probably does not bother carrying out interviews anymore. The person who does is probably dull and just likes taking on people who will not cause trouble and are not a threat to him or her. And so it goes until one day the owner walks in and notices that his entire staff is as about exciting as a wet day on the Belgian coast.

For the interim manager, a cash rich company with a decreasing profitability and a dull workforce is a really first class challenge. However a young company making loads of mistakes but driven by a passion to serve the customer is much less attractive, these people are generally not ready to listen and what cash they have is already earmarked for one scheme or another! So when it comes to choosing your next client, take your pick!