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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Beware The Pied Piper Of Hamelin

In my business life I have seldom reneged on my commitments to contracts and terms of trade. Occasionally I stretch things out past their due date if I can and if I have troubles with cash flows in particular parts of the year I let my suppliers know so that I can allay their fears about payment or having offered credit.

I would never venture to say I was the noblest of businessmen, I make poor decisions regularly and I often have a pragmatic 'trial by enough errors' approach in business rather than purporting to be the brightest spark in the room. So far in life it has got me thus far, what exactly defines 'thus far' I could not tell you, for I fear if we don't get to sell our businesses and assets when we are most confident about them then we might be severely thrashed by the gap between what we thought we were worth and or had created and what we were sold down for. 

The thing that really galls me in small business is managing supply lines and making sure that those that do work with you understand and respect your boundaries and your needs. But over time those lines are always blurred and recently one such exchange happened where, frustrated,  I felt that our work had been brushed aside whilst the supplier concentrated on milking other corporate customers and had ignored not only our production timetable but also our production quality. Clear instructions were ignored, phone calls and emails were not answered. Then Christmas. Then silence through January. In February when the supplier felt like things were slow enough, they produced the items poorly, as noted, and then demanded payment upfront before shipment. A stalemate ensued.

Recently on a morning walk a brothers Grimm story was re-told to me concisely by a friend. The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, not that it necessarily has any bearing on my own recent experience, but it does remind me of what happens when relationships go south and toxic. In a nutshell the story is this:

Once upon a time there was a town in Germany named Hamelin that resided next to the banks of a river. The citizens were for the most part honourable and over a number of years the town had grown very rich from good trading and good resources. 

Then one day, the strangest thing happened. The town was infested by rats. They were eating through everything, the timber in the houses, the food in kitchens, pantries and cellars. The cats that usually took care of the rats could not handle the growing population of fatted black rats that swarmed the streets without the slightest fear. For if one rat was stomped down, another replaced him. 

The city elders, lead by the Mayor, called a town meeting. They thought an army of cats might quell them but the cats were now being killed by the swelling numbers of rats. They thought they could poison the food supply but the rats had eaten their way through all the food they could find. The village elders hung their heads in dismay and saw nothing but a bleak future. Then, just when they thought they would have to pack up and leave the town, in marched into the village The Pied Piper wearing a brightly coloured ensemble with his magical pipe. 

"So you have a problem with rats ay? I will remove all the rats from this village for a thousand guilders. Do we have a deal?"

The townsfolk were so happy that they said "we'll do anything to get rid of the rats" and the Mayor added "yes, if you can get rid of them we'll give you fifty thousand guilders! Why it's a cheaper price than giving up the whole town!"

So the Piped Piper took him up on the offer. The following morning a heavy fog descended over the town but the lofty haunting sound of the magical pipe pierced the morning air. All the rats began to follow the sound and as the fog lifted the villagers looked out their windows to see the Pied Piper slowly walking through the town and the rats were all in tow. He continued to walk down to the river until all the rats had followed him into the water and either drowned or else were sent on a long journey down river. By midday there was not a rat left in the town.

The Pied Piper presented himself at the Mayor's office for payment. "I am here to collect my fifty thousand guilders" said the Pied Piper softly. But the Mayor returned "I saw how easily you did that and the rats are all dead. You're kidding if you think that's worth fifty thousand guilders!". 

The Pied Piper was astonished. "Are you serious?" he asked searching the Mayor's face. 

"Quite!"said the Mayor. 

"Well then at least pay me the original fee of one thousand guilders" said the Pied Piper who was becoming visibly distraught.

"No! Here is fifty guilders and that's about as much as we will pay you for such a service. Now be gone!"

The Pied Piper's eyes were enraged but then he calmed himself and said simply to the Mayor, 'I can assure you, all the people of Hamlein will regret this".

The following morning an even heavier fog laid siege to the village than the day before and a chillingly haunting tune could be heard piercing the thick air from all the houses in the village. All the children began to rise from their beds and they walked out into the streets, enveloped by the fog, their eyes glazed over with grey, and they began to follow the Pied Piper who marched through the thick fog out of the town, through the adjacent woods, into the forest and out the other side to the base of a huge stony mountain continuing on around the base until they came to the mouth of a giant cave. 

The Pied Piper walked all of the children into the cave and then a rumbling began and a huge slice of the mountain began to slide down until the entrance of the cave could no longer be recognised at all. Only one small boy who had tripped some kilometre back, struck by a rock unconscious, had woken to see the carnage. He made his way back to the village to recount the story of the fate of all the little children of Hamelin.

It would take some years before the sound of children's voices flourished in the streets again but the memory of the town's loss would never ever be forgotten. 

I am not entirely sure how this applies to my rogue supplier, but needless to say, I think the residents of Hamelin learned to keep to their commitments after that. 

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