Last month’s installment ended at an impasse. I had gone all the way to western China for a $2-million drill pipe deal, but ended up in fierce negotiations about lead times in unfamiliar territory (and dogged by a brutal cold). I gave them our final availability and they insisted on better. I thanked them for their hospitality and asked to be driven back to my hotel — my last ploy.
I got to my room around 3 a.m. and tried to get some sleep. I had negotiated, worked the phones and shuttled back and forth for what felt like days. My cold only persisted.
About 4 a.m., a knock at the door startled me awake. It was Mr. Chen, the man I originally met months earlier at our Grant Prideco facilities tour in Houston. We sat in silence for a few minutes until he finally passed a folded paper across the table. I looked. It was a lower price than I had hoped. So far, we had invested about $8,000 in this effort between the trip to Houston and my trip to Karamay. I scratched out the number and wrote in a higher number, splitting the difference. I folded the paper and passed it back across the table.
By now, the older gentleman who I’d also met in Houston had joined us. During these talks, I had scoped him out as the ultimate decision maker, and this confirmed it. I assumed that they would accept my delivery time and we would finally negotiate price.
Chen showed my counter offer to the older man. They conferred for just a moment before Chen looked back to me and said, “Deal.” What I thought would turn into a drawn-out negotiation ended rather quickly. I had built some slack into my pricing for just this purpose. Sometimes during negotiations, you give the other side some victories to help make your opposing negotiator look good.
I had to wait while they typed up the contract. Have you ever seen a Chinese language typewriter? It took almost an hour before the contract was presented and signed. I later found out that they switched to the HT55 drill pipe because the only place to buy it was Grant Prideco. If they went with the NC50, they would have had to buy it from a Chinese manufacturer according to a Chinese law. This also meant that I had to meet with a government official in Beijing before leaving.
After the signing, we had a celebratory meal. There were 10 of us at the table. I smoked cigarettes at that time and they kept trading their Chinese cigarettes for my American ones. Servers brought in an alcoholic beverage in thimble-sized glasses, a sure sign of potency. Several of my hosts spoke English, so we chatted, smoked and had the not-so-occasional cry of “Toast!” We would drain our thimbles just to have them quickly refilled.
When the food came, I searched for something I could identify. I am not an adventurous eater. I thought I saw cauliflower, but it was yellow and turned out to be sea urchins. I was seated between Chen and my translator. At one point, Chen put a goat’s foot on my plate. When I say “foot,” I mean the entire foot — complete with all the hoof parts. I tried to cut a piece off it, but it was so greasy it just slid around the plate. My translator explained the great honor represented by Chen’s offer. The translator then showed me how to eat it: You put the entire foot in your mouth and scrape off the meat as you pull it out. Yummy.
I found enough to eat. Honestly, I had not eaten in so long it did not take long to get my fill. A half dozen or so thimbles also had me feeling it. When breakfast ended, they located my luggage and we loaded up the Land Cruiser. We were off to Urumqi.
At the outset, my translator gave me a pill for my cold and I took it. We made a pit stop along the way to use the facilities, an empty brick room with a concrete floor. A curb separated the “good” side from the deposit area. I slept part of the way, trying to recoup some lost sleep. In Urumqi, we stopped at a restaurant that had a buffet with American food options. I finally had a familiar meal and then they dropped me off at the Urumqi airport for my flight to Beijing. I would have a free day before my meeting with the government official.
In route to Beijing, I sat beside a young man, about 25 years old. After some silence, he turned to me and said, “Our government is really stupid.” I replied, “Don’t worry. Our government is really stupid, too,” and we hit it off. He talked about how expensive it was to live in Beijing. We discussed the one-child policy that fined couples for having more than one child. I learned a lot about the life of a young adult in China. We talked about the complexity of written Chinese languages as compared to the alphabet we have for English. He told me Chinese children spend half their education learning to read and write. We were different yet shared the same concerns.
In Beijing, I checked into a European hotel. I picked up food in the lobby, which featured stores and even a Mongolian restaurant in the shape of a yurt. I was beat, so I took my food up to my room.
The next day I took a bus to the Friendship Department Store in downtown Beijing. I shopped for and bought some items to take home. I then walked to Tiananmen Square where, 8 years earlier, a lone young man had stared down tanks. I went to the Forbidden City, looked at the shops there and then got in line to tour the “forbidden” part. When my turn to go in came, they closed it for the day. I tried to talk them into letting me in, but no. I headed back to the store to catch a bus back to my room and rest.
As it got dark, I went outside to find the streets lined with vendors selling food, clothing and just about everything else. I stopped at one and bought a silk scarf (which ended up having a “made in India” tag). As I walked along the sidewalk, I heard a very distinct “Hello.” A boy of about six sat on the stoop of his home. I saw a man who looked like his grandfather along the side of the stoop using a hammer to pound out a metal bowl. I had a fun day.
The following day, I caught a cab to the office of the government official. His office sat beside a Kentucky Fried Chicken. I recognized him from the negotiations. He showed me a brochure of one of the Chinese manufacturers making drill pipe. It included a group shot of their people and I recognized a few Americans who had consulted on the project — a sure sign to me that they were serious about making a solid product. We signed some papers, then drank tea and chatted for a while. Then, I went back to the hotel, carefully packed my gifts so they might not break and headed to the airport.
I checked in and had time before my flight, so I walked out front to get a smoke. What looked like a school bus pulled up to the curb. It had no seating and luggage packed it from top to bottom. The driver and another man came around back and opened the back door. They proceeded to throw the luggage from the bus to the sidewalk. I dreaded the thought of someone handling my luggage in this manner.
When I walked back in, I ran into the government official I had met the day before and we chatted. Soon I boarded my flight. As it took off, I caught sight of the Great Wall winding its way through the countryside.
My flight was non-stop to Detroit with a connection to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. The plane from Beijing was less than half full. I found an empty row of three seats, put up the armrests and laid down. The next I knew, we landed in Detroit. It was morning. I went through customs and they searched my luggage. As I shoved everything back in, I noticed some items did not make it in one piece.
After a short flight, I was back in Washington, D.C. My cold still plagued me — it had been a week and I lost over 10 pounds. I had flown around the world but was back. My wife, Randy, met me at the airport. When she saw me, I think her comment was, “Oh my God, are you alright?” She guided me to the car and drove us home. I had a contract. It was not as big as I had wanted, but it was OK. We arrived at home and I distributed gifts. It took a few days to get back to normal but I was glad to be home.
I placed the order and, after a few months, it was ready and shipped to China. After the boat sailed, I got a call from Grant Prideco. They just realized they shipped $1 million in drill pipe on open credit without even a completed credit application. They got a little irate (but I think they were more embarrassed). We had an irrevocable, confirmed letter of credit. When we got paid, Grant Prideco got paid (and I think someone in Houston breathed a sigh of relief).That was our only order with Grant Prideco. Four years later, I found myself a Grant Prideco employee, but that is another story.