It was early summer of 1979 when I was in Abu Dhabi to give a presentation to the king, Sheikh Zayed. As was common practice, such meetings were held at “reception.” It was often outside in a large tent and open to citizens, who were usually there to ask for favor or aid from the king. (That particular day the fellow ahead of me was there to request a dentist to help his mother-in-law.) The tent was air-conditioned with folding chairs for all.
My role as a consultant was to explain the uses of various physical and electrical security items being offered to UAE, so my presentation was supported with many photographic slides. When it was my turn, I found that the bulb in my slide projector was broken and all the back-up bulbs were also burned out. Then the fun part started.
At this moment, a fellow awaiting his turn in the reception tent saw my dilemma and rushed from the tent to his camel, which was tethered to the king’s Mercedes, and retrieved a duffle bag that contained a vintage Kodak slide projector. He was ever so proud to let me use it and save the day for the benefit of the king and whatever I needed to do. The only problem was that the projector had no right front or left rear leg, so it wobbled and tipped over. Seeing this, Sheik Zayed arose and stopped by a large bowl of oranges and carried two back to where I was standing. The two of us ate an orange and saved the peels so they could prop the projector to a nearly stable position. This is really when the fun began.
I began my talk and showed the first slide photo. To my chagrin, the hot bulb ignited and burned the first slide after 12 seconds (by my estimate). You could tell from the audience reaction that this clever way of ending the photo presentation with a flash of flame on the screen added greatly to the memorable event. They applauded while I made mental adjustments on how to time the oral presentation with the photo images that lasted only a few seconds. But it all ended well, and the whole crowd enjoyed my “different kind of talk.”
When it was over and the projector was returned to the fellow with the camel, who was proud as can be for his role in saving the day, another fellow who stood smiling in the back of the room came to me to say how this set of events was very unusual and worth a laugh. And we did. It turned out that this nice person had just graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was Sheikh Zayed’s son, who today leads the United Arab Emirates. A friendship evolved from that beginning.
It was not long thereafter that he asked me for any suggestions on how to “arrange a good time” for a little boy with leukemia, his 12-year-old brother. We settled on a time a few weeks later when they would come to my house in Virginia and go fishing at the lake across the road from my place. Ten days later I got the message that God had intervened in our plans and that young brother would not be joining us for a pleasant afternoon.
This story addresses many lessons. Sometimes things do not proceed as expected. It is essential that we adapt and work around problems even when we have no idea at the outset of what to do or how to achieve the objectives. And we must do these corrective things with a smile on our face and a genuine “thank you” for those who help us.
There are hundreds of other stories that revolve around consulting practices, so let me say a few last words on this topic. My view is that a key element for success in any consulting business involves recognizing relationships. For example, my friend, who was the director of R&D for the Central Intelligence Agency, and I would have a lunch chat every month where he could tell me the sort of things he was seeking and I could respond with names and summary descriptions of new technologies. He in turn would suggest that I call “Fred Smith at ABC Co.,” who might need some consulting help.
Consultants are only successful when they see, build and understand relationships.