Boeing

Well Pressed for Time

By Seddik Belyamani

July 2015

Seddik Belyamani, retired head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Sales, traveled light and was skilled in the art of the sale.

COURTESY OF SEDDIK BELYAMANI

I used to travel 220 days a year meeting with customers and selling airplanes -- a night here, a night there. One time, when I’ve just returned, I sit down for dinner and reach under the table. My wife says, “What are you doing?” And I say, “I’m looking for my seat belt.” I still do that. When I retired, Alan Mulally, who headed Boeing Commercial Airplanes, gave me a seat belt framed with his iconic signature -- he signs with a little airplane.

My rule on packing, if you want to travel light, is three of everything: three underwear, three pairs of socks all the same color. You don’t buy expensive shirts because the hotel laundries will ruin them -- you have to keep cleaning your laundry. Which leads to this story:

We had an executive who was very, very chintzy -- this goes way back -- and one day he calls me to his office and he says, “Seddik, why are you doing your laundry the day before you’re coming home? We’re not paying for laundry, you can wait till you come home and do laundry.” So he disallowed that expense.

Anyway, roll the tape -- about a month later I go to Dubai and we’re negotiating the first 777s to Emirates. This is the first sale, which led to the 100-plus 777s that they have now. I don’t remember how many they were buying then, maybe 12.

We were negotiating for two weeks. And at some point you have to walk away. So I said, “We’re done. We don’t have any more. We’re done.” I left -- I flew to Paris.

When I landed, the airplane door opens and this guy in French makes an announcement, “Monsieur Belyamani, you are going to Dubai.”

I said, “What? I just came from there.”

He said, “No, there is an urgent message for you from Seattle that says you have to go back to Dubai right now.”

So I buy a ticket and go back on the same plane that just brought me. I arrive in Dubai and the phone starts ringing in my room -- the customer wants to meet with me. I start picking up hints that we’re coming to the close.

Then I said, “Oh shoot, I don’t have any clean clothes!”

So I called up the valet service and said, “Can you do this laundry, like, in four hours?” I gave them all my clothes. I’m standing there in my pajamas -- I have no clothes.

The phone is ringing and they’re saying, “Can you come at 12?”

I said, “I can’t come at 12, I don’t have any clean clothes! I don’t even have a shirt.”

So anyway the laundry showed up, fortunately. It was express -- they charge you up the kazoo for that.

And we signed the deal that night. I got a multibillion-dollar contract.

Moral of the story, I went back to the executive and said, “Here is the reason you do laundry every day!”