When Royalty Retires
Camelot chapter closes for Commercial Airplanes with retirement of knighted salesman Belyamani
BY DEBBY ARKELL
This well-traveled salesman may have the gift of gab, but not in the way you might expect. There aren't many salesmen out there who are fluent in four languages, for decades have been on the road for hundreds of days each year in a quest to make sales, have been knightednot once, but twiceand who've been dinner guests at the White House.
Seddik Belyamani, executive vice president of Sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, is all that and more.
And now he has one more title to attach to his name"Boeing retiree." After 28 years of making airplane deals for Boeing, Belyamani is finally going to put his suitcase back into the closet and start spending more time at home. "It's time to spend more time with my family," Belyamani said, about his decision to retire.
"It's been difficult to do that in this job, and I want to spend more time with my grandchildren."
Not that he has any regrets. Belyamani's career has spanned four decades, taken him to just about every continent, and given him exciting times.
A native of Morocco, Belyamani joined the Boeing sales team in 1974 as an international airline analyst. He quickly moved up the ranks to manage accounts for African sales, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Latin America.
During the course of Belyamani's career, the world fleet of commercial jets has tripled to nearly 13,000 airplanes. But what's the biggest measure of success for the softspoken salesman? "Building relationships building them across multiple cultures and ethnic origins," he said. It's relationships that have made the difference over the long haul, Belyamani said. "To me the litmus test of having a close relationship with an airline customer is when you can feel free to call the CEO at home, talk to his or her spouse, and get valuable advice on where you stand."
Even though making a sale often involves skillfully convincing many people within an airline to make the buy, nothing happens until a real person signs on the dotted line. The relationship theory was put to the test once when Belyamani and his team were putting the final touches on a sales campaign involving a substantial number of 767-300ERs. The Boeing team arrived for a scheduled late-morning contract signing at the airline offices, believing it would take no longer than 30 minutes. They believed they would have plenty of time to return to their hotel for lunch.
"Everything was going smoothly during the signing ceremony," Belyamani said. "I took my pen and signed. The chairman, a long-time friend of mine, took his pen, and, just as he was about to sign, one of his executives raised a question. The chairman put his pen down.
Negotiations erupted." Negotiations went on until 6 p.m.; Belyamani and his team were nearly fainting from hunger, and the chairmanwho was also tiredtold Belyamani to come to his house later in the evening to continue discussions. The Boeing sales team ran to the hotel to eat and to strategize. Convinced the customer would sign, Belyamani and the team went to the chairman's house; without any further delay, the chairman signed and served the team a huge meal.
"Another example of how critical relationships are can be seen when I've been involved in sales competitions in Japanit's taking off your shoes, sitting on the floor, singing Japanese songs. Language helps, but it is empathy with cultures that makes you closer," Belyamani said. "It is getting immersed in the culture, knowing some history, eating the food, knowing what's in vogue then, the current events, the politics of the countryall of this helps in making the connection with other cultures that does so much more to put people at ease."
Fluent in French, Arabic, Spanish and English, Belyamani knows about language. And as his track record attests, he knows even more about customers.
No one understands that better than Belyamani's boss, Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally.
"Seddik has shown a unique understanding of our customers throughout his Boeing career," Mulally said. "He's always had the needed leadership qualities and customer focus to lead our team and work together for the best solutions for all of us."
Belyamani has focused much of his time and energy on developing and nurtuing those relationships. He's been on the road on average over two-thirds of the year, and his travels have led him on an almost fairy tale-like journey. Some consider him an aerospace legend.
His extensive travels led him back to his native Morocco, where King Hassan II knighted him in 1990. About 10 years later, after the King's son ascended the throne as King Mohammed VI, the honor was bestowed on Belyamani a second time at a ceremony at the White House. Perhaps this special relationship has led to what Airbus executives have called "The Seddik Factor," enviously noting Royal Air Maroc's relationship with Boeing, and particularly with this widely respected Moroccan native.
"Seddik's career has positioned us all well for the future," Mulally said. "His unwavering focus on our customers and their needs helped us all further develop our preferred family of commercial airplanes, services, customer solutions and working-together relationships."
What will it take to fill this salesman's big shoes?
"You truly have to like people. If you don't, forget it," Belyamani said. "You must be an optimist, because making a sale is like an obstacle course. You have to constantly be in a problem-solving mode. Like [Mulally] says, 'Find a way!'"
The ability to build relationships is critical to the success of a Commercial Airplanes salesman. "You have to have a need to please people, to be liked, to help them," Belyamani said. "You need common sense, and above all, to be yourself. In the end that's what will get results, paying dividends in trust, credibility and integrity. You can't last without integrity. These are all things you can't train for. They must be inherent in the person if he or she wants to be a success."
However, if you want further pointers from Sir Belyamani, royalty of relationships, don't look for him in Seattle, or even on a plane or at the airport. You'd better wax your skis, because this salesman will be swooping down the slopes.
It won't be the sales pitches that are slick, it'll be his skis, and instead of pressing flesh, this salesman will be packing powder, and enjoying what he's always enjoyedthe relationships he treasures and being his inimitable self.
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