My Biggest Mistake: Ann Rossiter

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MY BIG MISTAKE was misjudging the commercial value of a trip overseas. Not so very long ago the 'Best of British' trade show was taking place in a small South American country better known for its football than for its business acumen. I felt flattered to be invited and to represent my company, Bronnley.

The British ambassador had a grandiose plan to open the garden of his residence for this occasion. The British trade delegates arrived in the blazing heat of the afternoon and were immediately summoned to the embassy. Lecture followed lecture on the glittering trade figures and commercial prospects of this tiny country. I sat dozing, dreaming of an iced drink.

Rain, the first in six months, poured during the night. We arrived at the embassy garden to find the huge marquee flooded. The Bronnley merchandise stood in 10 inches of water. The promised display units and shelving had not materialised. A local contractor, overcome by the angry demands of the 20 British exhibitors, could only throw up his hands and say 'Manana'. Chaos reigned. In the sweltering tent, there were no fans and no drinks. Outside, the ambassador's swimming-pool, which was out of bounds, shimmered temptingly.

My colleague and I were still decorating our stand with merchandise when, after a speech from the ambassador, hordes of elegantly attired men and women swarmed into the sodden tent. The local business community was indistinguishable from society ladies and government officials.

At short intervals the ambassador would appear and smile at me, saying: 'I would like to present His Excellency the French ambassador and Madame X'

Heavy-heartedly, I handed over one of the very few dry boxes of soap, which was graciously accepted. From every angle manicured hands appeared, begging for samples. Shopping bags bulging with stolen or given articles added to the excitement of the over-crowded marquee. I slumped on to a chair, praying the show would end.

By the last day, we had found a distributor and were advised how lucky we were to have obtained the very best one. His single order was an insult to commercial dealings. Promises of bigger and better things have not come to fruition.

Only one letter has been received, asking if he could represent my company throughout Latin America, and we have heard nothing of him since.

Much to my surprise, my colleague and I were the only delegates honoured with a formal invitation to luncheon at the embassy. Weight Watchers were forgotten - sumptuous food and wine were impeccably served. After sipping my coffee, I was about to leave when the ambassador's wife suggested that her husband would like a job at Bronnley when eventually he retired to England.

I smiled at the dismal failure of my mission. How was I to tell my colleagues all that had passed, bearing my trifling order back to Britain? The whole trip was a huge mistake as far as I was concerned, because I had failed so miserably in front of fellow Bronnley colleagues - and I was meant to be one of its top salespeople. To make matters worse, I had led everyone to believe that it was going to be a huge success.