Plenty of chief executives have been caught with their trousers metaphorically around their ankles but few, if any, have actually dropped their pants to win a business deal, as Jean Pierson, the former head of the aircraft maker Airbus, apparently did.
According to a new book published today, the colourful Frenchman was in the offices of Stephen Wolf, then-chairman of US Airways in 1997, negotiating a mega-deal to sell the airline 400 jets.
When, at the last minute, Mr Wolf demanded a further 5 per cent discount, M. Pierson employed his bizarre tactic. "Pierson began slowly lowering his trousers and saying 'I have nothing more to give'," John Newhouse, the former New Yorker writer, recounts in his book, Boeing versus Airbus. "He then allowed the trousers to fall around his ankles."
The ploy worked. Mr Wolf replied: "Pull up your pants, I don't need any more money," and the deal was signed. The author says he got the story from M. Pierson himself, who has since retired from Airbus. If the Airbus chief was red-cheeked, he apparently did not show it. As events turned out, the embarrassment was to become all Boeing's. The US Airways deal enabled Airbus to break into Boeing's back yard and usurp its historic position as the world's biggest jet maker two years later.
But the airline industry is nothing if not cyclical. Tomorrow Airbus will be forced to admit that Boeing has recaptured the lead again after a terrible 12 months for the European aircraft maker. The company has had three chief executives in less than a year
The latest occupant of the hotseat at Airbus is Jacques Gallois, who masterminded the revival of the French railways. He has an equally tough task now. Perhaps he should start practising some Pierson-style negotiating tactics in front of the mirror.Reuse content