Robin Williams, Negotiation & Luck!

Robin Williams Good Morning Vietnam.jpg

You’re only given a little spark of madness.

 You mustn't lose it.

Robin Williams

Sometimes you get lucky!

There are a lot of clichés around about success and luck. I often tell negotiators the better your negotiation plan, the better your questions and the better you frame value, the luckier you can be.

So let’s journey back in time.

Before starting Gordian Business some 20 years ago I had the pleasure of working with 3M Australia. One of the highlights was when 3M decided to help raise money to send our Olympians off to the Seoul games. We formed a team and got started.

Through good luck one of my major accounts was Columbia and when they heard that we were raising funds they offered their help. They offered a new release film, a theatre that would hold 600 people, ticket bookings and all proceeds to the Olympic movement.

They suggested that I come by cab to their studio, so I could enjoy a glass of champagne and watch four new films. I did, and the one that stood out for me was ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ by Robin Williams.

The 3M team was happy, they saw the movie and loved it. We started our planning and negotiations started to get other sponsors involved.

At one of our planning meetings, the energy was high and I remarked how great it would be if Robin Williams could come to Australia to launch the movie. Somehow the minutes from the meeting showed that I had organised for Robin Williams to come. By Monday morning it was all over the newspapers. My pager started buzzing at 6am and when I got to the office I had 200 messages to ring different people and urgently, including the MD at Columbia and the MD at 3M.

Before returning the calls I read the articles in the paper and thought, we have prepared for a great launch, we have negotiated key sponsors to donate food and wine and it would be a great success, regardless of the disaster of Robin not coming to Australia.

I was working out which difficult call to do first – the 3M Managing Director or the Columbia Managing Director, I decided to ring the MD at Columbia and throw myself on my sword and apologise.

Here’s where luck was on my side. I had engaged heavily during our preparations with the MD at Columbia who was excited about working with 3M and like me, loved the movie. He had heard rumours on Sunday about Robin Williams coming to Australia to launch the movie so he rang the US Sunday night and spoke to Robin’s agent. The agent was unaware of the offer, and called Robin Williams, who thought it was a great idea and confirmed with the MD at Columbia that he would come to Australia.

So when I called the MD at Columbia it was excitement that greeted me, not anger or frustration. He started with, I don’t know how this idea started, but Robin Williams has agreed to launch his movie for the 3M fund raising event.

Lucky, but it got better. He then shared that we would need a bigger theatre, so he said we are moving the event to the State Theatre in Sydney with a seating capacity of 2,775. By Wednesday of that week, all tickets were sold. I went to the theatre the following week, the curator of the State Theatre was overjoyed as he said that it had not been to full capacity for 20 years.

The night arrived, the place was packed, and I was asked to go backstage to meet Robin’s agent and Robin. So I got strict instructions. On stage I could do a brief introduction of Robin, no longer than a minute, Robin would come on stage and say a couple of nice things, introduce the movie and exit stage left after nine minutes.

Second stroke of luck.

As Robin was introduced, the applause was a thunderous and warm Aussie welcome. He was happy walking on stage, he was overcome with excitement from such a loud and excited, ‘Welcome to Australia, buddy!’

He was hooked, and stayed on stage for about 45 minutes. He was feeding from the laughter and tears and as the movie started, there were 2,775 people and me who were extremely lucky that night. Robin Williams live was like sitting with a genius, but who was very funny. For the business side of the movie, within weeks of its launch, it had grossed in excess of US $ 100 million, a great success then for Robin and the story he was sharing.

A few days ago when it was announced that Robin Williams had left this earth, my wife and I re watched, “Good Morning Vietnam.”

I knew I was lucky at a professional level that he came to Australia for the launch of his movie. At a personal level I was touched by him and I think of that evening every time I hear the Louis Armstrong song, “What a wonderful world.”

I can hear the music as I write this.

In major negotiations I often find that the harder we have worked before arriving at the negotiating table: the bigger the concessions we receive, the quicker agreements are reached and the luckier we are with breakthroughs.  Your role as a global negotiator is not to rely on luck, but to be better prepared than the other side. That’s when you become lucky!

To Robin Williams, my final message. My dear Irish Mum turned 84 today and if she knew Robin she would have shared her and Ireland’s famous blessing:

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”