During my first in-house role, BP Chemicals decided to outsource the debt-collection work, my responsibility, to an outside firm. I prepared a list of suitable firms, and rang the main switchboard of the first name on the list. This was Nabarro’s, a solicitors firm in London with a reputation for insolvency work.
My call was answered by a composed and articulate young lady. I explained briefly who I was and what I wanted, and asked her to put me through to the insolvency partner. She said sorry but she could not do that. “All new clients require a recommendation.”
This folie de grandeur was new to me and I was intrigued: “A recommendation? What recommendation do we require?”
“You need a written recommendation from one of our existing clients.”
I replied: “You have heard of us? BP? We are Britain’s largest company. I am surprised that we need a recommendation.”
“Sorry,” she said, “this is our new policy and it applies to all prospective clients.”
This was going nowhere, and I became mischievous: “Can you give me a list of your existing clients, so I know who to approach?”
“No,” she replied, “I am afraid our client list is confidential.”
“So I need to call my contacts in the business until I find one who is an existing client of Nabarro’s and is prepared to recommend BP to you in writing?”
“I’m afraid that is right.” I could hear her composure starting to slip.
“That is a blind process that I really don’t have time to embark on. Can I ask you to do one more thing for me? When we finish, will you mention this conversation to your insolvency partner?” She said she would, took my number and rang off.
I crossed firm’s name off my list and was about to ring the next, when the phone rang. It was the insolvency partner offering fulsome apologies. The lady on the switchboard had misunderstood the new policy. Of course it did not apply to BP.
Despairingly he invited me to lunch, which I declined politely. The issue had been settled by my initial discussion with the lady on the switchboard.