By Ron Pestone
Walking out my administrative assistant handed me my schedule which had two large change order meetings scheduled for the rest of the day. I asked her to send out for a couple of containers of soup. If I was ever going to make the day it was going to be on soup and I headed for my first negotiation.
Except for the years I spent at the authority I had always been a contractor, either as a mechanical contractor or an electrical contractor. I though like a contractor and being one I understood them. One thing I know for sure is they are all strong and when you sit down with one of them you had better be able to go 15 rounds. If you can’t you need to find another line of work.
The first negotiation was with a roofer and was in the $200,000 range. I knew the roofer; he took pride in his work and at 225 pounds was not afraid to throw his weight around. At that point in my career I had negotiated many millions of dollars in roof change orders and I appreciated the difficulty of the work. Doing a built up roof in 90 degree weather, moping boiling hot tar is nobody’s ideas of a picnic. I also had great respect for the guys who owned the companies as they put everything on the line and if there was one little leak in one of their installations they had to listen to mountains of complaining.
Well this one started like all the others. A few minutes of small talk then down to the meat and potatoes. The roofer knew how to fight for his dollars and after two heated hours we shook hands on the deal.
Exhausted, I headed for my next negotiation feeling clammy and spongy like Wonder Bread. This meeting was with a General Contractor and his electrician whom we had previously had a very difficult time with. The electrician was asking outrageous dollars for the work installed and GC was threating to go to city hall unless we caved in and gave them what they demanded.
I had known previously they were going to be a major problem and had sent out our best electrical estimators to take actual measurements of what they had installed and to extend the quantities out to current market prices so we could pay them what was fair and reasonable, which was about one fourth of what they were asking.
When I walked into the conference room my two estimators were nervously sitting on one side of the table and the General Contractor and several of his people were sitting on the other side. I sat down asked that we go around the table and for each person to introduce themselves and their position with the company. The GC refused and told all his people not to do it. We spent the next fifteen minutes arguing about it until I finally stated that unless the introductions were made the meeting was over. The GC still refused. I got up and said to my two estimators, “We are leaving.”
Only then did the GC relinquish and agree to my request. It turned out two of the GC’s people were his company’s attorneys. I stopped the meeting and stated we would set up another meeting where the authority’s attorneys could be present or if his lawyers would leave we could continue the meeting.
The GC became very abusive acting more like a gangster than a contractor and barked, “You are a typical public servant who knows nothing because if you knew anything you would be contracting instead of picking up a government check.” I was as patient as I could manage and said, “Make up your mind; you want the meeting today your attorneys need to leave. You want to reschedule we will do it with all our attorneys present.”
His eyes were full of hate and he sputtered, “You like throwing your weight around big shot. I don’t need my lawyers to take you on. Let’s do the meeting.”
He gave the nod and his attorneys got up and left. During the next couple of hours one the most brutal change order negotiations I have ever been involved with took place. The guy was really nasty. H was ex army brass turned contractor working on investor money. He called us every name in the book and threatened us with every law suit in the business including suing us personally.
I stuck with the simple and true facts, the quantities of work installed. I informed him that two different electrical estimators had measured what he had installed and that was where the problem lay. He said the authority’s estimators at best were incompetent. I didn’t bite at his insults and only discussed the quantities of work installed. According to him he knew everybody including the Pope. The meeting lasted until 5:30PM when he got up and said he was going to see his friend, the mayor.
To fast forward a minute I don’t know if he ever went to the mayor but years later the case was settled in a court battle and he received a little more than what we had originally offered him.
Really drained, I headed back to my office, returned some phone calls and signed off on some change orders. Finally I headed for the van, my first link to home. My clothes were now dry but crinkly and stiff and my shoes were like cardboard. I most certainly had a cold.