Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21st, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

When it comes to making a purchase of any significant item, we all take a little more care, interest and exercise more caution, prior to parting with our finances in return for goods than when we seek a less substantial acquisition. However, it always amazes me how difficult it actually can be to make a purchase of such items in the local environment. Far too often the ‘seller’ considers themselves as the one in a position of strength, and yet it is the ‘buyer’ who holds the so called ‘purchasing power’. I cannot count the number of times that I have walked out of a vendors premises without making a purchase, frustrated at the ‘lack of co-operation’ in my wanting to hand over money in return for goods. Does that sound familiar?

Let us go shopping together. We walk into the showroom of ‘Sell-em-quick’ to ask the price of a (as is far too often the case) non-price ticketed item, worth a few thousand Ghana Cedis, and stand by the item. We watch patiently the ‘sales person’ sit and finish a ball of kenkey and some fried ‘Keta-School-boys’ (that would be the small fish, not the young males of our coastal town!). Eventually they walk over to us and say ‘Uhhhh’. We ask the price. ‘Ohhhh, I cannot tell.’ Comes the reply. ‘Can you find out?’ we probe. ‘Unless tomorrow…’ OK, so that is not unusual, but to then watch the representative go back and sit at the makeshift desk, carefully laying their head on their arms for their ‘well-earned’ siesta, goes beyond a marketing joke.

No request for a name, where we are from, what else we might require and the questions that go with ‘good practice’. Why? Because, the seller believes that they hold the ‘power’ over the transaction. Hence, when I have a major purchase to make, I gear up for it, ready to face the challenges and frustrations of ‘attempting to use my purchasing power’ in the current market conditions.

Fortunately, ‘serendipity’, which not only sounds like a nice word, is a wonderful thing. Meaning that someone finds, or comes across, something that they were not expecting to find, or come across. No other word carries the same potent, instant and undisputable message of an "unexpected pleasant moment". The interesting thing is that serendipitous moments surround us, if only we can open our ears, minds and hearts to embrace them and enjoy them and are not too frustrated and flabbergasted by the challenge moments that punctuate our lives. We are also in possession of the power to impart serendipity to others.

Whilst flying circuits, last weekend at Kpong Airfield, I was looking at the runways, workshops, hangars and just under construction mini-clinic-treatment centre, pondering the challenges of electricity. Electricity in the environs of an airfield is a challenge. Buildings are far apart, and power needs tend to be quite substantial. Kpong Airfield has been trying to get a quotation for mains power to the airfield, but of course overhead lines can only come to within a certain distance of the operational areas – for airplanes and overhead wires are immiscible at all times! Add to that the distance of a rural airfield from built up areas, by obvious design, and you quickly understand that the cost of bringing the mains power to rural aviation has the habit of being prohibitively expensive, without the grants and subventions that accompany developments in the ‘developed world’ that are so ominously absent in the ‘developing world’!

Flying on the downwind leg, I was planning the location for a gen-set to provide power and potential routings for the underground lines, as well as contemplating the wire cross-section that may be needed for each segment of the layout. I had already ‘tried’ to obtain and actually obtained some quotations for wire, cables, etc. and realized that this was going to be a challenge to accomplish without some support from different organisations, including keen pricing and a ‘desire-to-sell’ from the suppliers. I had already decided that any vendor eating kenkey would not be requested to quote!

Then as we turned from base-leg to final on the fifth circuit of the training session, I saw a white pick-up pulling out from the airfield car-park. As we descended to cross the road at two-hundred feet my eye captured, partially, the bold red writing on the side of the vehicle; ‘Trop… Cable’. We continued the approach, the words held in suspense in my mind as we concentrated on the flare, touch-down and go-around components of the training exercise.

Climbing out, and turning to the cross-wind leg, I keyed the Push-To-Talk (PTT) and asked ‘confirm vehicle departing from main gate’s intentions’. The young lady on the radio, responded ‘he sells electric wire and will come back later’. Serendipity hit me in the headset as we rounded onto the next downwind section. ‘call him and ask him to return’, I requested, receiving a ‘wilco’ from the ground.

Three more circuits, my student gaining in confidence and competence, and we touched down on a ‘full-stop’, and taxied back. After my de-brief with the student, I sat with the young man, whose name I learned was Samuel. His eyes were bright and unable to meet mine through searching for glimpses of the aircraft beyond me, but his ears were well focused on our conversation. Thinking he came from one of the quoting companies, I waxed on about how expensive his quote was. He declared no knowledge of my contacts. I forgave him, a little, and suggested that he takes a look at the area, gave him a sketch of the planned installation, and asked for a quote.

Apparently, Samuel immediately started looking for a cost-effective solution to get power under the runway to the clinic building. When, at the opening of the next working day, I called and said, ‘I am coming to Tema’, he responded ‘and your quote is ready’. Little did I know that real serendipity would occur within the next hour. He had prepared the exact amount of cable, on drums, a keen price and a swift and effective payment system that did require me to spend an additional hour at an ‘accounts office’.

The serendipity did not end there. The twenty-something young man, trained in Electrical engineering at Accra Polytechnic, came out to the expansive yard and jumped onto a forklift, in his collar and tie. He loaded my truck carefully and with a smile. He never asked for any ‘thank you’ and was ‘happy to have served a customer’.

From the sighting of his truck from the cockpit, to the loading of my own was a pleasant, stress free, professional exchange between a buyer and a seller – one that demonstrates it can be done, and should be the norm.

How do your customers feel about coming to your business or organisation? Is today going to be a serendipitous day for them – if you can help to make it so, then perhaps, just perhaps, it will become a serendipitous moment for you and your colleagues too!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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