Richard Nixon became president in 1968. One of the big things he did was to re-establish relations with Communist China. This allowed people and companies in the US, for the first time in awhile, to sell products into China. At this time, the mid 1970’s, I was working as the international sales manager of a micro-computer systems company. I had established a sales partner in Hong Kong, which at the time was separate from the communist Peoples Republic of China (the PRC). My Hong Kong partner had received a Request For Proposal (RFP) from the Peoples Republic of China for a number of computer systems to go into universities in China. My Hong Kong partner had forwarded the RFP to me. The RFP stated that the PRC wanted us to submit our “Best and Final” price for 30+ computer systems. This contract would be worth several hundred thousand dollars, a big deal at the time. I responded to the RFP as requested, and returned my proposal to my Hong Kong partner.
A short time later, to my huge surprise, my Hong Kong partner notified me that we won the bid!! And that I was to fly to Beijing to receive the contract!! This was a large contract for me, and it was exciting because before Nixon’s trip “westerners” had not been welcome in the PRC in awhile.
It took more than 16 hours to fly from LAX to Beijing with a stop in Tokyo. Once there I was surprised at the freedom that we had. We were assigned a car and driver and it seemed like we could go where ever we wanted, within reason. We went to the Beijing Zoo which had the largest, and scariest tiger I have ever seen, and it looked like his eyes followed me where ever I would go, it was creepy.
We went to the Great Wall where we seemed to be a real novelty. All the civilians were very friendly, and wanted to have their picture taken with us.
The next day we met with the government representatives (there were about 10 of them) and my Hong Kong partner as interpreter. After some polite small talk, they said that their government had one final stipulation. Our competitors had offered a “final discount”, and what final discount would we offer … uh-oh, naive me, I wasn’t expecting that.
This presented a big problem. At this time in history, it was still very difficult to communicate back to the US, and I couldn’t cut the price without talking to the owners of my company which I couldn’t do while inside the PRC (at least I didn’t know how to do it). I had to think fast…!!
After what seemed to me a very long silent time, I remembered that their original RFP had said to offer our “…best and final price…”. So I said through my interpreter that my proposal had followed those instructions exactly, and I had offered my “best and final price”. If my competitors did not follow their instructions, well I couldn’t control that… I paused for a minute or two for effect (sweating bullets), then said … but I would throw in an extra set of documentation (they had originally asked for one set, but I knew that they wanted more). I knew this would be no big deal back home, if need be I would sit at a copier for hours and make the copies myself.
The Chinese all looked at each other kind of puzzled and taking to each other, in Manderin Chinese of course, finally the leader smiled and said that they agreed.
Then they gave me the “Golden Number”, the Purchase Order. At the celebration dinner that night, I had the best Chinese food I have ever had to this day.