I received an email invitation Monday morning to an SAP sponsored event on “the latest technology trends and innovations in the global retail industry.” Nothing extraordinary here, except it brought back memories of the first time SAP sought my attendance at a conference in the fall of 1996 in Luxembourg. SAP didn’t just seek my attendance. It asked me to be a featured speaker at its user conference.
Now, you should know two important facts. Then, as now, SAP was and is a leading technology company used by many retail chains for enterprise resource planning. Second, then and now, I am a tech neanderthal.
That didn’t matter to SAP. I was solicited to provide an overview of retail trends. At least, back then, I was an expert on that topic.
As I did on many of my international speaking engagements I brought Gilda along with me, this time for a two week trip through Amsterdam, Brussels and finally Luxembourg. We arrived in Luxembourg Monday evening. I was to speak Wednesday morning, so Tuesday we decided to tour the city.
As we waited for our car to be brought to the front of the hotel Tuesday morning, I thought I’d go to the restroom on the lower level. The conference registration area was on the way, so I took the opportunity to tell the coordinator I’d arrived safely. She was more than relieved—she said they were wondering where I was. I was to give my presentation in 20 minutes!
Zounds! Yikes! Sacre Bleu! I no longer had to go to the bathroom. Instead, I raced upstairs, found Gilda wandering the lobby and told her I had to hurriedly change out of my jeans into my suit because I was to go on in now less than 15 minutes. I made it back down with a minute or two to spare and with the resolve to double and triple check my schedules from then on. How embarrassing that would have been had I failed to deliver my presentation after enjoying a two-week vacation underwritten by their confidence in me? It makes me shutter to think of it even to this day.
For the record, my presentation was well received.
Showing up on the wrong date, or rather, not showing up on the right date, is a recurring fault of mine, at least as it pertained to business trips with Gilda. One of our first such domestic excursions, I believe it was in October 1981, was to attend a weekend conference in San Antonio produced by the now defunct Association of General Merchandise Chains. Members included Woolworth, Kmart, Winn’s, T.G. & Y., Rose’s, Duckwall-ALCO, Sprouse-Reitz and Walmart.
We arrived on Friday to check in at the conference hotel only to be told our room had been reassigned. The hotel expected us on Thursday and had released the reservation when we didn’t show up. Uh-oh. After a long flight from New York, neither Gilda nor I were happy campers.
Fortunately, for me, AGMC staff were able to to slot us into a room another attendee had last minute cancelled. If you put your ear to your computer, notepad or smartphone you probably could hear my relieved exhalation still reverberating through the air waves 40 years later.