As a young man, I was so excited to buy my first suit. It was chocolate brown, seriously ugly if I remember correctly, and cheap (important when you are a poor undergraduate). With a matching chocolate brown bowtie, no less and a crisp white shirt. But I wore it with pride to my University Graduation Dinner and again to my Graduation Ceremony some months later.
I was very proud of myself then, but I smile sheepishly these days if I see those old photographs of me in that suit.
Of course, when I started my first real job in business, I upgraded to a better suit. Better cut, better materials, arguably better colour, and bigger price tag. Hopefully I looked a whole lot more professional than in my first suit. And feeling the part goes a long way to helping act the part I believed.
Then I went to work for my first sales manager (one of the smartest and most professional person I have ever known). And she basically taught me very quickly that I had zero taste in fashion. But that is another story.
I thought that clothes maketh the man. The corporate world of the eighties and nineties seem to echo that sentiment every day. Particularly in places like Sydney and Hong Kong. So I went along with it. Being fashion “blind” I did what I was expected to do. And I judged others around me by that same standard.
Then I learned a very important lesson. And it was from a young surfer from Sydney. Sitting in my office in Hong Kong one morning in the late 1990s, having just had my second coffee and feeling good in general, I was told that a young man was there to see me. A walk in client. And so in walked a surfer from Sydney, complete with blonde curly hair, deeply suntanned, in a t-shirt, shorts and thongs (or flip flops). I thought to myself that he must have parked his surfboard outside. It seemed odd to me then but, being recently from Sydney myself at that time, I thought at least we could have a good chat about things ‘back home’. Why else would a surfer dude be in my office?
I was so very wrong.
This young guy with curly blonde hair, and wearing a well-used t-shirt, had developed an internet portal that was then generating a profit of around AUD100,000 or more per month. Profit. Per month. My dismissive and somewhat arrogant approach to the meeting could have cost me this client purely because I was judging him based on looks alone. Big mistake.
So since that day I have tried hard to never judge anyone the same way. And having lived in Asia the past twenty years, I could probably write a book on the clothes that people have worn to meetings with me. So an open mind helps, and an approach that the person you just met passing through the airport in Manila, or sitting across the meeting room table, is likely a whole lot smarter and more successful than me.