On the Ropes: Tough Interview

Hydraulics in Southern California

Paul-Munroe Hydraulics, which I don't believe exists today as a separate entity, was founded (I believe) sometime shortly after the end of World War II by two bright young fellows named Bill Paul and Ted Munroe. These gentlemen found themselves in Southern California at the beginning of what has come to be known as a wonderful and prosperous time in the history of the United States, the post-World War II boom. Ted had a technical background and Bill had the business background; somehow they were able to foresee the tremendous growth in the American heavy industries, which they realized would fuel the need for various equipment such as the hydraulics.

So these two young men founded the company which bore both of their names. I believe their first manufacturer, one of the first products they carried, was Vickers, an old line manufacturing outfit that had been making heavy equipment components for automobiles as well as larger construction equipment, things like this.

Post-WWII: "Smokestack" industries in their prime

The business grew and by the time I finally encountered them they were pretty well established in the state. At their peak they had the home office in Whittier, the manufacturing and engineering facility in Orange, CA; as well as something like half a dozen branch offices throughout the state. They probably had 200 or so employees and I would guess annual sales of probably 20, $30 million? I could be off here but I am probably somewhere in the ballpark.

They were a successful company, well established, and just on the verge of moving into America's shift from emphasizing the smokestack industries into the newer high-tech business. None of us knew it at the time, but things like hydraulics were on the verge of experiencing a severe de-emphasis. In this sense I guess you could say my timing was pretty bad, but I didn't have a crystal ball either so what the heck.

The company was hiring sales reps. Although they referred to them as "sales engineers" they did not require a technical degree or background -- they said they would train for the position. This sounded ideal for me as I had a strong interest and aptitude in technical fields but my degree was in Marketing. The more I looked into it the more I felt that I really wanted to work for this company.

Things went quite well in the interviewing process, at least initially. I had the traditional two or three interviews with people such as the sales manager; I also took their battery of tests, on which I did extremely well, which with all due modesty I usually do. I am fortunate enough to usually do quite well on testing. And the interviews, as I say, went well from all that I could see. At least until my interview with Bill Paul, the owner of the company.

By this time I had probably spent at least $5000, possibly $10,000 on my various therapy - related activities; it sounds like a big sum of money and it is but it was worth every penny. Just the same, it wasn't until this interview with the owner of Paul-Munroe Hydraulics that I began to see a conscious return on my investment. But it sure began to pay off here.

What an interview!

My interview with Bill Paul started off pleasantly enough, but after the various small talk and pleasantries were exchanged it quickly turned into a confrontation. Bill Paul was a very soft-spoken but extremely intelligent man who believed that he possessed extraordinary wisdom in determining other people's character. He seemed to have decided that, even though I was obviously qualified for the job on paper, somehow I would not really be the kind of person they were looking for. Since I had spent so many years in "clean" jobs, he suspected that working in factories and places like this would somehow not be right for me.

This may have just been an interviewing technique for all I knew, but at the time he seemed thoroughly convincing and it appeared to me that this job I really wanted badly was about to vanish because the owner of the company had taken some kind of a dislike to me. I was scared, but at the same time I began to feel an inner strength of determination such as I had never felt before. As I have mentioned, I do believe that the therapy I had done certainly helped here because I began to behave as a much more self-confident guy.

Bill Paul kept asking me things like "How can we be sure that this will be a good match between the job and you? How can we be sure?" This seemed to be a genuine concern of his, somehow being guaranteed that things were going to work out.

On the ropes

I kept struggling with an answer to this, and at some point I began to feel like a fighter who had been knocked down, listening to the count.

I will never know exactly where this came from, deep within is my only guess - but as the count hovered between 8 and 9 and I was just about to be declared knocked out, inspiration struck. I got to my feet, figuratively speaking, and began to give as much as I had been getting.

"You keep asking me for a guarantee," I shot back at Mr. Paul. "Let me ask you something. What kind of a guarantee did you and your partner have back after the war when the two of you gambled everything you had on this new business?"

This literally stopped him in his tracks. It was somewhat of a defining moment in my young life -- I don't think I had ever felt my own strength of character quite as clearly as I did in that instant. I went on to say that I felt fairly sure that I could and would do a good job for him but in all honesty I cannot predict the future with 100 percent certainty any more than he and Ted Munroe could have 25 or so years before this. But I could tell him that I would give it my best, just as they had.

I guess I made it a point not to lay it on too thick, because I realized that I had gotten his attention. Some advice from someone I knew in Chicago years before this came to mind: when you have made the sale, shut up.

I did just that. I shut up. Bill Paul became very quiet for a long time -- and I got the job.