Aunt Cassandra’s tough love: How not to pitch for business


Dear Alexander,

I hope you don’t mind that I drop the “Che” nonsense now that you’re a grown man with responsibilities. I know you didn’t come to me for advice, but I feel the need to tell you a few unvarnished truths. Your aunt Gianna came and told me she pulled some strings with her friend Mr Clinton at the Lions Club and arranged for you to pitch to him and his friends for business, and I understand it wasn’t the greatest success*. There I go, being diplomatic again! She is so embarrassed, she doesn’t know if she’ll have the nerve to attend their fundraiser tonight.

First of all, let me tell you, I’m amazed he gave you the time of day, especially given your friends’ tradition of having a loud party outside his house in Athens on an annual basis and calling his friends imperialist murderers (if he was a few eggs at Halloween he would understand, but mid-November?). It must say something about your aunt’s skills of persuasion, or maybe Mr Clinton remembers he was once a charming young rascal himself, who knows? What matters is, he didn’t owe you an invitation, you didn’t earn it, and yet by the sounds of it you managed to squander it. Not saying you should tug your forelock, but opportunities like this don’t grow on trees.

Let’s start from the basics. I know you are going to say that English isn’t your first language. You’re very good at excuses but that is not a real one. Your Italian friend Matteo is also deficient in his language skills, but somehow he manages to make it sound charming because he actually has something to say. He doesn’t just sit there fidgeting with his notes, looking shifty. He gives them a run for their money.

Did anyone tell you you were there to pitch for an investment? I’m sure your auntie will have mentioned this, she’s no fool. More to the point, do you actually know the difference between an investment and a loan, or (heaven forbid) a handout? Doesn’t sound like it, to hear your aunt describe it. Now I may just be a housewife but I watched your uncle Aristos build his used car dealership from scratch, so I think I can say I have more experience in business than you do. When the customer looks you in the eye and asks you “will this car still be running in a year?” you don’t giggle nervously and look at your shifty associates. You don’t say “that is a good question” to buy time to think up an answer, oh no. If you can’t answer that question straigthaway you have lost the customer.

Now, to the more advanced stuff. When an investor asks you if your business is sound, you don’t into a long spiel about how your cousins are crooks and layabouts and left the books in a mess, or how the bank manager is on your back for a bad loan. The man gave you an out, he said he knew the business had seen better days, he even gave a wink that the previous management (your cousins) weren’t to be trusted. Now he wants to hear what you are going to do about it. He wants you to look him in they eye and give him a straight story. So, when he asks you what the business is good at, you don’t say “this and that”, you don’t say your employees are talented and deserving. Do you even know what a business plan is? Mr Clinton sounds like he knows the business better than you do, because he actually did his homework. And he’s a proper grown-up. Imagine. I know you were able to wing it at school, but this is for real. Read my lips. He knows it’s a mess, he doesn’t want to hear excuses, he is giving you a chance to redeem yourself.

By the way, I don’t know if you realised what you were saying, but Mr Clinton got you to commit in front of his friends to put some of your own money in the business**. They don’t call him Slick Willy for nothing.

What can I say, my boy? The only blessing is there weren’t more people there to see. You are young, you will have more opportunities, that’s why I’m giving you the tough love. But I would hate to see your father’s business go under because you weren’t man enough to face up to your responsibilities.

One last thing, Alexander. I understand that these days not wearing a tie is OK (Koula says her son who has a fancy job at JP Morgan is allowed to unbutton his shirt on Fridays) but for goodness’ sake remember your upbringing and please don’t slouch!

Much love,

Your aunt Cassandra.

* On the 27th September 2015 Greek PM Alexis Tsipras participated in a Q&A with former President Bill Clinton as part of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. The full 30 minute video is available here and is recommended viewing as a companion to this post.

** In the course of the Q&A, Clinton prompted Tsipras to commit to creating a public investment fund for startup businesses. This did not get widely reported, but was clearly intended to be on record.

More synoptic reports can be found here and here.

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Aunt Cassandra’s tough love: How not to pitch for business

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