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Sunday, December 02, 2007

The art of active listening

The Air Curtain from Biddle Air Systems Ltd. reduces energy costs by reducing heat transfer at entrances. I met Scott Ferguson, Biddle's managing director, at the TCA Christmas Lunch.

At the end of the Construct Canada trade show on Friday, I treated Chase and Daniel Smith to the annual Toronto Construction Association Christmas lunch. Turns out, I learned, this lunch is the TCA's largest fundraiser -- and with about 2,300 guests -- is the largest Christmas lunch the association has ever organized. At $175 a plate, for a decent but not overwhelming roast beef lunch, you can see how much money this event raises.
But I had made a commitment to our sales team at the show that if we achieved our goals, so I put budget concerns aside, and paid for the lunch.
Of course we didn't have the best table in the house. Many companies purchased entire tables, I suppose to provide their employees their Christmas Lunch. Nevertheless, despite some empty seats at our table, marked "Singles", two other guests sat down for lunch.
I'm not sure why, but these circumstances bring out the best in me. I put aside my own personal interests, throw away prejudices or expectations, and listen intently, asking questions to draw out more insights and observations from the other table mates. Of course, although unintentional, it can set the stage for effective selling.
Part of this interest, of course, comes from my love of (and skill at) journalistic interviewing. In these contexts, I make it clear to the people I am 'interviewing' that the conversations are off the record -- that I won't publish anything without their consent. I also do not whip out my notebook and pen. The exercise is, for me, pure, unadulterated conversation, focused on the interests and knowledge of my table mates. And because the event is unscripted -- and I don't know who is there until we are at the table -- the exercise is a refreshing visit into new worlds and ideas.
One person at the table said he is a management consultant for the condominium area. He described a very real problem about broken and corrupt condominiums in the Toronto region. It turns out that some of the older buildings are running down, with serious reserve fund problems, but their boards of directors are corrupt -- taking bribes, or otherwise allocating condominium resources for their own interests. When the condominiums reach the bankruptcy stage, they appoint a court-ordered administrator, he said, but this administrator may be in the pockets of the corrupt former board members; so the buildings continue to deteriorate. These are strong assertions, but the strongest assertion I cannot print because it might in some way be traceable to the speaker -- and again the ground rules here are that the conversation is off the record.
I will identify the second table mate, despite the off-the-record nature of the meeting, because this news is 100 per cent positive and publicity here can only help his business. Scott Ferguson, Managing Director of Biddle Air Systems Ltd., explained how his company's technology is saving huge amounts of energy by providing "Air Curtains" to prevent the heat (or cooling) transfer at entries to commercial establishment sand industrial buildings. Without notes in hand, I could not record the exact savings, but he said the energy savings on the system's capital costs are usually within a year, and gas and electric utilities are often co-operative in the costs. I enjoyed hearing him explain specific examples of savings and payback and how the Biddle's European technology is starting to find its place in the North American marketplace because of its economic advantage.
A perfect special feature in Ontario Construction Report, perhaps. Regardless, whether or not we can do business ourselves in the future, I think you should consider the advantages of his company's technology.

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