Sorting out supply delays with irate customers

The hanky-panky practice of getting the B/L issued without the goods actually on board had somehow come into practice, with disastrous consequences. However, issues get sorted out before the writer meets angry customers in Saudi Arabia. This is the eighth part of the series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business in Asia in the seventies

From the airport to my home on Zaabeel Road, Bur Dubai, it did not take more than fifteen minutes after I got my taxi. The driver wanted to take another passenger further down and I did not object, as otherwise he would have to wait for a longer period before he got his cab.

I reached home and literally hit the sack and woke very early next morning. It is said that the early bird catches the worm; here in Dubai, and if you happen to have your office on the Deira side, you catch a good, safe parking space! When I walked in, I found Shankar opening the office, with fifteen minutes to spare before the official opening at 8am.

As I sat down, Marge walked in; she was one of the most efficient, hard working responsible and intelligent secretary one can get—absolutely trustworthy, dependable and a quick learner. In my absence, she was in a position to prepare and negotiate documents, against LCs on shipments made. After a few minutes of customary greetings, she was gone, on the way to get my coffee.

Her note said it all; how upset and angry Abdullah was as his goods were also shut out, though he had documents in hand, all paid for; and when his office contacted all that the shipping company could convey was that the “goods are being loaded” on the vessel right now, and “in your case”, the goods should reach you in about 10 days, if not earlier. Our vessel is touching Dammam first before proceeding to Kuwait. Al Dahman was angry because his special large diameter pipe fittings that were due to arrive on the vessel, had docked, but without his cargo. There were at least seven more irate customers and Abdullah wanted me to personally come and explain the mess to him.

The local market was crazy and building merchants were willing to pay more money to get their hands on various goods, but, it was not only our goods, most others were also on similar vessels plying from Bombay port. The hanky-panky practice of getting B/L was rampant. In true sense, B/Ls were to be issued only when the goods are actually on board the vessel but this reckless practice had somehow come into practice, with disastrous consequences.

Marge had set the coffee on the table, and was clearing up my briefcase. She had already prepared the visa application form for Saudi Arabia, attached the photos and was just waiting to get my signature. She had already arranged for the official invitation letter from Abdullah! I had to wait at least for a couple of days more before I could actually take my flight to Riyadh to meet our customers.  

My visit visa to Saudi Arabia was generally for fifteen days; I would spend three days each in Dahran (Dammam covered) and Jeddah, and seven days in Riyadh, giving the allowance for Fridays and flight schedules. Extension of stay was cumbersome, though possible, through the sponsor. This time, hopefully, I was planning to cut it short, and spend not more than seven days.  But I didn’t want to leave until I had actual shipment status. Vijay had promised to take the trip to Bombay and send me ‘real’ status.

We continued to get conflicting statements on raw material availability and government plans on the OGL and how they propose to resolve the issues relating to orders placed, etc.

My flight was confirmed for the fourth day after my arrival, but as the uncertainty of actual shipment details was looming large, Marge was smart enough to have it postponed to the sixth day, as the fifth was a Friday; she wanted me to at least relax for a day before my trip.

Even though Friday was the weekly holiday, it was a normal practice for me to spend at least 3/4 hours in the morning and return home for lunch. I was in office, and was surprised when Lala Kedarnath walked in with a bunch of invoices and shipment details, with newspaper cuttings and reports of the problems in Bombay port and that it was returning back to normalcy. He confidently stated that some ships had already left with our cargo.

Sorting out all these details took quite some time. Due to lack of planning or more due to urgency of older orders, there were also many shipments that were actually on the sea, merely because, they too were victims of earlier despatches. This was in addition to the seven complaints that we had on hand.

In fact, on the day of departure, I spent the whole day in the office, and got dropped straight at the airport, from the office. I had no choice. And, during the day Lala ‘volunteered’ to accompany me, as he had come prepared with a visa, but, it was much easier to handle the irate client all by myself than taking the additional risk of having an elderly person on this mission.

I did receive, generally a cold welcome from most on arrival in their offices. But, some of the clients had received telegraphic or telex confirmations, directly from shipping companies, on our specific request that their goods were actual on board and that they would be able to deliver them in the next few days. So, in the end, it was not bad at all, and the mixed reception was better than a hostile one!

In spite of this fiasco on shipments, I managed to pick up a few orders, including Abdullah’s, our principal buyer, and returned home to Dubai with a great sigh of relief.

Meantime, our Chinese contacts did not make a big fuss about the contract when they were told that, under force maejure conditions, it was not possible to proceed with it; but, at the same time, the pig iron prices had started moving upwards, by a few dollars more per tonne, and the whole issue was forgotten before the month was out. Very much like our own government departments, our manhole suppliers of Diamond brand manholes did not know about our pig iron contract and their shipments to us came in without a hassle.

Under these circumstances, Amanda had decided to quit her company and shown interest to work with us in Dubai or in Hong Kong. We had, in fact, hinted to her that we would be happy to utilize her experience and knowledge of the market and suitably compensate her. 

We opened our office in Hong Kong within the next ten days.

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)

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