My first winter season as a Salomon rep was winding down when our Binding Product Manager, Joe Campisi, asked me to script a promotional video for use on the following year’s certification circuit. I promptly produced a draft that Campisi passed along to John Creel, head of Salomon’s ad agency.
Word came back that the draft would need a little work, but not to worry, I’d have plenty of time on the flight to Geneva to fine tune it. Overnight, my career at Salomon veered onto a new tack. I hadn’t spoken much French since leaving Yale seven years earlier, and I can’t say I was much good at it then. But I tamped down any trepidations I may have had and headed to Annecy.
By our fifth day of shooting at Salomon headquarters my ear for the local Savoyard patois was attuned nearly to the point of comprehension. The shoot was going well, Creel and Campisi were happy and I was in a state of gastronomic delirium. Everything I ate was worthy of being a last meal. I had my first magret de canard in a raspberry reduction and thought life could not be any better.
The next day Campisi received a call from North American HQ that our Boot Product Manager, Catharine Dragner, had resigned. The boot launch was scheduled for the following fall. Not a shred of marketing materials existed. Before Campisi put the receiver back in its cradle, an emergency plan was in motion.
I was told to drop whatever I was up to and get my butt over to another set of offices and find the desk of Thierry de Chalvron, product manager for the embryonic Salomon boot. Thierry had a broad smile, eyes that seemed to twinkle with intelligence and a high forehead that appeared barely able to contain his cranium. He handed me a tome the size of a Russian novel. It was the Technical Bible for the new boot that explained, well, everything.
My assignment was to translate the Boot Bible and convert its contents into a field force training seminar, support documents for the launch and a dealer manual. Oh, and we hope you’ll agree to train all North American Zone personnel. We’ll devote two days of the summer meeting agenda to your presentation. Then you can go back to being a service rep, merci very much.
On July 21, 1989, during a brief interlude between my first and second years at Salomon, I returned to Breckenridge to wed the fair Stephanie.
Two days is a long time to devote to a single topic at most sales meetings, but Salomon meetings were more like indoctrination camps. When I was in charge of training a couple of years later, new recruits would be held captive in the Parker House in Boston for upwards of two weeks. That was one of Salomon’s secrets: we didn’t just instruct our reps; we made them bulletproof.
After two days of preaching about the fundamentals of feet and how best to retain them in a hard plastic shell, I flew post haste back to Colorado, where I was due to wed the fair Stephanie a week after my return.
My bride and I honeymooned in the Caribbean, hopscotching from St. Maarten to St. Bart’s to St. Thomas to St. Croix to the Virgin Gorda, where my first mate and I capsized our little sailboat with regularity. While we were away, as a wedding present Salomon extended the range of my experimental employment to include Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and the western Dakotas.
I averaged 1,000 miles a week driving a trap line that ran from Coeur d’Alene in the Idaho panhandle to Ruidoso, New Mexico, where one inspired Certified Technician brought a bottle of tequila. The snow was so deep in Crested Butte, the main drag, Elk Avenue, was reduced to about a lane and a half. That’s where I lost a side mirror in a tangle with a passing pick-up. Later that same trip, foul weather closed the roads down to New Mexico, so I headed across central Colorado in a heavy, wet storm that left a foot of soggy snow on every surface in sight.
A few miles from Pagosa Springs, I could see a pick-up in my lane from a long way off. I saw its turn signal come on, so I gave my brakes a little test pump. The frozen soup my wheels were whistling over offered no resistance of any kind. I was friction-free and closing fast. The truck still hasn’t turned and my wheels are locked in its tracks. Three, two… WHAM! The collision fires the pick-up down the road as if I was gunpowder and the little Datsun were lead. I caught the tailgate squarely in my radiator and remodeled my hood into a post-modernist peak that wouldn’t close, even after the radiator was repaired two days later.
I drove the final leg back to Breckenridge with the hood cinched down with a strap borrowed from one of our hideous, blue and orange duffel bags. My tenure as a field rep specializing in certification clinics was nearing its denouement. I had been offered a minor position in a new Educational Services department that would require Stephanie and I to relocate to Peabody, Massachusetts. We would end up settling in Beverly Farms, where our first son, Nathaniel Greene, was born, before buying a home in Gloucester, where Blake Elliott arrived two and half years later.
Even though the creation of an Educational Services profit center was, in a way, a validation of the experiment my employment was meant to test, my brief tenure in the field was not an unqualified success. I didn’t tell you that in addition to the forcibly detached mirror, the destroyed radiator and the re-designed, latch-less hood, I cross-threaded some screw after an oil change and kept driving until the engine seized in the middle of a high desert plateau, miles from anywhere. Turns out, this does not happen to everyone, as I had suggested in my defense. I set a still unchallenged record for the lowest possible rating for vehicle maintenance.