Yeah, We Call That “Lunch Money” Around Here

A work story:

Among other things I’m the outgoing shipping manager where I work; a few weeks ago I was emailed by our UPS rep (UPS being our primary small package carrier) asking to drop by so that she could tell me about a new UPS program.  I was going to be busy on the day she proposed so I suggested that perhaps the next week would be better, and to please send me some info so that I could review it when I had the chance. She sent me a link and I took a look:

UPS Rewards

So what’s it about? With this program, if I ship more with UPS this year than last, I get points which can be redeemed for… stuff.  You can see the examples they provide:  Kindle.  TV.  Barbecue grill (for, um – the company picnic!  Yeah, that’s it!).  I’m also the purchasing agent for our office supplies and I manage the accounts for services we use like security, IT, telecom, photocopiers, and so on.  I see these kinds of programs from many, many different vendors, and they all work much like this one.

I emailed to her that we wouldn’t be participating in this program.  She asked me why not, and I wrote back, “The benefits could easily be construed as a gratuity from a vendor, i.e., a kickback.”  I know that’s kind of indelicate, perhaps blunt, but that’s how I roll.  I didn’t hear back from her until yesterday when she showed up at my workplace.

She said she wanted to speak to me in person regarding the program, and to reassure me that the rewards were most certainly was not intended as a kickback, and many other vendors have had similar programs for years.  I told her that I’m familiar with these kinds of programs: In exchange for business the purchasing agent gets a “reward”, i.e., a gratuity.  It’s a conflict of interest for me to take any gratuity from a vendor when I spend company money on their product or service.  It would give me an incentive to give company business to a vendor with little regard for the value of the transaction to my employer since I would be getting a personal benefit.  That’s a kickback.

I also told that I didn’t hold it against her; it’s not like she slipped me a Jackson and told me there’s more where that came from if I’d give UPS all the SPS business next week (Rep: “Oh, I would never do that! My personal ethics wouldn’t allow me to do that!” Slab: “Yes, I know, and if you ever did that I’d be done with you and toss you out.”)  I also told her that I understood that she was just doing her job in introducing me to the new program as was required of her, and that understandably she wasn’t able to agree with my characterization of this new program, but also that she hadn’t and wouldn’t change my mind on this.  Regardless, I told her, this did not damage our professional relationship, that I did not hold this against her personally or as our rep, but she might want to consider telling UPS Corporate that one of her clients thinks this is a kickback program and would not participate.

So, there we were standing in the loading dock having this somewhat-awkward-but- friendly discussion, and about midway through it one of our salesreps who works out of my office sauntered up to me with a gleam in her eyes and a big sunshine smile, waving a Jackson in her hand as she sang out my name, “Oh, Slaaa—aab!”  I took her money and looked at the UPS rep and said, “Of course, she hands me money.”  We smiled at each other, and I added “It’s for her lunch – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”

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