A Successful Meeting (Tatiana Vargas)

| Tatiana Vargas | 07 August 2012 | Maputo, Mozambique |

“Remember, a stern handshake is a sign of confidence; but I am so nervous and my hands are clammy! I do not want to shake anyone’s hand!” This was the pathetic conversation I was having with myself as Elizabeth and I sat in the waiting room to meet with executives at Sasol, a South African petrochemical corporation. Sasol was responsible for building the first gas pipeline in Mozambique for the bargain price of $220 million dollars. I remembered Lisa’s words, “Sasol brings in revenue of approximately $4 billion dollars.” While all these numbers floated through my head, I was still trying to process the fact that Elizabeth and I were two lowly interns wearing suits creased in all the wrong places thanks to my ingenious packing method. I could not help but feel like David and Goliath in this situation. I turned to Elizabeth to complain, “I can not believe Lisa sent us here alone! How could she double book? She should have rescheduled this meeting and accompanied us! We have been here no more than a few weeks!” Elizabeth in her usual cool, calm, and collected manner just shrugged her shoulders.

“Ms. Vargas, Ms. Fitzgerald, follow me please.” The receptionist led us down a corridor filled with honorable plaques, art, and architectural model figures. At the end of the hall, she stopped and directed us into the main conference room. “The maid will be with you in a minute to get your drinks.” “A maid? Pretty fancy!” exclaimed Elizabeth. Two Sasol representatives entered the room in the middle of our coffee sweetening ritual. Elizabeth and I quickly rose to our feet to greet our hosts. I was relieved to see that the man was casually dressed in a button down shirt and jeans, while the woman was in a semi-traditional African dress. Somehow the informal dress code made me feel more at ease and not quite as nervous. Just when I was letting my guard down, the gentleman asked, “what is the purpose of this meeting?” I quickly glanced down at my outline full of statistics, detailed questions, and information on Sasol and found no answer.  I could not believe I failed to at least scribble a side note regarding the objective of this meeting. How could I miss that? For a split second my mind raced back to the Moot Court room during my 1L year. I remembered Professor Scott’s advice on oral arguments, “outlines are roadmaps to highlight important points. Lawyers must learn to think on their feet because the answers will never be in their outline. The only way all of you can prepare is to know your case in and out; that is the key to tackling any question that comes your way.” I took a deep breath, looked across the table, and uttered, “the objective of this meeting is to get a sense of how Sasol is, has been, and continues to allocate its corporate social responsibility funds. In particular, how it is investing in the Mozambican youth and/or areas that affect woman and children.” The female representative smiled warmly at me and replied, “I see. Well, we have a few projects at the moment, some have proven to be successful and others are works in progress.”

Once the ice was broken, Elizabeth and I engaged in the conversation in a comfortable manner. Thankfully, the year of remote work via Skype and all the research and reading materials that Lisa assigned to us really prepared us to discuss an assortment of topics ranging from mortality rates and stunting numbers, to initiatives undertaken by competitors, and the list goes on. The Sasol representatives were impressed with our knowledge and even thanked us for providing them with figures for their own company that they did not know existed! I felt that, as a result of this conversation, we were able to extract some useful information and were truly able to get a sense of Sasol’s future projects.

Once we made it out the door, I noticed that Elizabeth and I had the same expression on our faces, that of pride and a job well done. Walking silently, I reassessed the course of the meeting. I thought to myself, “I know I’m not an expert, but some plans seem hopeful while others are extremely disheartening.” I turned to Elizabeth and conveyed my thoughts and together we ran through the facts. For example, Sasol has built schools in various provinces. One of the agreements between the government and Sasol is that once the schools are built, the government will have to pay for maintenance (supplies, teachers’ salaries, among other things). Since the government has failed to do so, Sasol is maintaining these school themselves, thus redirecting monies that were initially allocated to other projects. Also, Sasol has been unsuccessful in implementing job-training initiatives. Sasol spent nearly $400,000 U.S. dollars on just one failed project. As a result, in an attempt to maximize investment, Sasol has taken on a new approach for 2013: Water! I reminded Elizabeth of my question to the representatives of Sasol. My recollection, “I understand water is important but why water?” The representative looked at me with a smirk and replied, “It is safe and we can do it well.” I turned to Elizabeth, “don’t you think it’s amazing to see how important decisions that affect the livelihood of many Mozambicans are made based on what is safe for the company not on what perhaps is needed most.”

We continued to recap all the great information we had gathered, and reminisced about the expression on the faces of both executives when they realized we were well versed on the topics. It was obvious that they did not expect us to ask direct questions on issues they were not particularly enthused to highlight. The honking of the UNICEF driver across the street abruptly interrupted our self-admiration. It was our signal that he was ready to take us back to the office. We quickly dashed across the two-lane street avoiding puddles of murky water and slammed the heavy door behind us. During the ride back Elizabeth and I both felt each others unspoken sense of accomplishment. I turned to Elizabeth with a smile from ear to ear and said, “I am glad Lisa sent us here alone. She should double book more often.”

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