I just had a phone call from the daughter of a good mate of mine, Steve Congerton, saying that he had passed away, on August 2nd. They didn't have my number for some reason, and so in the chaos of the funeral arrangements I wasn't informed, and so didn't get to go to the funeral to pay my respects. Which I would've very much liked to have done. But the family just received the Christmas card Kristi and I sent to Congo and his family, so his daughter Amy instantly called me to tell me the belated news that he had passed away.
Congo (as he was affectionately known by everyone who knew him) was one of the good guys. Okay, sure, he was a Sp*rs fan, so he wasn't perfect. And as a London ‘geeza’, when he spoke he sounded like he was auditioning for a remake of Minder. But his football allegiances and cockney patter aside, he was an absolute gent. A salesman born, rather than forged, Congo was - as I've often described him - the GREATEST SALESMAN I HAVE EVER MET. And I'm not saying this because he's passed away. I'm not saying it just to speak well about the dead. I'm saying this from a position of strength and knowledge. If selling was cricket, Congo would be remembered as Don Bradman. HE WAS THAT GOOD.
And you have to remember that I am demonstrably a damn fine salesman myself so I know of what I speak. And no, that's not ego talking either, that's just the cold hard facts of my CV staring back at me. I've sold most everything at one time or another, and have managed sales teams of up to 200 people. But if Congo was a Don Bradman, then at best I'm a David Gower or Ian Botham. Sure I'm talented and a potential match winner (on my day). But Gower and Botham don’t possess a fraction of the innate ability of the Don when all’s said and done. And so I'm here to tell you that despite everything I know, everything I've done, everything I've sold, down through the years: I am not worthy of lacing up Congo's shoes.
Congo and I met in 1999 when I was hired by AiC Worldwide as National Events Manager to run a huge technology trade show at Darling Harbour. Part of my remit being that I had to sell sponsorship and exhibition stands for half the show. Congo was responsible for sponsorship and exhibition stand sales for the other half. Now this was a HUGE show remember. The biggest Broadcast and Digital Media trade show Australia had ever had. The sort of show with north of 100,000 people coming through the gates during the 3 days the event was on, and national TV and radio coverage. So this event was a big deal for everyone involved.
Congo was the greatest Salesman AiC Worldwide (later, Terrapin) had on their books (quite probably the greatest salesman they had ever had on their books), and I came in and outsold him that year, winning 'Salesman of the Year' in the process.
Now let me reiterate that, as good as I am at sales, I AM NOT WORTHY OF LACING UP CONGO'S SHOES. When it comes to this sort of thing, I am like the perfect storm. High intensity, maximum damage. And then I get bored and move on to destinations unknown. I happened onto this Broadcast and Digital Media World event at the right time in history (when the dot com boom was a-booming), and the market was ready for it (digital television was officially launched in Australia at the show by Senator Alston for example, and I also did the first ever live streaming of an Australian event at this show, which was the prelude to me launching IndieFilmWeb.com). So let’s just say the stars aligned, and I was motivated by cashing some big a*sed commission cheques to beat Congo at what he did best: selling.
When I told his daughter, Amy, this story on the phone today, she laughed and said, 'Oh, dad would've hated you for that! He didn’t let anyone beat him!'. But I said, 'No, actually, he didn't. He RESPECTED me for it’. To the point he hired me as National Advertising Manager for Australia's largest Government magazine (Government News) when he was publisher, several years later. And to the point that we talked many times over the years about forming a company together (which regrettably never happened.)
But me outselling Congo was a one-off, make no mistake about that. Had I stayed at AiC Worldwide (I left to launch IndieFilmWeb.com just after the show), and had Congo and I gone head-to-head on another 10 shows. Another 100 shows. Chances are Congo would've soundly kicked my a*se on all of them, with daylight coming in second.
But sales isn't a sport. And so nobody remembers the great ones when they go. But Congo, me ol' mucka, I'll always remember you. I remember you co-founded Euromoney. I remember you co-founded Business Review Weekly with Robert Gottliebsen (who attended Congo’s funeral). I remember you as a mentor in person, and a force of nature while on the phone. God threw away the mould when he made you, mate. And the world is a much sadder place without you in it.
Congo was a man who owned every room he ever walked into. Who could speak underwater with a mouth full of marbles. Who could sell ice to an Eskimo. And like many a great salesman, he was a guy with a heart of gold. There are many anecdotes about Congo I could pen here, but I’ll end on this one, because it’s forever in front of me:
Congo was working as publisher on Government News when he hired me to come in and work under him as National Advertising Manager. Trouble was, four months after I started, the parent company who owned Government News, was sold to the Intermedia Group, and we all, from the CEO to the cleaners (Congo included) lost our jobs.
Congo was naturally mortified that this had happened, as I’d left a good paying job to come work there. But sometimes sh*t just happens, so you have to roll with the punches. Anyway, on our last day of work at Government News, while all the computers, and chairs and servers and printers et al were being packed up, to be shipped to the new owners head office in Surry Hills (we were in Frenchs Forrest), Congo walked in holding a big, expensive framed print that had hung in the CEO’s office, and that I had often commented on (I’m a big fan of lighthouses, and there was something about the print that spoke to me).
“Here,” he said with a wicked grin on his cherub like face. “Go put this in your car.”
“But…” stammered I, “Hasn’t everything been itemised and catalogued already by the new owners?’
To which Congo just winked at me and shrugged. “Guess it must’ve got lost in transit…”
And to this day, that print is proudly positioned above my couch in my home. Which is just another reason why I’m not forgetting you anytime soon, Congo.
Rest In Peace, mate. God knows you of all people have earned it.