Framed By The Frogs

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Despite cutting back severely on the number of brokers that I was supplying, the even higher discounts that I was given by Steve Wilson at Renault meant that business continued to boom.  And as a result, Renault increased the discounts yet again, and business boomed even more.


It was almost like the physicist’s dream of a perpetual motion machine, something which powered itself.  Get discounts, sell cars, get more discounts, sell more cars, get even more discounts and sell even more cars.  And so it went on.  Renault  happy, Renault Croydon happy, my brokers happy, their customers happy, me happy.  But then one day something seemingly innocent happened which set off a chain of events that would bring my perpetual motion machine and its resulting happiness to a catastrophic dead stop.  For everyone.


I was contacted by Colin Sambrook, Head of Resources at BALPA, who asked me to supply a company car for one of their employees.  I had already pursuaded BALPA to take 3 Renaults as company cars, but one particular employee insisted on choosing a Ford Focus.  Colin Sambrook asked if I could source a good deal on a Ford Focus for BALPA and, quite by chance, I had just recently been contacted by another broker with an offer on new Fords, so I said that I would order the car for Colin.


Now this broker went by the name of Sam Parmer, but his real name was Sanjay Chadha.  Why the Anglicised trading name?  Well, Sanj had apparently been on the end of some unpleasant racial remarks when he started in the car broking business, so he used the name of Sam Parmer to avoid any problems when dealing with other brokers.


Now working as a car broker on the end of a telephone, no one would ever know that Sanj Chadha wasn’t an Anglicised ‘Sam Parmer’ and, as long as he delivered on any deals I placed with him, I certainly wasn’t bothered at all by Sanj’s use of a trading name, in fact the practice wasn’t uncommon at all in the motor industry.


So I ordered the Ford through Sanj and in due course it was delivered, on time and to the customer’s specification.  All well and good, and having benefited from Sanj’s arrangements, in return I gave him a user ID and password to access the private web site that I had set up to provide car pricing information to the much smaller group of brokers to whom I was now supplying ever more cars.


Big mistake.  Little did I know the trouble that this would cause.  And it didn’t take very long.


I received a call from Steve Wilson at Renault asking to meet me to discuss the BALPA account and I just assumed that we would be going through the usual meeting ritual of him congratulating me on the number of vehicle sales, asking about the web site security and then offering more discounts.


I couldn’t have been more wrong.  We agreed to meet at Renault Croydon with Toby Johnstone and when I arrived there I was totally unprepared for what happened next.


Instead of the usual backslapping exercise Steve Wilson asked me straightaway about the web site through which I was selling cars to brokers.  Steve said that a colleague of his had visited the site and that the Renault prices were suspiciously like those offered through the BALPA account, give or take a bit of commission.


‘Well of course they are.’ I thought ‘You know that anyway.’  I looked at Toby Johnstone, who’s eyebrows went North at light speed as he gave me back a ‘What?’ kind of look and an upwards shrug of the shoulders, but he kept quiet.


Steve said that, because of this, all future sales of vehicles under the BALPA account, including any vehicles already ordered, would need to be validated by a copy of a BALPA membership card for the purchaser and that Toby would be administering this.


Phew.  We all knew what this meant.  Nothing.  No way was Toby Johnstone going to kill the golden goose.  So I just sat back and took a lecture from Steve Wilson on the need to ensure that access to the BALPA web site was secure and then the meeting ended.


When Steve left, Toby just looked at me.


I asked ‘Did you know about this?  Have I done something to upset someone?’


‘Nah mate’ replied Toby ‘I didn’t have a clue that Steve was going to do that, but the shit has hit the fan over another account and you have probably been plastered by the fallout of smelly stuff.  Look at this.’


Toby pointed to his computer screen and scrolled down row after row of vehicle orders.


‘These are suspended orders for an account that Pam Hillman manages.  Someone was buying the cars and taking them up North to a compound, then putting them up for sale on a forecourt along the road from the local Renault dealer, undercutting them.  Renault has photos of the cars in the compound, on the forecourt and all sorts.  I think you’ve been caught in the cross fire, ‘cos when Pam was challenged about it she lobbed in a complaint about what Renault Birmingham are up to these days and Renault Birmingham retaliated with a complaint about you.  Someone must have tipped them off.  I thought it would all just blow over though.’


‘But why would Renault Birmingham complain about me?’ I asked.


‘Dunno mate’ said Toby.


‘So, what do we do next?’



‘Nothing mate.’ said Toby ‘Just keep your head down until all of this blows over, it always does once tempers have cooled down.  In the meantime, unless I get specific instructions from Renault, it’s business as usual.’


Well, that was a relief.  At that moment I had about half a million pounds’ worth of orders with Toby and I did not want to have to deal with the fall-out of cancelling those cars and then finding someone else from my broker contacts to supply the cars through one of their accounts.  And neither did Toby.  If the Merry-Go-Round crashed then targets would be missed, Renault bonuses would be lost, no commission would be paid, it would be bad news all round.


So with that reassurance I left Renault Croydon and spent the journey home thinking up the trap I would set for the cry baby who had spilled the beans to Renault Birmingham.  And since the problem seemed to stem from my web site I knew just where to start looking.


Now, whenever you or I go onto the web we access it through a computer server operated by our Internet Service Provider (or ‘ISP’).  And each of these servers has a unique numeric computer address on the Internet consisting of 4 sets of up to 3 digits separated by a dot, such as 111.222.333.444.  It’s known as an Internet protocol address or IP address for short. 


Every IP address is registered to someone somewhere in the world, and there are only a small number of authorised registries for these numbers, and these registries can be interrogated online.  Sometimes the IP address is just registered to a big ISP, the likes of British Telecom, but often it is registered to the individual company for whom the ISP is providing Internet services, especially if they are a big corporate organisation and have lots of their own web servers.


So the morning after the meeting with Steve Wilson I added a few lines of extra programming to the security section of the log-in page of the web site from which I was selling cars to brokers.  The page already sent a report to me each time a broker logged on to the web site.  The extra lines of computer programming interrogated the computer server that was providing my web site visitor with access to the Internet, captured its IP address and sent it to me.  I just had to sit back and wait and see what turned up.


It didn’t take long.  As each log-in report arrived I used a computer programme to interrogate the on-line registries and check out who owned the IP address of each computer server that linked a broker to my web site.  And after a few days someone logged on who was using a computer server registered to one Renault S.A. , of Paris , France .  And the user name for the log-in was Sam Parmer, AKA Sanj Chadha.  Gotcha.


I suspended the Sam Parmer user name from access to the web site and immediately called Toby Johnstone and asked if he could check for me on the name of the company used by Sanj to supply me with the Ford Focus for BALPA.  I wanted to know if that company also had discounts for buying Renaults.


Toby logged in to the Renault systems and looked up the details, reading out bits as they popped up on screen in front of him.  Sure enough the company had an account with Renault, but Toby said that it didn’t look like the discounts had ever been used.  Then Toby said something unrepeatable and there was silence at the end of the phone.  I asked Toby what was wrong and he dropped the bombshell.  According to the computer system the company account was managed by Renault Birmingham.  Boom!


Now all the pieces of the jigsaw came together.  It figured that Sanj Chadha had piggy-backed on someone else’s discounts to sell me the Ford Focus for BALPA.  In return, Sanj had passed his web site user ID to his Ford supplier so they could see the discounts I was offering to brokers through the BALPA account.  It happens all the time and normally that should have been the end of it.


Instead, whoever had seen the discounts had probably complained to their account manager at Renault Birmingham that they couldn’t sell any Renaults because other people had better discounts.  To prove it they had probably passed on the log-in ID to the people at Renault Birmingham so they could see for themselves.


Given the ongoing war between Renault’s dealerships in Birmingham and Croydon, that was like handing Renault Birmingham the switch to go straight to DefCon 3, or whatever it is they will one day use to start World War III.  And I was the target sitting right in the middle, slap bang between the two warring Renault dealerships.  I was well and truly in the soup.  I must have been crackers to give a web site log-in ID to Sanj after what I had said to myself about the eighty-twenty rule.  Never mind.  I would deal with that later.


So it was no wonder that Steve Wilson’s attitude had changed.  As a newbie at Renault, being caught with his pants down like this was a severe embarrassment for him, and as far as Renault was concerned it would have to be covered up pretty quickly before word got out to the dealer network.


I reflected on the reassurance from Toby Johnstone that everything would be alright once tempers had cooled down, but somehow I doubted it now.  I asked Toby what was happening about Pam Hillman’s client and the suspended orders for cars.


‘At the moment, nothing’ said Toby ‘Pam is still looking for somewhere else to place the business.  If it wasn’t for these problems with BALPA she would probably have put them through the BALPA account and offered you a commission.’


‘Well that’s nice.’  I thought ‘Use the BALPA account and then tell me about it after, with a commission as a sweetener.  What a cheek.’  But cheekiness was about to become the least of my concerns.

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