Memories of Charlie Hurley – Negotiating with your Hero!

Charlie Hurley passed away on April 22nd at the age of 87. That name will mean nothing to most people but to football fans of a certain generation, and in particular Sunderland fans, he will be remembered with great affection and respect. I met him twice, once at the age of about six, then again many years later, as I described in my “Bad Buying” book. Here is the relevant extract.


After I left the Mars Group, I worked for a smaller food firm that owned a dozen small to mid-sized businesses. I worked on acquisitions as well as looking to save money through “group buying”.  One firm supplied several of our businesses with plastic trays for frozen and chilled meals, so I wanted a meeting to discuss a central deal for all our firms – with the aim of achieving a substantial discount on current pricing, of course.

Their sales director came to see me. I didn’t quite catch his name on the phone, but he introduced himself as Charles, and after a few minutes, asked me where I was from – “I’m picking up a bit of a north-eastern accent”? Yes, I said, born and bred in Sunderland. Ah, he replied. I worked in Sunderland for a few years. What did you do? I asked.

I played for the football team. I was Charlie then, Charlie Hurley”.

My jaw dropped as I processed this. Hurley, a skilful and imposing centre-half, was voted “Player of the Century” by Sunderland fans in 1979[1]. He was team captain and also captained the Republic of Ireland team. Some consider him the greatest centre-half of his generation, and if he’d been born the other side of the Irish Sea, would probably have won a 1966 World cup medal. He was also my boyhood idol, the first person to sign my little red autograph book, in 1964 when I first stood outside Roker Park players’ entrance with my father. 

When we met, he was by now in his fifties, and he told me that he now pretty much ran his father-in-law’s packaging firm. He’d been more successful than most of his old footballing mates, as well as still being in a happy first marriage, unlike many. Players were not highly paid in the 1960s, and many ended up working as taxi drivers or running small shops, or more sadly, drank themselves to death.

Of course, when we got back to business, my whole negotiating approach had disappeared completely. I seem to remember he offered me a 5% “group rebate” in return for making his firm a preferred supplier, and I accepted, still in a daze.

The message, which I will come back to later, is that personal issues can affect the outcomes in buying negotiations, and rarely in a good way.  The best negotiators keep emotion and personal feelings out of the equation, even if they know how to use “fake emotion” when it is appropriate. But generally, if you are looking to negotiate well, try and avoid coming up against your childhood heroes on the other side of the table!


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