I just got a welcome email from Tag Heuer 24, a club dedicated to provide the latest information and held special events for Tag owners. What strikes me the most was the last sentence on the email: live every second like you mean it.

In an attempt to give personalized attention to their customers, many brands have set up clubs and membership programs. From frequent flyers programs which offer many advantage and benefit for their dedicated members – anything from priority check-in, seat upgrade, to free flight – to owner clubs like what Tag Heuer and Mercedes Benz have, each one of this so-called society bears the image of exclusiveness. I’d like to compare the existence of these branded societies with fraternities and sororities in college. Secret society or fraternity and sorority require its candidates to undergo certain process, like pledging, before having the privilege of being called members. This society has its own code of conduct, and above all, a series of activities exclusively available to its members. We all wore our society T-shirts or sweatshirts in college to show everyone that we belonged to the in-crowd.

The paradigm of fraternity and sorority is now being adopted by the consumer industry to bridge a closer relationship to its customers, by sending a subliminal message that: “if you are our brand consumer, you belong to our exclusive society.” Mercedes Benz Club is one of a few clubs with worldwide membership programs and routine activities, from gathering to social activities like blood drive or donations to refugee camps. This society does not only represent the pride of being a Benz owner, but also somehow manages to become a communication forum among its members, exchanging ideas on automotive matters, showing concerns through organized social events, and above all, a global friendship based on a simple common interest: a Benz automobile. I went to one gathering with a friend of mine whose passion for this German car is probably more than his passion for work, and it’s really fascinating to see them talk about cars one minute and then organize this huge fundraiser event another minute.

While Benz is bringing its customers closer through many activities, Tag Heuer is dedicated to promote a spirited society of Tag owners, with a determination to live life to the fullest. As stated in its tag line, Tag Heuer is encouraging its society to continuously enrich their life with as many experience as they can. With the same principle that Tag brings to F1 racing, where even a nanosecond can make a huge difference, Tag Heuer 24 is sending a very strong message to its members: “You are one of a kind, just like the watch that you’re wearing, so live every second like you mean it.”

In a society where we are often being judged by what kind of crowds we belong to, the consumer industry has responded sharply by maintaining the so-called society of customers, the chosen ones if I might add, and by offering a personalized treatment to each one of its members. The reason behind this phenomenon is very obvious: the society of existing customers is a lucrative market, pampering them literally means encouraging them to keep buying the same brand, and even triggering a very effective word-of-mouth advertising: “I love the way Tag is treating me, you should really buy this watch to be a part of us.”

As customers, should we respond negatively to this new form of advertising, or should we embrace it with open arms? Well, if we have spent hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars on that one brand, it’s only fair that we’re given a royal treatment, if you asked me.

How were you introduced to golf?  Did your parents drag you to the country club on the weekends when you were a child?  Did a friend take you to the driving range to hit a few balls for fun?  Did your boss tell you it’s important for your career and encourage you to take lessons.

Golfers do take time and effort to get others to get in the game, for any of the reasons above and more.  As for me, a great friend of mine Iwan – and an avid golfer – did take time to ride the train for two hours to take me to the driving range one weekend, introducing the game that I later totally fall in love with, one grip and one swing at a time. Difficult?  Yes.  Stressing?  Sure.  But here comes the kick: it’s so challenging and entertaining because in golf, you’re not competing against others, you’re competing against yourself.  It’s just you, the ball, and the green … a pretty awesome concept for a narcissistic person like me.

Enough about me.  Let’s talk about the main point here: should women really play golf?  What if the sun ruined my beautiful, clear, glowing skin?  And isn’t it a man’s sport anyway?  Let me tell you something, women or men, if you’re not using golf to drive your career, you’re definitely wasting a valuable asset.  I was also a skeptic at first, especially when I returned from my first 18-hole game with a burned face and hideous tan lines that won’t go away until I got a spa treatment that cost a lot more than the game itself!  But the rewards and benefits are so great that I still and will always have the love of the game, and here they are:

1. Respect – admit it, not many of us girls play golf, especially in our twenties.  The fact that we play or at least learn to play, really make men (boss, colleagues, friends, or spouse) respect us in a whole new way.

2. Network – my friends and I spent at least twice a week on the driving range, and being the only female golfers over there, we do attract attentions from other golfers, whether it’s fellow Mandiri-ers or our customers.  I recall meeting them later at a business event or just in the elevator or hallways and they’re always so friendly, asking me about my swings and such.  Always a great opener for more serious yet relaxed business talks later.

3. Serenity – combusting emotions can deliver a killer smash in tennis, but it can only slice or hook your swings in golf.  This isn’t like any game you’ve ever known.  You don’t get a rush when you hit perfectly, you get something better: serenity.  Standing there, looking down at the ball on the tee, concentrating, they all deliver this kind of feeling of calmness, peace, and control.  You might come to the driving range with something hanging over your head, but take my word for it, after a ball or two, the only thing hanging there is an angel’s halo.

4. Emotional Relief – malls and restos and Starbucks are so yesterday: driving range is the best new place to hang out with your girl friends, talking heart to heart in between the swings.  All the swings that you already took have released enough endorphins in your system that you’re smiling all the time, and sharing your problems with friends is a lot easier and fun that way.  Girls day out = shopping at the mall?  So last year, girls!  Now, it’s the driving range.

5. Fashion – it’s a woman’s natural instinct to always want to stand out everywhere they go, and golf course or the driving range is no exception.  And there’s nothing that can boost your confidentiality when taking your most important swing like a great golf outfit (with a matching bag if you can fork it).  From the high-end Lacoste polos to something that you find in your local factory outlets, golf does give you a great reason to go shopping more.  Something that every woman must love.

Dedicated to Iwan, who gave me my first golf club.  Looking forward to teeing off with you soon. 

“Okay, those shoes are stylish.  You look so sexy in them.  I know, though, that they’re very painful to wear (I think you own another pair just like them and you always complain about walking to the car whenever I park it too far away).  You know what they say.  Only an incredibly shallow, insecure woman would submit herself to that kind of pain all day long rather than wearing a simple, comfortable pair of shoes.”

I know you didn’t say that, but I kind of get that message from your eyes when you were looking at me as I walked to the counter to purchase them.

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The treasury dealer – You know what we should do?  We should leave, together. 

The priority banker – Leave?  What do you mean leave? 

The treasury dealer – Leave this company, together, I mean all of us, the whole package, then come to other bank as a package.  We are practically every single one you need to run a bank, right?  We’ve got you, the priority banker, your portfolio of clients will make any bank drool over.  We’ve got you, the young branch manager who got his bank to pass the crisis with flying colors.  We’ve got you, the trade service specialist, who knows everybody anyone should know in that industry.  We’ve got you, the card business manager, who can get any store to participate in your ridicilous amount of discount programs … 

The strategy specialist – And where do I fit in this? 

The treasury dealer – We’ve got the one workaholic bastard who’s so high on his job he would stay up at this office until 3 in the morning thinking of the strategy of this bank. 

Everyone – Hahahahaha! 

The strategy specialist – (still laughing his ass off) You’re funny. 

The treasury dealer – And we’re all funny.  Icing on the cake. 

The relationship manager – (coming over to the table) Hey, sorry I’m late.  You know how those loan committee meetings can go …  Anyway, remind me, why are we meeting here again?  I thought we were gonna go to that new place at Grand Indonesia? 

The priority banker –  50 percent discount with our bank’s credit card. 

The card business manager – (smiling proudly) I just completed the deal last week. 

The relationship manager – Oh.  Okay.  Anyway, did you all see Ted Baker yet?  It’s on big sale. 

The strategy specialist – Yeah, busted this month’s paycheck there already. 

The relationship manager – Hahahahaha, I figured. 

The treasury dealer – Which is exactly why we all should move to another bank which – with all the things that we have to offer – will pay us at least twice. 

The relationship manager – That won’t help us, you know, spending-wise.  As the number of your disposable income increase, your needs and spending habit will also multiply exponentially. 

The treasury dealer – And we’ve got the smart bitch on the team.  We’re practically a dream team here on the table. 

The relationship manager – (laughing) That was effing insulting in a way, you know. 

The strategy specialist – (laughing) Take it as a compliment, darling, he just called me a workaholic bastard. 

The relationship manager – I’m gonna have to be on his side on that one, babe.  Remember when you messaged me at 2 in the morning, saying: Guess where I am? 

The strategy specialist – Hahahaha. 

The relationship manager – (stirring her coffee)  What is this thing about the dream team?  

The trade service specialist – Our friend here thinks that we should form a team and leave the bank together.  

The relationship manager – Leave?  Where? 

The treasury dealer – Anywhere.  As a whole package.  We deal – you know, the remuneration package, the whole shindig – as a team.  It’s like pay up this much and you’ll get a whole package.  The best talents nurtured by the best bank. 

The relationship manager – Is that even doable? 

The branch manager – I think I’ve read about it somewhere.  A whole team of engineers moving from one oil company to the next. 

The trade specialist – Anyway, which banks do you have in mind particularly? 

The treasury dealer – ****, ***, and ******* 

The relationship manager – The first two sound about right, but ******* treats people like shit.   

The treasury dealer – How do you know? 

The relationship manager – I have a friend who’s a human resource specialist, he knows every HR practice in every company in this country. 

The branch manager – As long as we’re talking about what kind remuneration package we want, I’m gonna throw in: better car. 

The card business manager – What?  What is that gonna do you?  You don’t even drive. 

The branch manager: I don’t drive but I use the car, right?    

The relationship manager – You know what I want?  Fashion allowance. 

The priority banker – Here here!

The strategy specialist – What the hell are you talking about?  Fashion allowance? 

The relationship manager – Extra allowance in our monthly salary to get the best fashion items, to maintain our looks, you know.  Shoes, bags, business suits … 

The branch manager – Hahaha, that’s gonna kill the whole deal right there.  No company is stupid enough to grant people like us something as extravagant as the so-called fashion allowance.

The relationship manager – I’m serious.  The other day, I busted my high heels on my client’s factory.  I think I should deserve some kind of compensation, don’t you think?

The treasury dealer – Yeah, good luck with that. 

The priority banker – Whatever, man, I just need to get rid of this stupid uniform policy. 

The card business manager – Unlimited Blackberry and phone bill would be nice. 

The trade service specialist – What’s wrong with the one you have now? 

The card business manager – The 300 a month crap?  I spent at least three times as much each month! 

The relationship manager – Maybe if you weren’t using it to sweet-talk every girl in our office … 

The card business manager – Getting jealous, are we? 

The relationship manager – Hahaha, you wish! 

The branch manager – (to the treasury dealer) Why are you so quiet all of a sudden? 

The trade service specialist – And what is that you’re writing on that stupid napkin? 

The treasury dealer – (smiling ear to ear)  Our minutes of meeting.  The list of remuneration package that we’re gonna ask from **** and *******. 

The card business manager:  On that?  You’re gonna hand our dealing points on a piece of napkin? 

The treasury dealer – Well, it’s got Ritz-Carlton written all over it, right?  

Everyone – Hahahahaha! 

Death Seat, Anyone?

February 23, 2008

I have never known for my friendliness and the so-called basa basi, at least that’s what my friends said their first impressions were when we were introduced for the first time.  I’m used to being called sombong, tengil, sok paten, to rese, but these are the things that we usually laugh about together in a month or two when they got to know me a whole lot better.  But I am, to some extent, a very good judge of character, even when I am just sitting there ignoring someone completely, my brain usually just processes every single gestures and facial expression of that person.  This is also probably why I’ve been asked to interview candidates for the youth exchange selections every year since six years ago.  And guess in what desk: personality. 

So that’s what I’ve always been doing every March or April, getting one-on-one with hundreds of candidates in two days.  The truth of the matter is, playing with someone’s opportunity to go abroad on scholarship is not something that I would take lightly.  If you talk to one hundred or so candidates, and only one of them that you can choose, you have to be absolutely sure that killing the opportunity of the 99 other for this one is really worth it.  I usually have a short conversation with every one of them, on the so-called death seat, put them in a stress situation, analyze their reactions and the whole shindigs, then – cruelly – scribble the word “recommended” or “rejected” on the evaluation form. 

Things took their turn when it was actually me on the death seat, being the interviewee and not the interviewer.  When I was recruited by my current company now, for example, the interviewer from some big name HR consultant put me in a room alone (the room was freezing cold, by the way, even the grey tweed suit that I was wearing didn’t help that much), gave me a seat and a desk, then shoved a stack of documents in front me, saying: “These are some decisions that you have to make today, in just 15 minutes.”  So in the next 15 minutes, I put my decision-making skill to the test, deciding anything from which appointments to keep or to drop, whether I should travel somewhere on business or stay here to deal with local problems, to who to fire and who to keep from a list of problematic employees.  The consultant then came back to the room in exactly 15 minutes, discussed my decisions and choices for almost an hour, plus another hour of dissecting ever single point in my resume.  I guess I must have handled that with ease, I was no stranger to one-on-one interview although I was on the other side of the table then, because like you all know, I got the job.

One of the hardest interviews that I’ve ever been was when I was chosen to be the one of the ten finalists of Fun Fearless Female for a women’s magazine.  I had been in Jakarta a week prior for business, numbers were literally still hanging over my head, then I had to show up at that magazine office first thing in the morning.  So there I was, on the death seat, this table in front of me with at least 6 judges sitting there (I forgot some of the names, but there was the editor-in-chief of the magazine, somebody from some consultant, then somebody from the sponsoring companies, then, of course, the national director of John Robert Powers, not to mention the cameraman who shot the whole thing).  It’s bad enough that I have to worry about how I sit (I haven’t mastered the Princess Diana way of sitting gracefully, if you know what I mean), but banci kamera like me just cannot keep it cool when a camera was there recording my every move.  Tengil was no longer a choice of attitude that I could show hahaha.

There was also this job interview that I did a little over 6 months ago.  A colleague of mine mentioned my name to another bank, and I didn’t know what he said exactly, but the executives of that bank then flew to my city to meet me.  They invited me to meet at a business restaurant at lunch time.  Even though the thought of moving hadn’t crossed my mind then, I thought hey, a meeting with a prospective employer couldn’t hurt (at least I could find out how much I’m worth in the market).  The funny thing was, I couldn’t get myself to ask my company’s driver to drive me there (I though that was a bit unethical, using the current company’s facility on my way to jump ship to another one hahaha).  Since I can’t drive, I called my brother to pick me up and drive me to the place (I do need to start learning to drive soon).  Surprisingly, the interview was kinda short, they had already heard some facts about me, so we immediately talked numbers.  It’s always a bit weird, you know, answering the question: “How much is your asking salary?”  You have to be really really careful not to cross the arrogance line, but then again, you wouldn’t want to put much too low of a price tag on yourself, right?  So on the way there, I had already prepped my self to answer such question by calling Inga, a friend of mine who happens to be an HR specialist.  We talked about the market price for my profession, commonly offered and special benefits, to other allowances. 

The next scene reminded me of any movies with a bargaining scene in it, the executive shoving me a piece of blank paper saying: “Your asking price, please.”  Hahaha, I felt like we’re dealing guns.

Then there’s also the phone interview.  A friend of mine called and said: “Ka, can I give your number and e-mail to this headhunter from Singapore?  I think you would be great to fill in the position that she’s recruiting.”  I said: “Who?”  He laughed and said: “Playing hard to get, huh?  Come on, there’s no harm in this.”  I laughed and said yes.  Guess when that headhunter called that day, when I was actually in the middle of a über important meeting with my boss hahaha.  I knew it was her calling because the number that flashed on my mobile phone was not Indonesian at all.  I excused myself then picked it up, listened to her introducing herself for 5 seconds, then I said in a hurry: “I’m actually in a meeting right now, would it be possible for you to call me sometime later?”  She asked what time and I answered.  I figured that after my cold, tengil response, she wouldn’t have called again.  But she did call at the exact time that I told her too, and guess where my boss was, just three feet away from me.

Anyway, why I suddenly thought about my interviews story is because another friend just messaged me the other day saying: “Iks, need your advice.  What would you do if you’re being wooed to move to a conglomerate-sized company with 2.5 times your salary now?”  Like her, I was also very tempted when I heard the number, but then I answered: “My personal concerns when it comes to choosing the company that I work for are these five things: the name of the company, location, salary + benefit, corporate culture, and responsibility.  If I can get four out five, I’ll take it.”  Having said that, I guess that’s why I’m still at my current company now, already six years this February.  And having listened to that, I guess that’s why she ended up rejecting the offer.

The point of this long post is: do you still think that I’m tengil?  Hahahaha! 

I freaked out when I woke up this morning!  No, it’s not because I woke up in some stranger’s bed as you might have seen in movies (although that would definitely freak me out also).  It was not actually the scene of waking up that freaked me out, it’s what I dreamed just before the moment I opened my eyes.  I had just crossed the number 2 big no-nos of my career.  One, never work on weekends.  Two, never ever dream about work.  And guess what the dream was: RKK!  RAPAT KOMITE KREDIT!  It scared the shit out of me that I could literally remember bit by bit what happened in the dream: me presenting about my client, then my big boss saying something, then me saying something again, then my big boss going over the calculations, then me explaining the ratios … AAAGHH!  It’s bad enough that I think about work constantly in my waking hours, but now also in my subconscious mind???

So you know what I did as soon as the mall opens?  Been looking for denim shorts for quite sometime, and you know how Medan is a bit challenged when it comes to shopping, I was actually thisclose of going to Polonia and get on whatever plane to Jakarta. So by justifying that shopping is therapy which in its truest sense is supposed to cost you a fortune anyway, and that I already saved so much by deciding not to fly to the capital city after all, I browsed for jeans (not necessarily shorts, any jeans will do by this moment), ignoring the price tag, and picked up this really nice pair at Marks and Spencer, tried them on.

And then this crazy idea just crossed my mind. “You do alteration, right?” I said to the shop assistant.

She nodded.  “Yes, how would you like us to alter them?”

“Crop them.”

She immediately kneeled down to mark the cropping point.

“You don’t need to do that.  Just mark it knee-length.”

Her jaws dropped.  “Seriously?  Knee-length?”

“Yes.  Why?  Do think I’m butchering fashion?”

She shook her head, and then dutifully jotted down my instructions on the alteration slip.

And guess what I’m doing right now, three hours later?  Walking down the mall with my brand new, originally cropped, authentic pair of jeans.  Totally worth the price considering I could now completely wipe the image of RKK from my head.  But then again, as I’m saying this, a text message popped in my inbox.  My boss.  Asking about RKK.  Another store, anyone?