How to play Russian Roulette and win

Here is another fabulous vignette of a somewhat alternative negotiating technique and probably the finest I have seen in my lifetime. Let me set the scene for you.

My vendor client, Mr. Instone Bloomfield, was a wealthy banker with a swanky office in Berkeley Square and had instructed Glentree to sell his expensive, trophy mansion, in St John’s Wood, namely Mermaid House, for a price which in today’s money would be £75million.

This was the original site of the Mermaid Theatre founded by the late Sir Bernard Miles, which is now relocated at Puddle Dock, Blackfriars, EC4.

It was a difficult property market at the time and the property had been for sale for at least two years, without a prospective buyer in sight and this makes this story all the more remarkable.

As part of our international network of contacts, we managed to ensnare a potential buyer, Mr. Mohan Murjani, who was a well known, high profile, Indian entrepreneur, whose ‘Gloria Vanderbilt Murjani Jeans Empire’ was emblazoned on all the London buses and bill boards at the time and he was certainly the ‘talk of the town’. He inspected Mermaid House briefly one morning and decided that he wanted to buy it, but at a maximum price of £67.5 million (in today’s money).

More chutzpah than you can ‘shake a stick at’

As a young, thrusting, ‘whipper snapper’ agent, at the tender age of 24, with more chutzpah than you can ‘shake a stick at’, I told him that without a face to face meeting with the owner, it was unlikely that deal would be done, particularly, if we had to rely on using the phone exclusively.

By using all my skills, I coerced both seller and buyer to agree to a meeting that day at Mr. Bloomfield’s grand, head office, in Mayfair.

Mr. Murjani and I were ushered into the reception area and only after half an hour, did the elderly, wealthy banker deign to see us – he was probably reading the newspaper, in order to keep us salivating.

We were eventually lead into his plush, wood paneled, private office and were offered an obligatory Chivas Regal whisky, after which we all sat on the couch and started talking about business in general, for a few moments. This is called, in the trade, the ‘pre-amble’.

Switching gears

Mr. Bloomfield then switched gears and interrupted the conversation, by asking Mr. Murjani to restate his offer, which he duly did. “I will pay you Sir, £67.5 million and no more”. Mr. Bloomfield repeated the figure out loud and with a quizzical expression on his face, immediately retorted, “let’s change the subject Mr. Murgani and lets talk about your jeans business again”.

After a few minutes, Mr. Bloomfield stood up and appeared to leave the room without explanation. We thought he was taking a comfort break, but actually, he was going to get his hat and coat and duly returned, only to shake our hands and say goodbye. As far as he was concerned, the meeting was over!

Understandably, the proud, self-assured Mr. Murjani had become crimson with rage at this impudent attitude and both he and I exchanged looks of total bewilderment. I then felt I had to do something, ‘likety split!’ since I couldn’t after all, see a big, juicy, 3% commission fee disappear down the plughole. On the spur of the moment, I chased after Mr. Bloomfield, as he swept down the grand, oval staircase and left the building to his awaiting chauffeur driven limousine.

Desperate state

In somewhat of a desperate state, I asked him what was going on? I felt like the supporting actor in his play, but one in which the script had suddenly altered without notice, leaving me moribund.

Shortly afterwards, we had all arrived on the Berkeley Square pavement, cutting an unedified spectacle. Whilst still holding Mr. Bloomfield’s car door open, preventing him from leaving, I barked at the buyer, who was standing next to me by then, “Mohan, just give me £71.5 million and don’t argue!” He thought for a second, and through his irritated facial expression, he acquiesced.

I turned and pleaded with my client, in the seconds available to me, who was now seated in the back of his car and clearly more interested in leaving than talking further, as to whether he would take this offer. He thought about it for a second and then answered, to my delight and certain surprise …… yes! The deal was then consummated a few weeks later by an exchange of contract.

Value of summit meetings

It goes to show the value of these summit meetings, if of course, you are able to control the spontaneous combustion, that can inadvertently take place between two high rolling clients whilst in a charged, enclosed, environment!

At the time it represented one of the largest residential property transactions to take place in London and the moral of the story is, ‘when you are in a weak position, play your cards as if you have aces in your hand’, if you dare!