Fraud and Deception at Wyndham Vacation Ownership

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BE TENACIOUS; THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX; MAKE IT HAPPEN ... NO DON'T!
As an employee of Wyndham Worldwide and Wyndham Vacation Ownership, I had the opportunity to meet a remarkable and very gifted woman from Colorado. This 70+ something warrior and I connected almost immediately. I call her a warrior because she raised nine kids by herself after her husband suffered a paralyzing brain stem stroke about the age of 40 (one child died around 35). Doctors predicted her husband would live only weeks; yet her love and conviction, his drive and will to survive, extended his Stephen-Hawking-type life for another 20 years. As I told my colleagues later, this most courageous woman put her husband on her back, grabbed four kids in each arm, and championed this family to the highest levels of success.

Within minutes of meeting, Bev found me not to be a guy simply concerned with selling timeshare, but a sensitive and empathetic soul who was interested in her life and her exceptional story. Although I ultimately recommended a VIP package for her, the purpose of the purchase was not to get away, relax, travel or vacation, but to have a quiet and inspirational place to write a book about her life.

While I was working the biggest deal of my life and encouraging a most courageous woman to climb one more mountain, our Director of Sales Mike Rackley was enraged because I was "thinking outside the box," "being tenacious," and "making it happen" - just as he had trained me. Rather than provide positive support to help assist this sale and further the dreams of this remarkable woman and her family, Rackley focused on negative aspects of the opportunity; preferred to find fault in my actions. I'll be the first to admit it ... I'm not perfect. Yet to be successful at life, school or the timeshare business, one needs to have positive support. This creates confidence and confidence spurs sales.

I had an early tour that day. I was also able to meet my tour with ample time to get acquainted prior to the start of podium. This was a rare and favorable day. My energy was high. We had a rousing staff meeting. I made the group laugh as I "bested" VP Terry NeSmith in a friendly challenge to assign a daily spiff. A spiff is an internal incentive management offers occasionally to motivate agents. As a group, we had record-setting sales performance the previous day. In front of my coworkers, I coaxed Terry to reward the "best sales team in the islands" with a generous spiff. My colleagues loved the praise; Terry was on the spot in front of the group ... DoS Mike Rackley would call this "creating internal pressure." Terry conceded a generous spiff. SR rep and friend, Mona, laughed loudly, high-fived me, and said, "You made that happen!" Her comment was a good training tip. I had made that "deal" happen. Now, just do this on the sales floor ...

And, with this thought in mind, I met Bev. She was alone but offered a firm and warm handshake. She was used to the "meet and greet." I soon learned she had been a real estate agent and broker most of her professional career - successful without a doubt. She carried that confidence gracefully. Her clothes were elegant, jewelry exquisite but not flashy bling. She was conservatively wealthy, as one finds in the culture back east. West coast wealth tends to be showy and overstated. Importantly, she seemed immediately comfortable with me; although this was not unusual. This is a strength of mine. Friends have told me I'm a dynamic, bright guy with that "laid back, friend next door" appeal.

I asked Bev about her real estate career, told her I recently completed my license, and was thankful to be selling Vacation Ownership. She asked why. "I meet people who are happy. They're on vacation, working hard to escape the drudgery of everyday life, and I get to offer them more ... more fun, more luxury, and more memories and dreams with family and friends. I'm a lucky boy!" Bev laughed. I asked her specifically about her success, "What's the single, most important factor in making a deal, since you had such a long, successful career?" "It's all about the relationship," she answered. "It's not the product, pitch or professional behavior. It's about getting to know people. When you establish that human connection, find out what people need, it's easy. Concluding deals is easy!"

And, there I had it. She just gave me "her dominant buying motivation." I didn't need to pitch or present to this woman. I simply needed time to develop the relationship. I needed time to find out what she needed. Bev told me earlier how much she loved Kaua'i, and more importantly, how much she adored the Bali Hai resort. She confided in me she felt tremendous peace here. I knew exactly what she meant. This is the reason many people come to Kaua'i.

So, I listened to Bev. Trainers told us, "Don't talk. Listen." I was listening ... and listening ... and listening. Bev opened up like the petals of a delicate flower. Terry would jokingly call this "puking" on the sales agent. She had found a common soul; someone who could hear her; and it was important for her to be heard. It was like she had been surpressing her emotions for a long time and this released the flood. I wasn't a sales agent; I had become her therapist. We had developed a relational "sweet spot." I decided to skip podium and let the relationship develop.

Podium wasn't popular with agents. It took too long, could be repetitive and boring, and frequently exhausted clients. Potential owners were tired of sitting when it ended and sales agents needed them to sit at their tables longer for the specialized presentation. Many were ready to leave after podium concluded. Thus, lead reps generally skipped podium. Wyndham required new reps to bring tours to the group presentation. Rackley also claimed VPG was higher from tours that attended podium. I wondered. I had observed the process long enough to know they didn't apply "research standards" for such a claim. Was someone misleading or simply an example of misusing statistical figures.

On the other hand, group presentation could be useful. Presenters at times fired up the crowd. People laughed and had a good time, and this created common warmth and group connection. People also learned the basics of timeshare and contrasted with Wyndham Vacation Ownership. The value of podium decreased for experienced clients or those who owned timeshare. As a new rep, I found podium helpful. I didn't know what to say at the time, as my presentation was clumsy and rough. Unfortunately, Wyndham didn't always offer podium. I learned this the hard way one morning. My manager came to us, "No Specialist Presenter today. Do the best you can on your own." That was it ... "Figure it out!" And, since there were many days without podium, I figured it out. It didn't take long to learn how to cover the important talking points in podium. Absent podium, I had more time to focus on "building the relationship." And, with Bev, I needed to continue building the relationship.

Recallling instructions from DoS Rackley, I was thinking outside the box. I read the defensive formation and was calling an audible at the line. My client was sophisticated and suggested this could be a bigger transaction. Make it happen, as Wyndham trained me. In addition, I had recently concluded a sale and skipped podium to make that deal. Wyndham assigned me a tour of four women - I called them my "Sex In The City" tour after the popular TV series. When I walked them around the model villa, they became so comfortable talking in the kitchen that I stayed there. I presented without any materials; just chatted informally; and we had fun. It seemed like being in the home of a friend. Got the deal. As Bev would say, we had created a comfortable relationship.

I was concentrating on Bev's stories but my mind drifted to a training Rackley held the previous week. It was a lesson about Thinking Outside the Box. He drew nine dots on the whiteboard, told us to do the same on our paper, and instructed us to connect all the dots, without lifting our pens, using only four lines. Of about 15 participants, I was the only one to solve the puzzle. This is not a boast; everyone knows I'm logical ... too logical maybe, as emotion is critical in timeshare sales. I had been practicing with agents who excel at creating emotion, so my colleagues and I laughed at this outcome. The exercise reminded me of a programming task. I made a couple unsuccessful attempts and then closed my eyes and visualized the dots. As I mentally backed away and took a distant perspective, I easily discovered the solution. Changing one's perspective ... that is the definition of thinking outside the box, right? Although Rackley had just trained us to change perspective, he was enraged I had changed perspective. This is the negative environment at Wyndham. For doing as he trained, I was in trouble.

Bev and I talked for over three hours. My pants were stuck to the chair, as I was cautious to move. I needed the bathroom and was thirsty, but didn't want her to stop recalling her past and dreaming of the future. She was telling her life story. Regardless of selling timeshare, this was a remarkable history. I admired her greatly and we had become good friends. I also had learned what this relatively wealthy, remarkable woman needed. After consulting with her intensely for hours, I left to discuss options with my manager and returned with a recommendation. We would PIC her current two bedroom timeshare and have her buy an additional 256,000+ Wyndham points. The package would run about $44,000.

Bev loved the idea. She wanted more time on Kaua'i and coveted the Bali Hai location. Yet she turned to me and firmly said, "I know you want to conclude this deal today. As a career real estate agent, I never demanded that. People need time to digest large purchases. And, I need time today. I'll commit verbally at this point but need to think about this overnight." She then looked sternly at me and said, "Don't press me further, please." If relationships are important, then this was a critical test of ours. Her request was reasonable, and if I respected her, she expected me to honor the request. I did. Yet I needed good faith in return. She completed her credit app. Excellent. We set an appointment to meet the next morning.

This pleased my manager. Rackley was furious. I believe he mentioned firing me more than once. Rackley, "What the hell were you doing skipping podium?" (ME, thinking, remember Rackley told you to answer a question with a question.) "Ummm, didn't you train us just last week to think outside the box?" This worked. Set him off balance ... "Well, I didn't mean that far!" With my shoe I pointed to the tiles on the floor, "What is outside the box, here or here? How do I know how far?" Rackley, "Nobody gets to skip podium!" Me, "Andrew, Mary, Darcel, Abe ... don't they skip podium if they want?" Rackley, "They have high VPGs. You do not!" Me, "It seems to me the only way to get high VPG is to skip podium. Did you know I skipped podium last week and got the deal. You didn't criticize me over that decision. Bev verbally agreed to a $44K package."

Rackley, "Who gave you permission to allow her to comeback?" Me, "My manager was in the loop." Rackley, "If you miss podium or schedule a B-Back again without my permission, you'll be fired!" Me (outloud) , "OK." Me (thinking), "Wow ... I just busted my ass for over three hours, have a promise for the biggest deal of my Whndham career. I'm making it happen, thinking outside the box, being tenacious, and all this director does is go negative." This is a common criticism expressed in government or public sector work. Bureaucrats are less concerned about results ... more on control. This is one reason government projects cost four times as much and take three times longer. The private sector hopes to be more adaptable. Wouldn't it be more effective for someone to give a pat on the pack, an attaboy, or a high five?"

The following morning was my scheduled day off but I came to work. Bev showed up on time. We exchanged pleasantries. I asked her to share her thoughts. She told me she loved the concept but wasn't sold on the deal. I thanked her for her candor and told her I wasn't sold either. In fact I didn't believe it was the right deal for her. This was true! I had another plan.

I spent the evening reflecting about what she had told me. My original objective was to set her up so she could spend the time she wanted at the Bali Hai resort. Upon reconsidering, I realized this wasn't what she should do. I had a better plan. "I want you to write a book about your remarkable life. This is what you need to do. You told me you wanted to work, maybe sell real estate again, yet to do something significant. Your struggle, your family, your remarkable story, these are the significant things in your life."

I told her about another remakable woman I met once: Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense. The Madam Secretary and I had a delightful conversation years ago at the famous Peabody Hotel in Little Rock, home of the Clinton Presidential Library. For those who don't know this historical landmark, they used to have ducks, Peabody Ducks, that resided in the hotel. They held a charming ceremony each day to honor the ducks - but that's a story for another day. I was alone and talking to the ducks (yes, I talk to animals). There was laughter behind me. I turned to discover one of the most powerful people in the history of our country ... and, I was talking to ducks. "Delightful, aren't they?" the Madam Secretary said to me. Embarrassed, I sheepishly said, "Yes. I was talking with them. I believe they understand me." "I'm certain they do," she answered surprisingly. "If you promise not to tell anyone, I'll share a secret with you." How could I refuse a secret from her. "Of course," I eagerly responded. "I spend a lot of time talking to these ducks. I'm sure they understand. Much easier than talking with Congress." We both laughed. "Yet don't tell anyone. The world thinks I'm crazy enough as it is!" I laughed and then said, "For what it's worth, I found your Keynote Address last night inspiring and have never considered you crazy. I'm honored to meet you." The Madam Secretary then thanked me, extended her hand, shook hands with me, and then turned to walk off. She flashed a gracious smile, "Don't forget me or the ducks!" Bev had shared she liked talking to animals with me the previous day and related to my story perfectly.

"You think I'm like Madeline Albright?" Bev asked. "You are both remarkable women with historical lives the world needs to know. I've read a book of hers. I now want to read yours," I said and continued. "You must come to Kaua'i, to Bali Hai, where you are at peace, inspired, and energized to complete the next step in your life's journey. You told me yesterday your children wanted you to write the book, that your departed husband had hoped you would write this story. This is the time. This is your destiny. Finish now what you started. If not, your courageous effort will be forgotten in a generation or two. Do this for your husband, for your children, and for yourself."

"I don't know how to write a book," Bev answered. "You didn't know how to do most of the things you've done in your life. You figured it out; you made it happen. That's why you're remarkable. Name me one other woman who carried her husband, supported eight children, getting them all to top universities, and guided them to prestegious careers and family lives. Name one!" She couldn't. "This is a story for Oprah," I encouraged and asked, "Your story will inspire millions. Do you know how many single mothers or fathers cannot raise even one child today?" "But I don't know anything about writing a book," she reiterated. "I do," I responded. "We can find ghost writers, editors, publishers. Take baby steps. Your kids will help. You will have so much fun."

At that point her son walked in. Bev told him my proposal. David was ecstatic. "Thank you so much, Scott," he said. "We've been trying to get her to do this for years. Yes, make it happen!" I told him the rest of the plan. Bev would use the VIP package I recommended as a business expenditure. Bali Hai would be her office, the place to write the book. It could be a business write-off and book proceeds might cover the cost of the package. Finally, the purchase would represent a commitment by the family to make this dream project come true. David said he was fully supportive. Bev agreed. They needed to leave for a planned activity and signed a Letter of Commitment for a $69,000 Silver VIP package. Bev scheduled to return on my next work shift. The deal we tentatively agreed the day before that valued at $44K just grew another $25,000. I had inspired my remarkable friend. She was about to embark on an amazing adventure. I loved my job!

I walked the two to their rental car. They were buzzing with excitement. David was already planning chapters and locating files they would need. Bev said her husband would be so proud of her ... of them. They drove off. I stopped by Rackley's office to show him the commitment letter. He asked when she would return, nothing more. This turn of events seemed to upset him actually. I sent a text to my manager letting him know our status and thanked him for believing in me. He was excited. He would receive a nice commission as well. We were making a family happy.

... stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of Bev's tour