Winning

To some, winning is everything. It was that way with my mentor, and former business partner, Arnie Nudell.

Arnie hated losing. Which is likely why he had so many wins, like building the biggest loudspeaker company in the world, Infinity.

One of my fondest memories centers around a ping-pong table. Arnie and I both loved ping-pong but for me, it was often more frustration than pleasure—at least when Arnie played. There’s no doubt he was better at the game than me, but once in a great while I got lucky. And that’s when The Arnold went into kamikaze mode. Once beaten his need to win amped him up to the point of bouncing off walls and diving for the impossible shot, ramping up his merciless spin on the serve. It seemed his hair was on fire until he won again at which time we could stop playing.

A year or two after launching Genesis Technologies, the loudspeaker company Arnie and I started in 1990, we had put together the biggest deal in the company’s brief history. In exchange for the exclusive right to distribute Genesis throughout Asia a potential new distributor by the name of Mr. Pu had negotiated a deal with us for nearly half a million dollars. In cash. This was at a point in our young company’s history where we desperately needed the money that Pu dangled in front of us. We’d want to make sure nothing went wrong.

Mr. Pu arrived in Denver with two cashiers checks for the aforementioned sum and we arranged for his airport pickup and travel to Vail, Colorado for dinner. A pleasant meal later we headed to The Arnold’s house to conclude the deal with a handshake and acceptance of those checks. Checks we needed badly. As Arnie toured Mr. Pu around his home Pu spied the basement ping-pong table.

“You play?” Pu asked Arnie, his eyes lighting up with anticipation.

Down to the basement we went and the games began. Arnie was in fine form as was Pu and they were evenly matched. Pu’s serve outdid The Arnold’s but Arnie played the table close, jamming shots back at Pu seemingly before they bounded off the table. After five rounds Pu was up one game but out of breath and sweating profusely. Vail’s 8,500 foot altitude was tough on lowlanders. A truce was called as ice tea was poured and I pulled Arnie aside.

“What the hell are you doing?” I whispered. “Let the guy win. It’s part of their culture. Let’s be good hosts.”

“I can’t,” said Arnie with his all-to-familiar kamikaze-intense eyes ready for battle. “I just can’t.”

The games began again and I could see Pu wearing down from Arnie’s relentless assault—and once Arnie saw his victim start to fade his intensity ramped even higher. Paddle whack after paddle whack Arnie pounced, leaped, and jumped in the air never to miss a shot. Poor Mr. Pu finally exhausted into a limp heap in the chair, sweat soaking his shirt, and put his hands up in surrender.

“I give,” he said with head bowed. “You win.”

After dinner that night I drove Pu back to his hotel and he turned to me. “I somehow offended Arnie?”

I felt so bad. I made excuses. Over time Mr. Pu was OK and he and Arnie became fast friends, but that night I wasn’t so sure.

If you want to learn more about my friend and partner, I recorded the very last interview he gave before his passing. You can listen to it here.

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Paul McGowan