The Shining

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” – Thomas Paine

Our fastidious and at times persnickety CEO, the Man from Glad, has office furniture that can only be described as luxurious. And, perhaps, buxom. His desk is massive, more or less the size of Iowa. The wood is solid colonial cherry. Everything about the desk is high end, including the four corner English dovetailed drawers, with heavy-duty full extension soft closing ball bearing glides and triple ply drawer bottoms. The surface is polished to a brilliant luster. It is the finish that catches the eye, glowing eerily at sunset, scintillating in the light of day. A small notepad and fountain pen provide the only breaks to an impressive, if somewhat bleak, expanse.

At 7:12 a.m. on a quiet Monday morning, Miss Pigeon, with an inflated sense of self-importance that comes from being the executive assistant to the CEO, opened the door to her boss’ office to put the mail on his desk. A high pitch shriek tore from the room, shredding the empty calm and echoing down the executive suite corridors. Miss Pigeon stood froze in place, stupefied, uncomprehending, entirely unnerved. She tried to form words, but only gurgling sounds emerged from her throat. Then she slumped to the floor.

A high pitched shriek tore from the room.

Someone had keyed that pristine desktop. Or perhaps skated across it, performing several figure 8s and at least one triple lutz. It was a disaster. Who would do such a thing? I am generally loath to tamper with perfection. Here someone obliterated it. Whatever the motivation, it was laced with pure meanness. I could see no way that the desk could be saved.

When one must, one can. Someone apparently and appropriately dialed 911 and a team of specially trained surgeons appeared promptly. They worked their magic behind closed doors, a strange humming making its way through the walls. We could only imagine what sorcery would be required to restore the desktop to its former splendor. But restore it they did. And splendid it was again.

There is a Spanish proverb that goes: from a fallen tree, we make kindling. Give Ms. Pigeon credit. That was not going to happen under her watch.

Maternal Instincts

Sam is a troglodyte who works in the Corporate Development group. He has strongly held views of women that I would have imagined most of his kind discarded once they left the cave.

Sam refused for years to hire women of childbearing age on the assumption that, sooner or later, they’d get pregnant – something they might do, say, out of spite.

A short enough while ago, he needed to hire a business analyst. He was warned not to impose his anachronous criteria for employee selection on the process. And so it was that, despite his disinclination and much to his discomfort, Sam hired a younger woman. Surprisingly, to him anyway, she seemed to be working out. He taught her well and, within just a few months, she became a trusted lieutenant. Until, that is, she announced that she was pregnant. And had been the whole time. And thanks for taking the time to train her because now she can use her new skills to get a better paying job elsewhere when she rejoins the job market. It was all too much to bear.

Despite his inclination and much to his discomfort, Sam hired a younger woman.

In his subsequent rant, Sam said something akin to the knuckle-dragging Harold Ryan in Kurt Vonnegut’s play, Wanda June. Ryan famously opined that educating a beautiful woman is like pouring honey into a fine Swiss watch; everything stops.

It’s a good thing Sam doesn’t live in Canada, where moose and leftists share common ground and where women can go on maternity leave for up to a year and be guaranteed a job at an equal level and at equal pay when they return. If they return, that is. You might go into a holding pattern in anticipation of their return only to be informed two weeks before that they found a job elsewhere.

To be silent is not necessarily to be persuaded, of course, but Sam did eventually let it go.

Last I heard, though, he had a new… uh… more mature analyst.

Otel California

You can count on our discriminating and well-dressed CEO, the Man from Glad, to always go first class. In this, his character and wallet are fully aligned. This does not mean he is a spendthrift. On the contrary, he exercises restraint in most things. But he recognizes the lifetime value of elegant things and does not confuse self-restraint with self-denial. All that said, he is scary cheap when it comes to hotel lodgings.

I can recall one evening driving to our hotel with our Yankee Clipper and then host, Kyle C., at the wheel. He knows his territory and where it is safe to room and board when travelling. So we get close to this roach motel along a dirt road and I notice Kyle slowing down. The entrance is up a bit of a hill, but Kyle stops short, puts the gears in Park and idles for a moment. Our keen-eyed leader asked Kyle why he is not driving up to the door. Without hesitation, our maritime guide responds, “because I don’t want my hubcaps stolen”.

A loose shutter thwacked against the faded clapboard.

Fast forward to last Friday. We are scouting a place to stay overnight and we approach a shabby looking building with a neon sign flashing OTEL. Bzzzt. Bzzzt. The word flashes on and off. Bzzzt. Like an electronic bug zapper. The wind picked up and a loose shutter thwacked against the faded clapboard siding. I looked at our otherwise prudent and protective CEO, terror-stricken.

“This place is straight out of Psycho!” I cried out.

“Oh come now,” he said calmly. “It is close to where we want to be. And as long as the sheets are clean, we should be good.”

“The sheets are clean because they change them every hour!”

After much cowering on my part – I insisted that it was Norman Bates staring at us from behind ratty second floor curtains – he finally relented and we made our way to more reasonable accommodations.

Fortune may well favor the bold, but for Friday anyway, I was more than happy to park my poor and not so sorry soul somewhere else.

Sew to Speak

A company in Tennessee supplies the Small Office with certain proprietary technologies. A group of their technical people, including their CTO, came to visit us the other day.

The CTO is a shortish, somewhat roundish, white-haired gentleman with a broad smile. He wore grey pinstriped pants held up by bright red suspenders. With his matching red bowtie, he looked a bit like Tweedledee come of age.

“There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and the talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’” (from Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

We brought them to a conference room. On a side table, coffee, tea, water, muffins, cookies. With their in-flight service meager, they were more than happy to sample our wares. We then made our way to the large, glass-covered table for discussions on extending their contract for another two years.

“The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. `There’s PLENTY of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.”

The CTO calmly removed his pants right there and then and began sewing.

Before we started, the CTO pointed to a tear in his pants that he sustained in his travels and wondered if we had a sewing needle and thread. It was a very odd business, but I went along. I spoke to Sue O., my assistant, and she was able to produce both a needle and an assortment of threads from her purse. I returned to the conference room and handed over the tools of the tailoring trade. The CTO calmly removed his pants right there and then and began sewing.

We picked up the discussion on the contract, settling everything quickly since both sides were happy with a straight extension. The CTO put his pants back on, slung the suspenders over his shoulder, and handed back the needle and thread. I guess I must have scratched my head and opined that nobody here would have done that. And most probably can’t. He, however, found it not the least bit strange, a simple repair and on with business. “’Caint’ never could do nothing, “ he said matter-of-factly.

“Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. `I don’t quite understand you,’ she said, as politely as she could.”

Double Dipping

The Sundance Kid was always one of my favorites. He was a marketing manager who I once described as “a sandy-haired, terminally under-dressed fortysomething with an idea a day, some of which actually worked”. He laughed easily, but there was an underlying sadness about him, likely related to an ailing child for whom prospects were dim. Marketing was, for the Kid, both a vocation and an escape. He had been with the company for a long time – long enough, in fact, to be part of our Defined Benefit Plan. And therein lies the sum and substance of our discontent.

The Kid is now in his early fifties, his hair infused with grey, making it less espresso and more caffè crema. The sadness is now permanently etched into the corners of his eyes which no amount of collagen will cure.

As it happened, he received a fairly lucrative offer from our largest competitor, one he could hardly refuse. The additional salary augmented by a pension would result in a significant cash flow increase for his family. Loyalties and prejudices aside, the Kid could hardly be blamed for jumping at the opportunity.

This was no comfort for our senior managers who felt he was feeding at two troughs. Because he knew our programs, products and practices so well – many of which he actually put in place – he could help our competitor while we paid for the privilege.

He was feeding at two troughs.

Bull Terrier was livid when this competitor beat us to market with a device he remembered first being sketched on the backside of a restaurant place mat. He asked Rigor Mortis if there was anything we could do to prevent the Kid from revealing trade secrets that possibly we legally owned. And he asked the Black Widow if we could withhold his pension, in whole or in part. And because he knew the Kid was my protégé, he asked if I could do something, anything at all.

Bull was met with a chorus of shrugs, eight from Black Widow, two each from the rest of us.

In truth, while I am sorry to see the Kid gone, I cannot have my conscience be his guide. He served us well when he served at our pleasure and, now, he serves himself and his family. So, yes, I cannot muster more than a shrug and a furrowed brow for show. I feel only slightly bad that I don’t feel worse.

The Cats in the Hats

“It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.” – Peter Ustinov

Helen is the secretary/receptionist in our Tech Center. She is tall. Very tall. A cornstalk in a field of alfalfa. And it’s not like she slouches to be less conspicuous. She stands straight as a lighthouse on a promontory, a beacon for ships lost at sea. If Helen were a ship, she’d be… uh… a tall ship.

Late Friday afternoon, her daughter Nancy came to pick her up at work. They were going out for a night on the town. Or perhaps tea at Downton Abbey. Nancy is an impossible inch or two taller than Helen. The twin towers still stand… and glide in tandem down the Small Office corridors. Except on this day, they were going to meet up with their sisters in the Red Hat Society. They were appropriately attired for the occasion.

A cornstalk in a field of alfalfa.

To be sure, they would be easy to spot in their red hats and purple dresses even if they were not so statuesque. It should be added that their hats were exquisite with their Sinamay fascinators, tall feathers and hair combs. If I were a cardinal in flight, I would have found them impossible to resist.

They are vivacious, curvaceous, in equal measure buoyant and flamboyant, no longer young and not the least bit worried about it. I stared without shame and admired them without reservation.

What’s the Point?

We were on a fact-finding mission with a sizeable new customer. The objective was to understand how they saw the relationship, where they positioned us versus our competitors, which products they would carry, how they would introduce our lines to their staff, and so on. Because I was in the area, I agreed to drop in and lend some weight to the proceedings.

Jared, the sales rep, was there primarily to make introductions. The original plan was to have the Sales Manager do that, but a last minute screw-up with a flight put the local rep on the line. Jan, who was recently and with good cause promoted to manage our Customer Care Center, and the appropriate product line manager were also there. On the customer side, a half dozen souls showed up, several of which were still in diapers. I wondered who organized this session.

He quickly fell back into his comfort zone.

The meeting was not well planned. The rep was not part of the implementation team per se and it showed. He didn’t quite understand the purpose of a kick-off session, so he quickly fell back into his comfort zone. That zone is called PowerPoint. The Small Office PowerPoints everything eventually. The problem is, there was no need for a presentation at all. The sales job was already done. A contract had already been signed. It was now time to move forward, to get information.

There were questions, but they were mostly posed by the customer. There were muffins and handshakes and nice to meet you and looking forward to working with you. In short, the meeting was a waste of time.

Ike, the Sales Manager, felt guilty over his no-show and was grateful that Jared was willing to cover for him. Jan was new to this kind of meeting so she could hardly be blamed for what did or did not transpire. Ike didn’t want anyone to feel bad, so he told them he heard it went really well, great start, lovin’ it.

But, unlike Ike, I was there. And I was not lovin’ it. To paraphrase Churchill, the cause was there, the people were there, the chance was there. And we left chance behind. One of us would have to let them know so that it wouldn’t happen again.