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Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001
There's a little insert to our Sunday paper with local happenings, and they always throw in a biography on somebody in town. A brief intro paragraph, then a bulleted list of essential facts. What brought you to the area? What would you change about your spouse? Favorite food? Least favorite job? Have you had a sex change?

It's that least favorite job item that always attracts me. A lot of the interviewees answer, rather loftily, "I never had an employment experience from which I didn't learn something valuable."

Yeah right. Working in the stockroom at Target would certainly qualify on your life enrichment checklist.

I can't wait until they nominate me for celebrity of the week, so that I can get in the paper and answer the least fav job question. Boy, would I load 'em up.

This would be the job I had just before I started my own little gig with Stu. Which is the best job I've ever had.

I had quit the job I'd had for 11 years in order to make more filthy lucre and sell kitchen cabinets for a huge national company. One thing I'm absolutely not cut out to do is sell, but I stuck it out until it became clear that huge companies have a serious problem when it comes to customer service. Since the customers were in my face, and huge company was about six layers and three cities removed from my customer problems, they had very little concern about some rookie salesman.

So I took a job with a company employing an old acquantance of mine, call him Matt. It also employed Stu, who had actually got the company going. A father and son construction contractor team had approached him about getting together. Stu went out and charmed a major league materials supply / home center store chain into a contract for constructing their new warehouses. It snowballed into other things and the company took off like a rocket. By the time I got there, the cast of characters had already been assembled.

Stu had somehow gone from being a partner in the company to one step above errand boy. He was basically sitting around in his office every day, waiting for a project to come up so that he could go out in the field and do his superintendant thing. Which he does very well. He wound up being sent to Atlanta, just before the '96 Olympics, building retail stores inside the Atlanta airport. Several million dollars worth, as it turns out. Nobody in the company had much good to say about Stu, which should have been a warning to me, as he has one of the most easy going personalities I've ever seen.

The Son was the vice-president. In his own way, he was a fairly talented people manager. Just one problem. His father did not want him making decisions that affected the company, managing people, or working out on jobsites. The guy was basically a point man for one of the major clients where a friend of his worked. So unless he was on the phone with his friend, casually drumming up business, he was left with nothing to do. He was frustrated about it at first, but little by little, he spiraled down into a classic bosses son role, leeching off the company, taking tremendous lunches and playing a lot of darts in his office.

The Daughter was employed for obscure reasons. She basically served as secretary to her father, which involved sitting at a desk in her little office adjacent to his and telling callers that the old man couldn't be disturbed. Which was generally a lie, the old man just didn't want any calls that were more confrontational than having to choose which type of breakfast bagel he was going to have. She also started a torrid affair with -

The Foreman, who ran the shop portion of the business, where store fixtures and cabinets were built. Foreman had a pretty good personality, he was liked within the company because he took a lot of the crap situations, like firing people, onto himself. For this, he was rewarded with an office and his own male secretary, who was the one who actually ran things. Foreman was more of a power figure, and he was a pretty big guy. Actually doing things wasn't his style. Keeping a close eye on his strip dancer wife kept him plenty busy after hours. That is, until the Daughter came along. Then he started staying late and groping her in the hall. The fact that she was a remarkably unattractive woman lead me to understand that her only redeeming value was as a link to the old man.

The Bookeeper was a 47 year old woman with the largest breasts I've ever seen on a co-worker. They cost some poor slob a fortune. I think she worked for the companionship as much as anything, because her income was largely derived from the alimony she was getting from two previous husbands. She showed up for work late every day, driving a Mercedes. Wearing, every day, a mini skirt, low cut cling top and her wig. Warpaint. Diamonds. A bimbo in alligator heels. The highlight of her week was to stop by the various offices to drop off paychecks, bend over until her boobs threatened to pop out and hit somebody in the head, and very seductively say something like "When are you taking me out for dinner with all this money, Outfoxed?" Her understanding of accounting was demonstrated to be poorer than mine, which is very limited indeed.

Matt had worked in another construction company with me, although we worked in separate sections. I hadn't had to work directly with him. He had a huge capacity for conversation, one of those people who win arguments more because the opponent becomes so exhausted listening that it becomes easier to give in to his petty need for attention than to spend more time presenting him with facts. The man had spent his whole working life garnering achievement placques at pay-as-you-go seminars and had them displayed on his office wall. Annoyingly, he knew virtually nothing about the basics of the construction industry but had managed to survive to reach his present level, which was another vice president slot. The fact that he went to church with the old man probably had nothing to do with it, too. He also had an incredible ego. He had managed to convince himself that he was a leading figure in local contracting (possibly by talking to himself while in a Zen-like trance at the placque wall). He took an enormous amount of time to accomplish the simplest of tasks, which were only acheived by the infusion of help from more knowledgable, but less well paid worker bees. Which, of course put him even further into a position of defensiveness over his own little world, and led to some serious backstabbing issues with -

Outfoxed. Yeah me. Matt recruited me into the job basically to do the work which he couldn't do, although that wasn't the lure. He had Stu into that mind set until Stu told him to shove it. They stuck me into a broom closet office and I started my project management and estimating thing. I was an eager beaver and didn't mind doing most of Matt's work, most of which was pretty simple stuff anyway. I had a local following and customers began to call in to have me take on projects, so my own work load began to pile up. With more attention coming my way, Matt got increasingly anxious, first about how he was having to slog through the tasks that I now had no time for, and second that most of the customers prefered to have me do the work over him. He was fairly transparent, both to them and me, in his ego-ranting and obvious lack of any real talent in the industry. It got to the point where he had to complain to -

The Old Man. Picture a little old guy with no hair, zero personality and thick glasses. Mr. Magoo look alike. This guy had apparently done well for himself working as an estimator for large companies in past years, ones with lots of support personel. He had absolutely no clue as to how to manage a company of his own, so he comforted himself with hiring lots of people in the hope that some of them would do the actual work and keep him from having to deal with it. His main forte was an involvement in his church and the Rotarians, which provided him lots of local contacts. He was seemingly a kind and neighborly little guy, which endeared him to the older ladies in the company who fawned over him and propped up his stature in the eyes of customers. He was actually in office about half the time, mysteriously hinting at big projects that he was working on, always giving the appearance of one who was rushed and busy with big executive things. Truth is, he wanted nothing to do with what the firm so desparately needed of its' president, leadership and adminstration. Periodically he would issue memos about inconsequential things, I suppose to at least let us know he was still alive and functional. Stu and I took to calling him the Turtle, he who retracts head at the least sign of trouble.

Because of the old mans policy of wrapping people around him, whether they were necessary or not, the company had a huge overhead. Every payroll was a groaning effort. After I left it was discovered that most of their finances were built on shaky credit lines with several banks, who floated the company mostly due to the Rotary Club type image that the old man tried to foster. The fact that Matt's projects were generating little income, mostly due to stupid errors when bidding the job, that the old man was not getting any work because, Turtle-like, he was bidding jobs too high in fear of making an error, and that the ratio of people not actually doing anything to move the company along was way higher than those who were led to some of the most nasty office politics I've ever been witness to.

Stu got back from Atlanta (after spending 9 months there!) and was back in a holding mode, stuck in an office, with a change in title. I have to interject that the company was REALLY big on offices. Titles. Business cards. In two years there I ran through three titles and four sets of business cards. Yep, they ordered me several thousand each time. They never had money problems when it came to office stationary. A new title never meant a pay increase. It was just an ego boost. Titles gave more pump to the seething merry go round of politics.

The old man showed up long enough one day to enlist Stu and I to take a little trip. He had made a contact with another, even bigger home improvement center. You'd know it if I told you, I'd bet even money you've shopped there, it's the biggest of its' kind. We were to go to Memphis and hook up with one of the regional construction directors.

I might have been an eager beaver to start with, but perception is not difficult when it stares you in the face week after week. The trip was as much as anything a gasping effort to hit the pot of gold that would keep our fun ship afloat. Stu and I had already talked about getting out. Starting something ourselves. I could tell he was apprehensive. After all, he had agreed to start up with the old man and his son, and was basically getting screwed out of a partnership position because he wouldn't play the political games that the company demanded of him. Of course, neither would I. Kindred souls, we were.

The Turtle refused to give us airfare to Memphis (he probably didn't have the funds anyway) so Stu took his Suburban and we drove. 900 miles. That's a helluva drive for a business trip.

Somewhere east of Nashville Stu made the classic, and by now legendary remark, "So you think we could make it on our own?"

Seeing as how I'd never been out on my own either, it was pretty naive for me to be positive, but positive I was. "You bet. How the hell can we be in a worse situation than we are now?"

We spent the rest of that trip laying the foundation for a new company. It was all very exciting, the first either of us had been enthusiastic about our work lives in a long time.

In closing, let me say that the end of our employ carried much drama. Although we worked, and worked hard to our last day, the very set-up of the old mans company was our demise. The Foreman fired Stu after a long conference with the old man, his future father in law, for something vaguely worded as insubordination after Stu challenged him on some silly issue. Outfoxed quit after one too many backstabbings by the jealous and idiotic Matt. We started up our little two man operation and have never looked back.

9 months later, the company folded. The newspaper listed the bankruptcy, and I posted the results here in my office as a Talisman for future reference. Assets: $250,000 - Liabilities $1.7 million.

I think you can guess that Stu and I were just a bit smug about all that. We dropped in at the watering hole and clanked a pair of cold ones together in a toast to our own righteousness.

And laughed like hell.

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