As an employee at any level of the organization chart we all hope that we might make a difference during our tenure, at least in some small way. If nothing else, whatever successes or accomplishments we made can become resume fodder for getting that next job. Management folks, simply by nature of their “command & control” responsibility, generally promote themselves based on deeds accomplished either individually or by directing the efforts of a department or division, with measured success that seemingly impacted their immediate responsibilites or the company in general (saving the company money, increasing sales, etc.). Beyond the stuff of resumes, we would like to know that when we were there that we made a difference. “Vell, zometimes it don always vork dat vay”, he said. Sometimes we leave a company for various reasons that don’t always suggest a colorful and productively positive employment experience. There are sometimes those of us who manage to leave with recognition in having achieved that we’d likely not remember achieving; not that it’s bad or negative… but perhaps maybe tussles at our moral human side. Here’s my case in point.
After the closing of the mail order house, Aldens, and my subsequent departure (the subject of my previous post, THE BUSINESS BOOMER -#3 – Witnessing The Demise Of A Mail Order Icon – Aldens, Inc. ) from their employ, I managed to acquire employment with yet another mail order business… Quill Corporation. These folks were mail order heavyweights in the office supply industry. I was hired initially as an assistant Drop Ship Supervisor in the Inventory Control Department; the goal being, as explained to me at the time of hire, that I was being brought in to be groomed for replacing the current supervisor… who was an older lady who had made the decision to retire “shortly” (which I took at the time to mean maybe a couple months). The company as a rule did not have “assistant supervisors” and this position was considered pretty much an interim position, which I found an encouragement to accept the job as it fit to my own career aspirations. Little did I know that there was a greater strategy afoot in my being hired.
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Quill had a fairly rapid growth in the mail order office supply industry… having gone from founder Jack Miller’s father’s basement chicken coop (poultry store) with a phone (a story told ad nauseum during my tenure there) to a mid-size corporate leader in the industry inside something like 30+ years, with hundreds of employees, and located in a sprawling suburban Chicago office park landscaped location.
(As a side note… in my last couple years there, as a supervisor, I had a partitioned office in a corner of the first floor where two large windows met; a very enviable position for someone of my somewhat lower stature on the chart; a location assigned not because of any favor from the executive “gods” as reward for crowning achievements but rather it just worked out that way on the office floor plan. Oddly the view of the company’s park-like setting from two sides… overlooking the great pond, manicured lawns, trimmed shrubbery, and flocks of wandering Canadian geese who would sometimes peer through my windows to gawk at the funny humans… kinda added to some mystique that I had the favor of the corporate “almighty’s” and power to go with it. I handled many a business phone call swiveling my unauthorized-for-use-at-my-management-level high back executive office chair –a whole other story– around and watching the seasonal migration of nature. In other words… it was great. But I digress…)
For the sake of protecting the innocent I will use fake names when fake-ness seems prudent. Otherwise, everything else is as it happened. The time I was hired was 1985. Doris was the Drop Ship supervisor I was to ultimately replace. At the time she was well into her 60’s.. a kind of “mother” type rather than a supervisor. While the vast hundreds under the employ of the company represented a rather young age demographic, Doris represented a time when the company was barely out of Jack’s father’s chicken coop, or so it seemed. Actually I think she had been with the company since the 70’s.. when relating to the Millers’ was a daily thing… everyone in their small workplace was more intimate… and old school. As the years progressed and the company grew Doris found herself being shunted off to various company activities and ultimately ended up as Drop Ship supervisor more because her old school ways would best serve the company there. She would reflect on the old days engaging with the brothers on a daily basis and it was pretty obvious to me at the time that she felt left out of whatever loop she had been included in years previous. She had a lot of years of devoted service to the company but because of her skill set limitations and difficulty handling new office technology she truly could not adapt to the advancing needs of the company as it grew. As the company grew it was only natural that her access to the brothers would diminish as their responsibilities went to different levels. If her and I were walking down the hallway to a meeting somewhere and we would pass one of the brothers you could see she wanted to engage in the old familiar chat, but all she might receive was the acknowledgement, “Hi, Doris! How’s things going? How’s the family?”… and you could sense that whoever we were passing didn’t really want to know. In effect, she was only around because of her past service and she was in the position she was in because it was “out of the way”.
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But even being out-of-the-way had to ultimately change. The Inventory Control Department was run by manager, Robert. Robert himself had been with the company about 10 years at the time; was in his 50’s, himself not college educated (like Doris), but apparently did well keeping up and managing the department’s two sections.. Drop Ship and Inventory Control (each with their own supervisor). At his level, reporting the the Miller’s was typical since at the time there were no VP’s in between.
Anyway, Robert and the powers that be were aware and quite frankly tired with Doris’s inability to keep up with changing demands and they wanted to remove her but yet be fair about it. After all, the company needed someone in her position to actually “perform” in the supervisor role. She had 12 clerical people under her, one of which was an old buddy of similar age who acted as lead. The rest of the staff was fairly young… and female. On the other hand, she was a human being who deserved a measure of respect for her devotion to the company, so just “making something up to dump her” was not a goal.
What they did decide to do was Robert having a number of discussions with Doris about when she might retire.. and frank discussions as well about the needs of the company and that she might want to now pass the baton to a new person so that she could enjoy retirement with her family and grandkids. All this occurred prior to me getting there. At some point Doris, after chatting with hubby and whatnot, agreed that she should step aside and that she would consider doing that to coincide with the training of her replacement. Robert got the necessary approvals and the hiring for the unprecedented assistant supervisor position was put into motion.
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