Thursday, September 02, 2004

Behold! The Mildly Unwell Boutique is now open!!

OK gang - check out the ONLY spot on the web to score official Steverino gear!

I'm happy to report that the first three shirts have already been ordered and are on the way.

There are many different shirt styles and colors to choose from; I have to say, Zazzle is pretty damn cool. And yes, ladies, babydoll T's are available, so order away!

If you buy a Steverino shirt, please send a picture of yourself in it. I will make a special page for the pictures when they start coming in. I have a feeling there are going to be some very interesting ones...

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog.


Friday, August 27

My promotion does not take effect until September 15, and it was only officially publicly announced today. But the rumor machine was ahead of the curve, and it's been a nonstop conga line of complaints, requests, and Godfather-style ring kissing into my office since several days before that.

The complaints fall into a few general categories:

1. Ross was unresponsive / didn't follow through on promises or deadlines that he set for himself;
2. Staff is overworked / not enough administrative support;
3. Ross is unappreciative of the employees and all they do.

I agree with all of the claims, except possibly #2.

There is a company meeting scheduled for today at 10:00, when we'll discuss the transition.

I prepare a speech for the meeting. Whenever I am making a presentation, I make an outline of what I am going to talk about. Seeing "IV. The past year's success" on a piece of paper is enough to jog my memory; then I can speak about it extemporaneously, and not sound too rehearsed. When I practice a speech, I don't try to memorize it word for word; I just try to remember the various topics. I think it sounds more natural that way.

9:55. Ninety or so employees are getting settled in our meeting room. It's hard to believe I supervise these dozens and dozens of people, or soon will, anyway.

10:00 sharp. People are still shifting around in their seats, clearing their throats, and smoothing their skirts. I have been pestering Ross to start exactly at 10:00, though. He steps up to the podium.

"Thank you all for being here," he begins. "Our very punctual new leader has informed me it's 10:00, so let's begin."


"As most of you know," Ross begins, "I've been given an opportunity at our home office for a brand new position, and I actually begin work there on the 15th. My wife and I are very excited about moving, and yeah, a little overwhelmed, but also very happy. It's also a very sad time, because I know I won't be working with all of you anymore, and these last 10 years have been some of the best ones of my life.

Barbara and I don't have any kids of our own, but I've shared the joy of many of your children coming into the world, I've seen your kids get married, I've seen many of YOU build your careers and get promoted. And it's been really memorable.

It's hard to start over," he says, pensively. "It's hard to start over at my age. But I really felt this was the right thing to do. And it was an easy decision, knowing that there was someone so competent waiting in the wings to take over for me." He smiles over at me.

"Like I said, I don't have kids of my own, and Steve, you've been like a son to me. You've always been there for me when I needed you, and yes, when I'm wrong, you call me on it, like a good son should. Although you still act like a rebellious teen at times...."


"Since you'll be taking over these meetings, Steve, I'd like to hand the podium to you. Ladies and gentlemen, your new district manager."

Applause fills the room. I even hear a couple of "whoo-HOOOO's"!

I step up to the podium. I had left my notes on it earlier so I wouldn't be seen carrying papers in hand as I walked up. I believe small details like that are important.

I shake Ross's hand. He hugs me. There is a loud "AWWWWWW" from the audience.

"Thanks Dad, I mean, Ross," I say into the microphone.

Laughter and applause.

"This is going to be a very easy speech," I say. "I have one person to thank. And that's you, Ross."

Light applause.

"I was a relatively inexperienced kid who had ambition, and a love of the industry, but not much else. And you took a chance on me because you saw something that others did not see. I can honestly say that, were it not for you, I wouldn't be here, Ross."

More applause.

My BlackBerry goes off. I ignore it.

"One thing you will learn about me is, I am a man of my word," I say. "As Ross mentioned, today's meeting was supposed to start at 10, and it started at 10. We told you the meeting would last an hour, and I pledge that it won't go longer than that. Those of you who have worked with me can vouch for that."

A few heads nod.

"I want to say something," I continue. "I'm not here to rescue this division. I'm not here to solve any huge problems. Are we perfect? No. But this division is healthier than it's ever been. I'm here to maintain that and build on it-"

From the corner of my eye, I see Ross stand up and surreptitiously leave the room. What the hell?

But I'm in the middle of a speech, and when you are speaking, you are creating a kind of... mood. And that mood is destroyed pretty easily by leaving the podium, losing your place, or otherwise interrupting the speech. I don't dare step back and ask Ross where he is going. And he knows it.

Then it occurs to me: Maybe it was Ross on my BlackBerry. I sneakily detatch the unit from my belt and place it on the podium. I'll look at it when I can, I think.

"As your division manager, I want to accomplish three things," I say. First, I want to establish trust and rapport with all of you. That started today, at this meeting. I want you all to know that I am worthy of your trust. And I don't want you to just BELIEVE that because I say so; I want to PROVE it to you."

I look down at my BlackBerry. It's Ross. "Family emergency -have to go," it says.

"Secondly, I want to conduct a review of everyone's position in this office, and document our procedures thoroughly. We've got a policy and procedure manual now, and a lot of people don't know this, but it was written before we had PC's in this office. There's literally no reference to computers in the entire manual, and right now, in 2004, our entire industry depends on them."

Some heads shake incredulously. I really want to sell this point, because "documenting procedures" makes people nervous. They think some auditor is going to find out that they can be replaced by a machine, or some bespectacled geek in Walla Walla, Washington.

"And thirdly, and this is related to the other two, I want to increase our revenue in this office by 10% in the next 365 days."

A gasp fills the room. We have increased our revenue about 40% in the past year; we are the most profitable division in the country. No one can stop talking about it. And now I'm telling them I want more. I suddenly get the distinct impression that some people are angry.

"Yeah, it's a big goal," I say. "But how are we supposed to afford chocolate milk in the water fountains without it?"

More laughs.

Suddenly a woman stands up amidst the sea of chairs. It's Barbara from accounting. All heads in the room whip around to face her.

"What are you gonna do about our health insurance," she demands.

And just like that, the mood I had built is gone. Interrupting a speech is very rare. It happens, but whoever does it has to be plenty pissed off.

"Our health insurance?" I ask.

"Our premiums went up by over $100 a month," she says. "We keep hearing how much money this office is making; why don't you use some of that money to pay some of that?"

"Yeah!" say 10 or 15 people.

It occurs to me that Ross has not had a company meeting since May, when the premiums went up. He didn't want all the employees in one place together, because he knew someone was going to bring it up.

Family emergency, my ass.

I don't work for Ross anymore. He's going to hear from me about this one, and I'm not going to be nice about it. Bastard.

I remember the health insurance issue. We have one employee whose husband had cancer, and another who had gastric bypass surgery. The latter had severe complications and almost died; his hospital bill was over $250,000. Our rates went to the moon.

Ross made a decision to pass the entire increase on to the employees. I begged him to call a company meeting to discuss it, but he said no. Instead, he had memos inserted into all the paychecks.

"You know," I say. "As many of you have read, health insurance premiums are out of control all across the country. Last May, we looked around at competitors, and you know what? Our current provider was not out of line with what the others are charging. Which only makes sense, because no one in this business would charge more than the market will bear."

As I always say, if you don't like the question you are asked, answer a different one. She didn't ASK about the industry, but that's what I'm talking about.

"FINE!" says Barbara. "It's expensive. So why not pay some of it?"

There's a bit of nervous laughter.

So much for changing the subject.

I've got to be careful here. If I continue to let Barbara interrupt, it's going to look bad. I've got to assert some authority, especially now during my first speech; if I don't, it will set a very bad example.

"Sit down, Barbara," I say, firmly. She does.

I wait ten seconds for the room to quiet.

"When I was about 10 years old," I begin, "I went to my dad, on a Monday, and asked him for a dollar to buy a comic book. And then, a few days later, on Thursday, I asked him for FIVE dollars to buy another comic book. He said, 'Why five dollars? The comic book is only one'!, and I said, 'Because you get paid on a Thursday and I know you have more money today!'," I say.

The audience laughs. I think I've got them back now.

"It's easy to say, 'The division had a very good year, so you ought to pay more of our premiums.' And by the way, I pay those premiums too," I say. "But think of it this way: If I pay you $20,000 a year, and another $1,200 on your health premiums, which is what we pay now, that's $21,200 that the company is paying you. That's the COST of employing you. So the premium goes up, and we eat the premium. Now, instead of paying you $21,200, we're paying you $22,400. We've basically given you a raise.

Can we afford it? Maybe. But what about the employees who are NOT on the health insurance? Is that fair to them? Now THEY can come to me and say, 'hey, you gave those guys a raise, now we want one too. And what about the other divisions? Some of them didn't do as well as we did. What if THEIR employees see what we are doing, and demand the same thing? They'd probably have to lay off 3 or 4 people to match us.

We give raises here, but we give them in January. And we award them based on merit. Not expenses that are out of our control. Of course, we continually monitor the market to make sure we're not overpaying, but high premiums are an unfortunate fact of life.

Now, back in 2001, we DIDN'T have such a good year. We actually LOST money that year. And we didn't ask any of you pay MORE, did we? I don't think we want to go down this road."


I close out the meeting with seven minutes to spare. And I think I just answered my first challenge as DM.


They decided to keep mom overnight at the hospital to run some more tests. She is fit to be tied. But she's been much more reasonable since she sobered up.

12:10. My phone rings. It's dad.

"Steve," he says. "Your mother needs a liver transplant."