Work In Progress: I might never get this story done Dec 13, 2012. Sheeit!
With nothing more than bravado and practical experience I went from being a laborer to a self taught business manager responsible for assisting in the founding of an 18 million dollar manufacturing business. This story is about my tricky metamorphosis from worker B to that engaged entrepreneur.
In the beginning I was a laborer.
Well, actually I was a baby and then I became a laborer but even as an infant noticing my dad’s huge, proud callouses and always dirty fingernails, I knew that a job of physical effort was in my cards.
After all, my father was a hard if sporadic laborer and his father was a model laborer so who was I to say that I didn’t feel like yarding sixteen tons of coal out of the mine everyday?
No one, that’s who.
However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that busting my balls wasn’t for me and I also understood that the labor pool was swamped with guys and quite a few girls who had stronger constitutions and backs than me so I really didn’t think that anyone would miss the worst wheel barrower in Grumble Garden.
I was twenty three years old and chomping at the bit to break into management which, from where I stood, appeared a lot easier to fake than actually having to shovel shit or move this here from there.
But how would I make the transition from ‘do nearly everything’ to ‘doing nearly nada?’
My skills were obviously and chillingly limited.
Life for the past 2.3 decades of my existence consisted of:
1. Sinisterly plying the REAL shortcut method of auto-body repair work as taught to me by my shyster father
2. Gaining proficiency in starting and fairly quickly quitting a lot of jobs
3. Getting drunk a considerable amount
– not necessarily in that order – and the big question was how to parlay any of that fuck all into something which would fool not just me as being a worthy career but also hoodwink everyone around me as well…
Alcoholism To The Rescue
I had been getting into drinking establishments since I was sixteen years old which gave me seven whole years of bar room culture experience to this point and my patronage was already appreciated dollarwise by the local watering holes whom I knew like the back of my bottle holding hand.
Surely that depth of experience meant something and could help me trick someone into thinking that I might be of value on the measuring everything side of the bar.
Of course, no reputable liquor selling establishment would ever fall for my scam so I had to pick an out-of-the-way rural hotel that didn’t know me very well and the Oakland Hotel in Oak Lake, Manitoba fit the bill perfectly.
The place was owned by a fellow, albeit much more experienced, pisstank called George Hennesey and dude had run so amuck that I heard through the Alcoholic’s Grapevine he was desperately seeking a sucker who could help him further ruin his business.
This was my big chance.
I started going to the Oakland Hotel at weird hours to see if I could catch George in a close to sober situation where he would be coherent enough to recognize my lack of potential / real honesty / feigned eagerness and yet inebriated enough to override it all and hire me.
After six or seven tries I caught him with his alcoholic pants down so to speak and even though he didn’t remember doing it when I showed up for work the next day, the hard up for help hotelier hired me as a bartender.
I was more than qualified to tend bar on account of 99% of the Oakland Hotel’s clientele being beer drinking farmers and I just happened to be an olympic champion in opening beer bottles. With shovels even.
This was a big, big plus for me because pansy ass twist off tops were still a decade away and smart alecky bottle opening (without taking an eye out) was cool.
Anyway, the Oakland Hotel was a great place to learn the hospitality trade on account of it being the wild west of rural hotels. It operated with almost no rules because it’s owner and my new, very crazy boss George also operated sans principles.
As I was to soon learn, Mr. Mad Hotelman liked to liven up the odd evening in his bar by allowing his equally crazy Great Dane monster mutt to drag him around the beverage room while Rabid Lassie The Furry Crocodile attempted to chew the shit out of well pickled patrons.
Oy, those two animals strapped together scared me silly.
The four legged dawg would strain at his outstretched leash on its hind legs, boom barking and flapping its monstrous gnashing teeth while flinging copious amounts of ‘someone’s cleaning this shit up’ K9 spit over table tops, glasses and thankfully wound down patron’s shirt collars.
George would laugh uproariously as the huge dawg BOW-WOOFED and clawed someone’s beer from its slippery platform and no matter how terrified or close to horrific shark bite death anyone came, the show HAD to go on like this month after month.
After about half a year of similar emotional torture and passing a couple of bizarre George designed honesty tests and oh yeah, testifying to his moral character in a ‘if this charge sticks we lose our liquor license plus your job’ idiot George drunk driving case, I was promoted from bartender / janitor to Manager / janitor of the Oakland Hotel.
Son-of-a-pupster! I was a friggin manager! A manager!
(la la singing) I am a manager. The Uh Man-ager. A Tran-ager. The Mister Man-ager. A fucking manager. A mann oh mann aye jer… (end singing)
I AM IN MANAGEMENT MOTHERFUCKERS! A hahhahhah mannnaaagerrrrrrrr hah HAH!
Goodbye BackBreaker Hello DealMaker
“You’re not the fucking manager!” George gruffly opined through squinted by his smoke eyes.
“I don’t even have a card, you silly fucker,” he said, turning my business card over in his hand. ” And I’m THE FUCKING OWNER! ”
“Where’s MY card then. Eh?!” George demanded between swigs of his first drink of the morning. “You know why I don’t have a card? Because they’re a stupid fucking WASTE OF MONEY that’s why.”
“You have cards now,” I replied after allowing George a three second grimacing attempt to focus on me.
Dodging his shaky hand spilled cigarette ashes I slid a box of 250 brand new shiny business cards saying George Henessey, Proprietor, Oakland Hotel over to him.
Their intended target picked the box up and bleary eye peered at the example card attached to the box top for a second or two. “Holy fuck, you spelled hotel wrong! ” George exclaimed. “You spelled hotel wrong! You fucking moron…! You see this bullshit?” he asks no one. “Jesus Christ…!”
With that he stumbled backward laughing the alcoholic’s raspy and easily forgotten laugh that normally ends up with no where to spit an obvious throat clearing loogie.
I could hear George repeating his punch-line as he exited the tavern but my insides where swamped with a feeling that both alarmed and beckoned me. One that has hugged me many times – almost to death – since that first day.
It was an energy so great that a photo could never, ever contain it.
My Name In Print! My Name In Print!
How I loved my first business cards!
I looked at them, wrote little notes on them and like a fresh Amway distributor tried to hand them out to everyone.
Oh, how they reflected me, those pretty little representations of my wonderfulness!
That’s what I had advised the card printer, who unwisely gave George credit, to print directly under my name.
Barry Williams…. Manager.
“Hello missus so-in-so, this is my favorite son Barry Williams. He’s a manager. No applause necessary ladies and gentlemen but yes, you heard me right.”
A manager! This little card with it’s little bumpy letters on it was my ticket to the good life, the life I envisioned waiting for me just the other side of the janitor’s closet.
“Oh, for sure, sir,” people would soon be saying to me. “For sure, sir, for sure. You are right, sir. So right, sir. Right away sir.”
“Are you wearing a tie sir?”
Of course you are right if you’re wearing a tie. Is that not right sir?
No striped shirts though and white socks are definitely out now.
That is, if that’s okay with you, sir…
Man… age… ment. Management!
Oh man oh man oh fucking manager!
Wow! That wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be…
I remember thinking that.
Boy, that was easy! Now what?
I remember thinking that, too.
And in that stunned frame of mind I stumbled into the jaws of management and two decades later wound up destroying all that my wife and I had worked so hard to attain.
Your Life Or Bizness Card. What’s It Gonna B?
This is what success felt like and I bathed in it.
In two short years we had grown a business from a farmer’s quonset large enough to build one trailer only to a 100,000 square foot building where we built 19 12 ft by 60 ft trailers under one roof.
And in two years we had gone from zero in revenue to more than eighteen million dollars – albeit with 6 million dollars assistance from a franchise we had set up in Brandon, Manitoba.
Actually, today was no big deal. I’d had thousands of beers with the dude who was now the Supreme Perceiver of our manufacturing company and I assumed this would be one more self congratulatory pat on the back for doing such a great job so far.
After all, we had just completed our second audited year with eighteen plus million in sales, thirty million in orders and $300,000 in profit.
“Listen,” my friend and Supreme Perceiver said to me. “Let’s get straight to the point.”
I want you out. We want you out. And we’d like it to be ASAP.”
“Today, if possible.”
“Lowell, will be taking over your desk.”
I felt my face flush and my ears started burning hot. Nausea overwhelmed me and felt my stomach do a flip flop.
Did I just hear the CEO of our company correctly? Did he just say “And Barry I want you out” ?
Out? Out as in, fired out or…? I don’t get it.
What the fuck just happened? My head reeled and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
Shit Yeah! I Can Do That!
Once I hit management I didn’t look back.
I parlayed my first “hotel” management experience into operating a larger rural hotel with a few rooms and then from there managed a nightclub for a large hotel in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
My wife Kathy and I then went on to manage several hotels and motels across western Canada with our biggest breaks coming from operating properties which were in recievership and renovating them or whatever we could do to do make the business a going concern so it could be sold to a new owner.
It was my hospitality and management experience which qualified me as a partner candidate in the company where my career would come to a crashing halt.
After two years of incredible stress and risk taking on top of full out effort, myself and five other bluish collar fellows had pulled a rabbit out of the hat and against all odds had built a successful trailer manufacturing business from absolutely nothing but blood, sweat and tears. A lot of tears.
By the time I reached this last company I was becoming critical of how disengaged most managers had become from the activities and people who ultimately drove profits. My cynicism took the form of humorous job postings, humorous posters on entrance doors and around our buildings and asking every manager or supervisor in our company of 150 employees to choose an authentic title for their role rather than simply list receiver, shipper or engineer.
I wore a happy face on my hard hat and noticed the odd employee became brave enough to do so, too.
As a result of my out of the box business title demand we had:
- an International Man Of Action rather than a Warehouse Manager
- Supreme Perceiver rather then CEO
- Administer of Propaganda rather than Business Manager
- 4 U Guy instead of Employee Advocate
- get more titles from Robin Laroque
My attitude toward managers to this point had turned pretty negative as I saw that many of them were ill suited to the important and responsible task of safely directing people.
The politics of management sickened me even further and after seeing how far some people could press their noses up other people’s behind I steered far and wide from any brown nosing or managers with shiny beaks.
This was my reason for employing personal creativity regarding job titles whenever someone new ordered business cards in our company. People had to think of themselves in a different way from average roles because whatever they called themselves as would say right there on their cards.
Engineers and drafts-people where terrified by having to come up with their own monikers and I’m certain that several of them had more than one set made up just because.
The “rectangular” world of business had corralled all independent thinking. Even the people supervisors were no longer human. They were Chief this or Chairman that and senior meant more than junior plus few among them were not “lettered” individuals who professed to belong to some elite enlightened club.
Sickening and disgusting.
Most of the managers I worked with were so far removed from the human condition that they even started their own non person language. Staff members, employees and workers would now take the place of human when anyone in the herd were being described or referred to.
Soon there became a need for Human Rights because things had gotten so out of control that kinship had been replaced by profit. Numbers were more important than people. Companies now served a different god. The share price.
Meanwhile, the division line between management and employees grew evermore huge and pervasive. Everyone experienced it and the lines everyone in our own company had to cross as we grew by hundreds of percent per year got thicker and thicker and harder to cross.
Follow The Blazing Grid Ball
I dreamed of being involved with a company where nothing could hold back human ingenuity, where the business structure was a globe rather than a pyramid so that there was always another path someone could take to get what they want – even if it meant going the reverse way around to get there.
Some companies had already taken that road less traveled and my intention was to emulate the culture of leaders like W.L.Gore, Google, and Saturn to name a few but what they had in common was that they are progressive, cutting edge people technology generators which harness, not just nurture the human soul.
In these places they create conditions where just being a human is cause for reverence. Humans revering, praising and developing humans.
That’s the kind of company I wanted.
A sanctuary for people where they could safely profit and everybody would profit.
A people place.
My business partners wanted conformity and a reduction of “stupid” ideas. Reduced boat rocking. Fast profit with the smallest investment.
- I was toasted then
- Training was toasted and
- The Morale Officer (4 U Guy) was toasted which led to
- Safety Officer demoralized – Worker’s injuries up 250% and before long
- Deloitte – was the receiver for business which filed bankruptcy 8 months after I was terminated
Needless to say, my final gig as a manager didn’t turn out that well financially for my family and I but I would not give up the lessons my experience has taught me for anything.
Being in management allowed me to see both sides of the fence and to comprehend exactly how difficult management is.
Likely the best lesson I learned over twenty years of faking management was this:
Anyone can get someone to do something for them through coercion or inducement but how does a person get another to WANT to do what we want them to do? How do we achieve voluntary,synergistic human engagement?
My years of management taught me much about life and being human and that is exactly the point of this story.
Is there something that you would like to do, something that has been nudging you for years but perhaps you felt for some reason or another you couldn’t do?
You feel this emotion for a reason and the fulfillment of that driving force will add color the person you know as yourself.
You’ll feel more alive and by living a dream you will come into contact with other dreamers, and other dreams that await just behind the current dream corking your bottle.
Pull out your stops and have a swig of the good life.
I did and even though I had a bit of a crash landing, I wouldn’t change my flight through management for the world!
Thank you, friend.
I need to cut out 500 words from this story.
Maybe I’ll remove every the.
ta be continued…