12 February 2009

How Not to Succeed in Business

My dad liked to tell the story of how one of his co-workers, Harvey, at the General Cigar Company in New York City got fired from his job. This was back in the late sixties, early seventies, when any half-decent employee basically had a job for life - you really had to screw up to get canned.

Dad was an accountant working out of the company's corporate headquarters in Manhattan. His main duties consisted of preparing the quarterly and annual reports, and other aspects of consolidations. In the era before computers, number-crunching was actually labor intensive - teams of accountants with gigantic calculators and primitive room-filling photo-copiers.

Telecommuting consisted of a spreadsheet the size of one of the Santa Maria's sails spread out on the dining room table, Dad peering in, a ball point pen with the finest point ever created poised above a tiny green cell.

Dad definitely had a creative side, which you wouldn't think would be important in accounting, but was indispensable. He could make one plus one equal three, if that's what the bosses wanted. He did a good job there for over 30 years. He was well-liked, respected, and never stepped on anyone's toes.

The same can't be said for hapless Harv. Oh, I'm sure he was well-liked, and may have been respected by his peers - but he stepped on a lot of toes.

That's not a metaphor. He actually stepped on people's toes! Apparently this went on for years - he couldn't keep his feet to himself! Until one day when the boss had had enough - Harvey and his size elevens had to go!

Imagine trying that today. I'm sure "clumsy feet" is a protected medical condition covered by the Americans with Disabilites Act.

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