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Effortlessly Average

Sort of half-heartedly leading the charge into mediocrity since, oh, let's say around 1987 or so.

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Location: Roaming (additional charges may apply), Argentina

Proof that with internet access and a powerful laxative, even insipid people will blog; the place where your excellence and my mediocrity collide; where my Karma whips ass on your dogma.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Perhaps She Just Rreeeaaallly Likes Her Job

Several years ago I worked in Los Angeles at the national headquarters of a worldwide petfood manufacturer. I suppose it’s not unusual as far as companies go, but this company fancied itself as somewhat of the “underdog” in the industry of petfood retail manufacturers. Of course this wasn’t true; they grossed something like $5 Billion dollars each year. Yeah, I intended to capitalize the “B.” I figure once a number gets that big it demands more gravity than a simple lower-case letter can provide. $5 Billion. That's a five and nine zeros. $5,000,000,000! And that’s just the U.S. market! Lord knows what they made globally.


I’ve long since been spared a life chained to one of their desks. Oh sure, there are any number of people who still work for said global-behemoth-corporate-giant and who are likely perfectly content to work their way into a premature, stress-related grave. Fine for them. Personally I think they should erect a sign over the employee entrance that reads: “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here!”

Dante readers may recognize the reference, but still, it’s apropos.

Then again, I'm sure there are also people in this world who aren't sure about the proper way to sit on a toilet seat.

Anyway, as the self-proclaimed corporate under-dog, they had their own special way of doing things that they insisted were “on the cutting edge” but, to others, well, just don’t make a whole lot of sense. For example, every facility is a open-office environment, making it as easy as possible for everyone in the building to know when you come and go, how long you take for lunch, what you're working on, and who you phone during the day. And of course no one would use this information in a thinly veiled attempt to make another associate appear less committed, and therefore less deserving, of that next promotion, right? Naaaww, that would be unethical wouldn't it?

Or, by way of another example, despite the obvious synergies they could gain from combining logistics pipelines (yeah, I can still talk like a Dilbert cartoon) they insisted that there is nothing wrong with maintaining both a shipping department for dry petfood products and another for wet petfood products. And it never seemed to make them wonder why customers would become irate at having to contact two separate people – at the minimum – within the same company to order product. Product that would ship from the same warehouse. Product that might very well arrive on two separate trucks, both half full. It would be like ordering a pair of pants from the back-to-school collection at L.L. Bean only to be told you’d have to contact an entirely different person within the company (who in reality might be seated in the next desk over) to buy the matching sweater.

As a food product, quality was a very big concern and as was typical, we had one QA manager for wet food and a second for dry food. The wet petfood QA manager was a woman name Janet. Janet was a thirty something never nester who threw her whole life into her job. This particular company is full of people like that, albeit few of them were that way willingly; most had no choice because they were hooked on the enormous salary the company was willing to pay for their freedom.

Janet, however, was one of these few who literally assigned her personal identity to her success at the firm. That kind of life really doesn’t work for me, but if you’re Janet, who's content to have one weekly day off to plan the coming week's workload and a couple weeks a year to sail around the Bahamas, you can think of nothing more satisfying than working 16 hours a day, six days a week, and only logging in Sundays to check email.

As the wet-petfood QA manager, Janet had to routinely phone around the country resolving quality issues that ranged anywhere from actual contamination (like the time a customer found a broken bolt in his can of petfood despite the fact that all products pass through metal detection systems prior to being sealed in the cans. The customer never mentioned, though, if the can of petfood was for his dog or himself) to complaints from customers who just didn’t think the product lived up to its claims and wanted a refund.

One day I was at my desk (nothing new since it was between the hours of 5 am and 9 pm on a day that ends in "Y"), sort of half listening to Janet on the phone with another regional manager. She was trying to get quality figures for some particular lot of petfood that for some reason she was trying to track through the process.

Now, in an environment in which anyone could lose their job for any number of managerial whim, most mid- to high- level managers sought to restrict telling anyone too much, for fear of making themselves expendable by giving away secrets that otherwise would make them vital to the company's future. To this end the person to whom Janet was speaking was, I’m guessing, trying to determine if Janet was worthy of the info he held by inquiring as to the wet-or-dry status of her job responsibilities. After all, why would someone who works for dry petcare lines need info on wet petfood products?

Of course there is another possibility. Janet could have been relying on the human tendency to tune out background noise in an open environment and was in fact having phone sex, because in a coincidental lull in the office buzzing, I heard Janet say, clear as day:

“Yeah, that's good. And I am wet.”

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