The New Management

For a young college graduate in the early 80s, Argle was fortunate to already have some real-world experience. That served him well, because businesses which were looking towards the future were already looking into how they could improve their automation with the new and relatively cheap computer systems that were hitting the market.

One such company was a family-owned, multi-generational manufacturing company. They had a vision for the future, and the future involved the latest in CNC milling machines and robotic manufacturing. They needed the team that could send them into the future, and were hiring to build that team.

Argle was one of those hires, brought on as a junior developer. His mentor, Stanley, was an old Texas Instruments guy who had helped design many of the chips that were driving the fancy robots. Stanley leaned into his mentor role, both in terms of being a good mentor, but also in terms of the aesthetic: he was a bearded pipe smoker in a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, and a pocket protector loaded with pens and a compact slide rule.

For a small manufacturing firm, the owner was happy to invest in this team. He brought on vets from JPL or mechanical engineers who had helped automate German auto plants. The owner himself heavily recruited from the same college that Argle attended, giving talks about the future of automation and reinforcing his company's commitment to the future. Interns and junior developers bulked out the team.

The owner walked the walk, talked the talk, and was putting money where it needed to go. The job was an absolute delight for Argle and the rest of the team. He learned a lot from Stanley, and also from the work itself.

And then, one day, the owner introduced Gordon. "This, is our new President, Gordon. He'll be handling the overall operations of the company while I focus on our vision and direction."

Now, for most employees, the introduction of Gordon was barely worth commenting on. New management slotting into leadership positions was just background noise and didn't really impact the work. Except for Argle. Argle actually knew Gordon, at least by reputation, because Gordon was the VP at the local public broadcasting company.

Now you might wonder, "how does experience in broadcasting help someone oversee a manufacturing company?" Well, Argle had the inside scoop on exactly how Gordon would lead. Argle's father worked at the local PBS affiliate, and had regaled Argle with all sorts of stories about Gordon's style. That style was a blend of bullying and cronyism.

Now, up to this point, Argle's team had acted more or less like a leaderless collective. They all had a goal, they all understood the goal, and they all pushed together to achieve the goal. There was no manager. They'd defer to the senior members on matters of disagreement, but even then it was never "Stanley said so," and more "Stanley will explain this so everyone comes to an agreement."

That, of course, couldn't stand under Gordon's leadership. So Gordon hired Dave to provide management. Like Gordon, Dave also had no background in manufacturing, technology, automation or robotics. Or, in actuality, project management, as Dave illustrated in his first project meeting.

As this was the 80s, the conference room was a nicotine stained room with a transparency projector. Stanley sat in a corner, puffing away at his pipe. Dave had a stack of transparencies and a red dry erase marker to scribble on them with.

"So, Stanley," Dave said as he slapped one of the estimates Stanley had assembled onto the projector. "How long did you think this effort would take?"

Stanley pointed his pipe stem at the numbers Dave was projecting. "An effort like this will take a year."

"That's much too long," Dave said. "I was looking this over, and you had 6 weeks for milling these parts, but I think we can outsource that and get them back in three weeks. I have a vendor already committed." Dave edited the numbers with his red pen. "And then development time, you've got poor Argle booked for six months, after the hardware design is finalized, but we can start development earlier than that…"

People around the room started raising their objections. Dave had no time for these naysayers. "You would think that, but you haven't even finished with college," he told an intern. "Maybe things worked that way at JPL, but we live in the real world here." "If TI was such a good company, you'd probably still work there- either they suck or you're an idiot."

By the time Dave finished his tirade, he had individually insulted everyone on the team, and had cut the project time down to six months. "You see? We can totally do this project in six months."

Stanley took a few puffs of his pipe and said, "You can say it will take six months, but it will still take a year."

As Dave started piloting the team straight into the ground, Argle got an offer. A few of his college friends had moved out to another state, launched a startup, and were offering him a 40% wage increase plus moving expenses. Add into the fact that Dave had explained that nobody on the team would be eligible for a raise for five years, Argle was halfway out the door.

But only halfway. Argle was young, still had some optimism, and wanted to be loyal to his team, even if he wasn't loyal to the company. So he talked it over with Stanley.

"I like this team, and I like the work that we're doing, and I'd hate to leave the team in a lurch."

Stanley puffed on his pipe, and then answered. "The company will be sad to see you go. I'll be sad to see you go. But the company could lay you off tomorrow, and they'd be just as sad about it too. But they'd do it if they thought it was necessary. You don't owe this company anything more than that."

So Argle submitted his notice. By coincidence, it was on April First, which Dave tried to use as an excuse to bully Argle into feeling guilty about either a bad prank or bad timing for quitting. Dave wanted to make a counter offer, but he couldn't do it without insulting Argle on the way to offering him a raise, which made Argle's choice very easy.

Two weeks later, he was loading a truck with all his worldly possessions, and two weeks after that he was settled into a new house, and a new job, and even happier than he'd been at the manufacturing company.

Over a year later, Argle went back to visit family, and swung by the old company to see how the team was doing. Stanley was still there, but Dave and Gordon were long gone. The owner was fooled for a bit, but was too smart to stay fooled. Dave and Gordon were out the door only a few months after Argle left.

"So," he asked Stanley, "how'd that project go? How long did it take?"

Stanley puffed on his pipe and chuckled. "Oh, about a year."

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This post originally appeared on The Daily WTF.

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