They used to hang horsethieves

December 5, 2006

Hangman’s noose

There’s always someone to test the lowest common denominator. It’s the opposite of what the test pilots used to call “pushing the envelope.” It’s more like rolling around in the mud with pigs.

As I was leaving the shop this afternoon, I noticed that a fax had fallen from the machine onto the floor. I presumed (correctly) that it was late afternoon junk; a solicitation for a little known stock that no one in their right mind would consider or something like that. I was right and I was wrong.

Here’s what the headline read:

Please forward to Customer Service and Sales Representatives

Full Time Immediate Opening for an Outside Sales Representative Covering the Macon, Warner Robins, and surrounding areas.

The fax went on to describe the job and listed a website where the potential prospect (who only incidentally happens to be currently working at my company) could apply for this great new job. Nowhere was a company name mentioned . . . just the website. Someone was soliciting our employees on our own fax machine!

I have a curious nature. I checked the website, which let me to a Tucson, AZ company. Headhunters, hired guns, cannibals.

I am trying very hard not to sound too possessive, paternalistic (read Godfather) or old fashioned, but it’s tough to get and keep good people when you’re a small businessperson. And the last thing you need is some sleazy headhunter trying to steal them away!

I am blessed at AlphaGraphics with a very fine team of folks, all of whom feel a connection and responsibility for our business. We care about our customers and try to give them our best all the time. We take care of each other. Our group knows when we make money and how much and when we lose money and why; and I think that most of them see a direct connection between the success of the business and their own success.

I resent an attempt to lure these folks away to “greener pastures” as much as a working cowboy in the 1890s would resent the attempted theft of his roping horse. I am not implying a comparison between the horse and our employees. Unlike the horse, any of our team members can act on his or her own volition. They can apply for the job if they want to. But, there’s actually little distinction between the horse thief and the headhunter, and no ethical difference at all in the two situations.

Times have changed, though. In 1890, horse thievery was universally condemned. Horse thieves were hanged. A businessperson today has little recourse.

I thought about applying for the job, just to find which one of my competitors had hired the sleazeball. I’d at least get the satisfaction of asking them if they approved of what their hired guns were doing. When I got to the website, I found that to apply for the job you had to have a resume. Haven’t had one of those in years, I’m happy to say.

There was a contact name on the website. I sent an email, as follows:

Mr. _____,

This afternoon, I received a fax from your company that solicited job applications from our sales and customer service people. They are all currently employed. Please do not send further solicitations to our company or to our team.

There was little satisfaction in the sending of the email. It’s been a lot more fun sitting here in the living room practicing my knots.




Surviving Black Tuesday

October 18, 2006

Skull and RavenWhen it gets so bad that you have to laugh, it’s pretty bad. I can write about it now. It’s a day later and it all looks different.

There are 8 of us at Alphagraphics. That’s a pretty small staff considering all of the stuff that goes through the shop. When one person is out, we can usually handle it; but when more than one are out it gets downright painful.

Rickie, our lead pressman, had told me about a funeral he needed to attend. An old friend in North Carolina had passed away, and he had been asked to speak at the services. He needed to leave at noon. Joe, who runs bindery, had to leave at 10:30 for another funeral. Our other pressman is Jamaal. At around 10:30, his neighbor called to inform him that a tree had landed on his house. (It’s true, I promise).

Sharon’s out making sales calls. That leaves me, Brian, Robert, and Chris. Robert’s got to do deliveries. Chris is getting married. His brain is already on honeymoon in the Caribbean. The phone starts ringing and doesn’t stop. Neither Brian nor I can do anything for talking with people about doing something. Deadlines are looming.

I almost forgot about Rose. Rose is retired, but likes to help out part time when we have extra stuff. She’s working on one of those big copy projects that we hate to do. The customer has brought in a pile of loose sheets, books, manuals, instructions, etc. and needs five copies of each of them. It’s about 10 hours work stapling, unstapling, putting stuff on the copier glass, pushing the green button and putting it all back together again. Rose is confused about it all and has lots of questions. I’m equally confused and am making up the answers as we go.

A customer calls with a problem . . . and it’s one of those that I’m really having a difficult time understanding. But the timing was perfect. There was no way to really make the day any worse.

The phone rings again. It’s a potential customer who has been recommended by a designer friend of ours. She wants us to design some letterhead and envelopes and she’s got lots of ideas. She’s going to send some of them over by email and could we put together a few designs for her? She’s being referred by a designer who doesn’t want to do the designs for her . . . smells like trouble to me.

In the middle of all of it, I’ve scheduled an interview. We’ve been looking for another outside salesperson for about 3 months and I’ve finally got what looks like a good candidate. Of course, I didn’t know that disaster would strike when I scheduled the meeting.

Don’t know how we got through it, but we did. And we actually got a few things accomplished and out the door. And I hired the interviewee (is that a word?). She was great in the interview. I was incoherent and she still wanted to work at Alphagraphics.

I love this job.

My College Intern

September 13, 2006

Joe is our well-loved bindery guy. He actually came to me as a college kid. Not your ordinary college kid was Joe, though. About 7 years ago, a good natured, nice looking fellow in his late 50s wandered in and told our front counter person that he was looking for an internship. She was curious enough to call me to the front and I was curious enough to ask Joe for his story. He told me the first of many tales that I was to hear.

Joe spent most of his career with a large textile operation that was based out of Macon. With the incursion of low cost Asian imports in the 1990s, Joe’s company went belly up. Joe had graduated from Bulldog University in Athens in the early 60s and decided it was time to go back to school for “re-edumacation.” He enlisted in the Information Technology program at Macon State College. Y2K was coming and businesses were recruiting armies for protection against the dreaded “millenium bug.”

Joe needed an internship with one of those companies to complete the requirements for his second degree. He wasn’t struggling; he had a 4.0 average, as I recall. I’ve never quite figured out how he stumbled on to AlphaGraphics, or exactly why I went along with the whole internship idea. I remember explaining to Joe that he could develop a website or something, but what I really needed was “help!.” We were struggling to break even and I was covering way too many bases. Joe was a Godsend.

He worked several hours a week for the three months of his internship and learned a little bit of everything. When the semester was over, I really expected him to move on. He had one more semester of school and it was time to start looking for a real job.

Joe stayed. He asked if he could continue working part-time until he finished the program at Macon State. When he graduated, I expected him to go to work with one of the larger companies based in Macon. In those days, we even had a computer software business here. Joe may have had some interviews, but I never knew about them. He continued working at the printshop, doing a little customer service work, answering the phone, folding brochures, and putting books together.

I think that we had a “sit-down meeting” along there somewhere. My recollection is that I asked Joe what he was going to do and he responded that he thought he’d really just like to stay. I guess it was more fun to collate books than to chase down millenium bugs. He’s handled most of the bindery work at the shop ever since.

Joe has an uncanny ability to get enormous amounts of work accomplished without appearing to do anything. He takes a morning and an afternoon break and always has time to tell a story to anyone who will listen. Republican radio is his constant companion. He operates machines, but has no affinity for them whatsoever. If Joe can’t break it , it can’t be broken. I sometimes think that he could break a lever and fulcrum.

Joe says he’s going to retire next year . . . he’ll be sixty-five. I’m dreading it. His wife, Becky, has told him that if he’ll keep working, he can use the money he earns to travel. That means we’ll at least get to keep him part time. In preparation, I’ve been looking for another intern like Joe. I don’t think I’ll find one. I think they threw away the mold.