Friday, March 30, 2007

The Boss

by Mike Crawmer

A “working stiff”--for better or worse--works for a “boss.” He or she might be a supervisor, a manager, a leader, or (oh, horrors!) an editor. Some are good, some bad. I’ve worked for all types of bosses. Let me tell you about my “memorable” boss.

It was the second year of Gerald Ford’s unexpected presidency. Mr. G, a garrulous, hard-drinking Irishman from the old school of rough-and-tumble journalism, hired me to work as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., office of a New York City-based financial daily. A step up from my first job out of college, but still on the first or second rung of the journalistic career ladder. Still, the promise the job offered to jump start my career was great.

So what if my desk sat in the front room, where I sorted the mail, answered the phone, and acted as the first wave of defense against various characters and creditors. I also interviewed powerful committee chairmen on The Hill and evasive undersecretaries of the Treasury in their wood-paneled, high-ceilinged offices, and stood by in the East Room of the White House as Jerry Ford signed bills. Pretty heady stuff.

So what if the good assignments went to the other full-time reporter, who just happened to be Mr. G’s nephew. So what if I had to bar the boss’s door with my body against the knife-wielding cook from the downstairs restaurant. The mad-eyed cook was angry because Mr. G hadn’t followed through on a promise to sponsor a relative from Greece; now he threatened to use the rather large knife to separate the boss’s head from his body. It was all very exciting.

Eventually, though, I noticed that my assignments never changed. Then, Mr. G hired a third reporter—one with a background in finance—and I was still sitting in the front office. Hmmmm, not a good sign. But Mr. G never explained himself, or felt a need to. Still, I was surprised when, going through the mail from the home office on the Friday before Christmas, I counted only three year-end bonus checks. For our staff of five? That’s how I learned I was being laid off (along with Pam, a co-worker). For my last two weeks on the job, Mr. G remained holed up in his Eastern Shore home, sending in his copy through the mail and not answering our phone calls seeking an explanation.

Skip ahead about a year. I’m living a saner, if less financially secure, life in Pittsburgh. On a trip back to D.C. I bump into “the nephew” on the street. He fills me in on what had happened to the old office. Seems Pam and I were just the first two victims of a feud between the two generations of the family that owned the newspaper. A couple months after we were laid off, Mr. G was unceremoniously fired; a few months after that the D.C. office was shut down and the remaining staff thrown out onto the streets.

I don’t regret the experience, but I’m glad I had only one “memorable” boss in my life. Any in yours? Let’s hear about them.


Cathy said...

I've had several memorable bosses in my career, mostly female supervisors in nursing. If you ever wondered why women aren't empowered, you could look to these supervisors--who were critical, impractical, and didn't support other women.

And then I had a boss who left work running and never came back because he was embezzling from the company. Ah, those were the good old days.

Great blog, Mike.

Nancy said...

There was that school principal I worked for who liked slow dancing with me when we went out as a group after PTA meetings. He was only tall enough to rest his chin on my 38Cs.

Tory said...

I've had A LOT of memorable bosses. Probably the most memorable was when I moved to Pittsburgh and a few months later got hired as a Senior Research Associate at WPIC. Remember that I was new in town, fresh out of grad. school (and thus broke), and knew practically no one in Pittsburgh.

My boss almost died a few weeks after I was hired. One of her colleagues had asked me to lunch a few days before, and was really the only one I knew in the organization.

I still remember the scene. I knocked on his door and timidly asked, "What happens to a new employee when their boss dies?"

Other than the initial drama, the job turned out to be a good fit and I learned a lot on it about research and life. My boss got better after the inital incident, but did pass away a few years later when the cancer finally got her. Her colleague has since moved to Massachusetts, but he and his wife are still good friends and I still use him as a reference.

Wow, my life feels positively settled compared to that time!

Joyce said...

Nice post, Mike.

I've never had a memorable boss, maybe because I've only had three jobs, not counting being a stay-at-home mom.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I've had some real winner bosses in my life as a working stiff. One in particular made my life a living hell on a daily basis. I still say I'm going to use him in a book, but I don't think many people will believe him as a credible character. The sad part is that he kept getting promoted by the head honchos despite his lying and cheating and sexist actions. Yes, I'm bitter about Corporate America. Don't even get me started on that rant....

Great post, Mike.

Jim said...

Strange I should read Mike's comments about his boss today. I have known Mike since before he moved to Pittsbugh way back when. He had met my most memorable boss on a visit to Philadelphia. Her names is Doris Testardi. She molded me into a caring individual who handles people the same way she did,with a firm kindness. I recently was honored by the financial organization I work for, with their Award For Excellence. I was so proud and wanted to tell her all about it but thought I would take the actual award to her after I recieved it at a Luncheon in my honor. Fifteen minutes before I left for the luncheon I recieved word that my friend Doris had passed away. She was a remarkable women and a great influence in my life. The reason I was so surprised to read Mike's story today,is that Doris's Memorial Serice is tomorrow. Thanks Mike for the chance to honor a great boss and an even greater friend.

Anonymous said...

Jim, what a touching story! We all should be so lucky to have a boss like Doris.

Gina said...

Like Jim, my most memorable boss was one I admire. [Unfortunately, he's now dead, too, but that's beside the point.] A.P. Arnold was managing attorney of the Neighborhood Legal Services office where I did an internship while in law school. Unlike many bosses, who keep themselves apart and bark orders, A.P. knew what everybody did well enough to do it himself. I'll never forget the day I came in to find A.P. sitting at the reception desk, doing intake interviews and filling out client cards -- the secretary had called in sick, so he took on her job until a temp could arrive. You have to understand that this man was an attorney who ran an office, in charge of both professional and support staff, yet he was humble enough to do any task to keep things running. And he did the job well, without acting as if it were an imposition or beneath him. On another occasion, I watched him take on a hearing with virtually no preparation because the attorney handling the case had been injured. He did that well, too. A.P. has his own page in my book of role models.

Judy Schneider said...

One memorable boss of mine was a disheveled-looking, absent-minded-professor type who asked me to bring him coffee to a meeting. (This was a summer job while I was in college). Ooo, pretty big dilemma for a feisty 19-year old who refused to serve anything to anyone. But I liked my job and didn't want to wreak havoc. I decided to take him a cup of coffee and one for myself. Then it would be more like sharing rather than serving.

As it turned out, when I arrived in the meeting room, he had his own coffee and, through his mumbling request for the brew, was simply telling me to "bring coffee" because it might be a long meeting. Talk about turning a molehill into a mountain!