Friday, May 7, 2010
Stories from the workplace II
The best boss I ever worked with was an Australian who declared, "My highest qualification is my driving license". He actually had an Able-Seaman's Certificate. He was a sailor before he became an automotive production engineer. He was the Engineering Manager who hired me. His method of solving problems reminded me of MacGyver. He once used chewing gum to stick parts on a viewing platform of a gyroscope. He has since retired to his farm in Australia where he built his own house from scratch. The last I heard of him he was building a boat.
I learned never to argue with a boss. I'd put in my opinion if I thought something wasn't right. But I always kept in mind that no matter how stupid he is, he's still the boss. But I had one boss with whom I had a huge tiff. One morning, I was under heavy pressure to solve a few problems, all of which came up at the same time. While I was handling the calls he announced and insisted that the report on our job responsibilities he wanted from us had to be handed to him as soon as possible. I lost my cool there and then. I raised my voice by several decibels wanting to know what's so important about the damned report when there were more important issues to settle. Our unwritten rule was that production problems were treated as top priority. Obviously, he wasn't aware of that. He insisted that if I couldn't accept his demand as a priority, I shouldn't be disappointed at the end of the year when the appraisals were given out.
I couldn't believe he'd stoop so low. Although I wouldn't give a damn about his appraisal, I ate humble pie and apologized for raising my voice, but the report he wanted still had to come later when all other priorities were settled.
Weeks later, another of my colleagues had a tiff with him. This guy didn't hesitate to give him a piece of his mind either. Within the next few minutes, he'd type out a resignation letter and threw it on his desk. I would have loved to do the same but that particular engineer had a Masters in Engineering from U.K. under the Prime Minister's Scholarship. He could get another job as soon as he walked out the door.
We could sense that the working atmosphere in our department had deteriorated beyond repair.
There were several problems which the Supply Dept and the supplier couldn't solve. A metal part cracked under our process. Our boss had to answer to the CEO on this as the customer was demanding delivery. He ordered me carry out several experiments which he proposed, to improve the results. All of his proposals didn't show any positive results. Without his consent I had done some experiments of my own. The parts didn't crack but looked dull and might not be acceptable to the customer. I proposed that we show the CEO the results of my experiment, but he hesitated. 'He who hesitates is lost', I thought to myself.
Then a funny thing happened. The CEO called for an emergency meeting which included all engineers. As expected the CEO was furious after seeing the results of the experiments. I looked at my boss. He looked like he was lost. He tried to argue that some of the results he showed could be used as the rejects were quite low. The CEO could not accept that. He looked around the room and asked if there was any other solution.
I had the results of my experiment together with samples in my pocket. I took them out and laid them on the table without a word. The CEO looked at the samples and said if we could produce parts like that without any cracks, then we should proceed. I said that we could introduce that change of procedure as a temporary measure until the supplier could give us improved material. Somehow, that temporary measure had since become permanent.
That boss of ours did not last out till the end of that year. I wasn't surprised at all and I'd forgotten whether my year-end appraisal turned out any worse than usual. Like I said, I wouldn't give a damn. He didn't get to do anybody's appraisal anyway.
A month later I had a phone call from a friend who was Finance Manager of the company that had just hired him. He asked me what kind of an ex-colleague I had, who quarreled with the security guard on his first day at work. I said that he was my ex-boss and he's not my problem anymore.
That finance manager friend of mine would eat people like that for breakfast if it comes to a showdown. He used to be company secretary and also worked as consultant to several organizations and had a reputation of being very aggressive in the board-room.