Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Mighty Dictator

Darth's power and appearance of total control was reinforced by Paul Johnson and Ralph Sampson. Pauk commented that Darth treated everyone the way that I was being treated.

Ralph came in one day and said, “Darth is treating you the way the Chinese treats their prisoners. He likes to break people down, and then he molds them the way he likes them." He laughed and then departed.

I did not find his comment humorous at all, and I thought the analogy to the communist treatment of prisoners was not a totally inaccurate description. Jay Wells reiterated that Darth had the Cline's ear and he had the final word in everything. The bottom line was that Darth was all powerful in Gamma Supplies.

More subtle means of conveying Darth's power ran from the ridiculous to the sublime. During quality control studies of a particular product, the question arose as to how to determine the point in time when a reaction was complete in order that the product could be drummed and a new batch could be started as quickly as possible. I was discussing the problem with Jay and I suggested we put a torque meter on the stirrer shaft, since there was a sharp increase in the thickness of the product when the reaction was complete. Jay said he didn't like the idea. When I asked why he said, “Well, Darth told me we should hook up an amp meter to the stirrer motors and then measure the increase in the current on the motors when the reaction became complete.” After some more discussion, I said fine, and eventually the quality control committee agreed to recommend Darth's solution to the
problem to Darth for action. The incident enforced the idea that all changes came from Darth and more importantly, it placed Jay as Darth's official spokesman in the quality control group. It again appeared that Darth was undermining my position in the quality control group. This was after Darth took great pains to tell the group that I was heading up the task force. It looked like the old “magic act” again.

To make sure that Darth had actually told Jay that the amp meter was the solution Darth wanted, when we presented our group findings to Darth I said, “Of course, we did consider monitoring the torque on the stirrer as an alternative. What do you think of that?”

Darth just glared at me as if to say, what do you think you are doing, you
insubordinate? Then he said, “The amp meter should work fine”.

I remained silent the rest of the meeting.

The ridiculous means of conveying Darth's position of power took very subtle
psychological forms. In Darth's office, across from his desk, was a couch which was very low. When you sat on the couch, your knees came up to your chest, making the occupant quit uncomfortable. One day I was talking with Jay and I mentioned a book I had read by Michael Korda called Power. In the book, Mr. Korda related how some managers arrange their furniture in their office to give them a position of power when they talked with someone. It is a subtle form of intimidation. One example in Korda's book was about a manager who had his furniture so low that the people in his office felt uncomfortable, and the manager from behind his desk had a feeling of towering over his subjects. For a vertically challenged person like Darth, he probably wanted to feel he towered over other people.

JaY blurted out, “Yeah, just like Darth's couch.”

I said, “Yes, exactly like that.”

We both laughed and I didn't think anymore of the conversation until a couple of days later. I went into Darth's office , sat down on the couch and was surprised that the couch had been raised to a comfortable level. The timing relative to my conversation with Jay bothered me immensely. And this was another time when something I told a coworker in private seemed to have made its way to one of my managers. I was baffled as to why that should be happening.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Benevolent Dictator

Darth laid the groundwork during the first meeting and formally appointed me the secretary for the group. The responsibility he gave me in front of the group was far less that what he had privately discussed with me. The task was simple; we were to look at quality control practices in the plant and in the lab, recommend ways to improve the practices and then implement the recommended changes. Since the people responsible for carrying out any recommended changes were part of the group, the changes should take place with relative ease. Thus, an opportunity to impact Gamma's poor business practices appeared possible, and the changes would have Darth's blessing which was essential.

Darth was emerging more and more as the one man who oversaw everything and who had to approve all changes. His power was conveyed in direct ways and in some subtle ways. In one instance I had written a monthly report that I had which showed the results of some work I had done which indicated that the patent application submitted by Ravi and Darth could be circumvented by a simple chemical trick. The procedure which I had tested would allow other companies to essentially use our system. A couple of days later, Darth called Ravi and me into his office and gave us a lecture on how he would make all decisions on how the Tenneland legal battle would be fought. He emphasized that it was not my job to do that. I was a little confused, because I had made no attempt to steer the direction of the legal battle, but the timing of the meeting in relation to my monthly report and Darth's direct remarks to me implied that Darth thought I had. I left the meeting feeling his comments were irrelevant to the issues at hand, but Darth did emphasize his total control.

The meeting also served to reinforce the idea that everything I did was wrong. I ouldn't do anything right. It was like a child with a domineering parent or a marriage with a verbally abusive spouse. What I couldn't see was how the constant belittling of me was wearing down my self confidence and self-esteem.
On one occasion Darth and I were discussing authority, decision making and general business practices in relation to the task of the quality control committee. At one point Darth paused and said, “Russ, the best form of management is the BENEVOLENT DICTATOR.” The message was clear. You did not discuss policy with Darth, because what he said was the way things were to be and, of course Darth was benevolent.

The Magic Act

Another aspect of my social life which was pleasant was my membership in Club Tennis. The club was a new facility located just north of the Gamma Supplies site and consisted of indoor and outdoor tennis courts, an exercise room with Universal weight machines, saunas, whirlpools, swimming pool and sun rooms. Ordinarily we would not have been able to afford the membership, but several Gamma employees started a company membership drive which entitled all employees to a reduced corporate rate. Since I had always been physically active, the access to such an indoor facility was a blessing when it came to enduring the long cold Chicago winters.

It soon became routine for me to stop at Club Tennis on my way home to exercises and enjoy a sauna. When the weather turned cold Anita and I would play tennis on the indoor courts at least once a week, and we attended various social events which Club Tennis sponsored. Membership in Club Tennis was an excellent fringe benefit for all Gamma employees.

Shortly after we moved into our new home, we met our three neighbors. The elderly couple adjacent to us was quiet and lead a rather secluded life, Other than to say an occasional hello, we spoke very little with each other.

On the other hand, Jane and Bill Krane lived just down the road from us, and they were about our age. We soon became friends and would get together for dinner or just to have a drink and talk about the Williamsburg area. Bill was a native of the area and was quite knowledgeable about the local history and folklore. The Kranes also had know the previous owners of our house and knew a lot about the design and construction or our house, the surrounding plants and the landscaping. In fact, the previous owners had left with them a complete file of when each shrub, bush and tree had been purchased and where it had been planted.

The third neighbor was Zed Murphy, a local attorney. He, along with his wife and two kids lived in a restored farm house that was situated across the highway from us. Zed was also originally from the area, a successful lawyer in Williamsburg and was now a gentleman farmer. Zed, in addition to being a good neighbor, would become my personal attorney.

If one looked at my life at this point at Gamma Supplies, I had what I came to call a magician's life. A magician waves his left hand about to keep you distracted from what the right hand is doing. But it is the right hand that pulls the rabbit from the magician's hiding place to pull off the trick. That was my life. I had what appeared to be a good life and acceptance at Gamma Supplies. I had a nice house (although Gamma had no connection to that), I went to pro football games, I belonged to a tennis club, I was part of a management group, I went to dinner with the owner of the company and I was well paid. But while all the visible parts of my environment(the left hand) appeared great, my problems on the job were overwhelming. I had constant conflict with my immediate boss, open hostility by the workers in the lab, no authority to make any changes, no support from Darth and my only real role was to work on the phenolic resin for the Gamma Supplies' “Rapid Set” system and to build a technical base for the patent lawsuit defense. The latter two items had never even been mentioned to me until I began working for the company. So while things looked good from the outside, on the inside work environment(the right hand) things were very bad. This type of scenario became what I called the magic act or magician's life.

In early October, Darth came to me and said he was starting a committee to look into the quality control of Gamma's products, and that I, along with Bill James, George Landry, Jay Wells and Darth, would form the task force. I was to head the project and keep all records. I was pleased for two reasons. First, Gamma Supplies had a very high return rate of products because of poor quality, and this was an opportunity to implement some practices to correct that situation. Second, it gave me an opportunity to become familiar with the myriad of products which Gamma produced and sold. In one conversation, Carl Host had related to Tenneland personnel that Gamma Supplies had over five hundred products on its books. Also the quality control committee would also give me the opportunity to get to know some of the personal and work habits of the managers of the other areas.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Head of the Clan

That fall I attended one other Green Bay game with tickets I procured through one of
the salesmen at Gamma Supplies. I was told that if I wanted to go to any of the games, just see that salesmen and I could get tickets. The implication was that the tickets were available to me because I was important to the company and Green Bay Packer tickets were hard to come by in Chicaqgo. I was the only non-sales, Gamma Supplies personnel with access to the football game tickets.

Another way my social life was used to reflect my status in the company by the social interaction with G. T. Cline and his wife. I was discreetly told Mr. Cline wanted to have dinner with Anita and me, but of course, I was not to tell Ravi about this meeting. G. T. lived in a magnificent house located on the drive along Lake Michigan in Blue Fish Bay.

When we arrived at his house, Mrs. Cline greeted us, sat us in the living room and then told us about her family and grandchildren while we waited for Mr. Cline to arrive. G. T. came in, sat down and briefly told us about his family, expounded on his wealth and then drove us to the Full Sails for dinner.

During dinner G. T. unraveled his tale about how he had accumulated his fortune. Now he was Chairman of the Gamma Supplies, Restco and Cline Advertising Company of Madison, Inc. Each of his three sons was the President of one of the three companies.

G. T. had amassed his fortune by building a chain of independent service stations in the Chicago area, and then he sold out to a major oil company. Throughout dinner, W. T. related how he had built his Empire. I sat there thinking about how all evening all he had talked about was how wealthy he was. It seemed like the only value he saw in his own life came from his wealth. At the same time, I couldn't help but get the feeling that despite all of his success, he appeared to be a very bitter man. In fact, he hardly mentioned his sons except to point out that he had given each one a company to run, and the only time he mentioned his daughter was when he was bragging about the price of a house she had sold in Door County in northern Wisconsin. I expressed a lot of interest in his business success
and spent most of the evening just listening. Anita and G. T.'s wife said very little during the evening. That evening was the last time I would have any social interaction with the G. T. Cline family.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book publisher wanted!

I was a bit stunned but replied, “Well, I'm married and didn't think I
belonged there.”

“Well, here at Delta Oil, we work hard and play hard and I wanted to make sure you knew those women at the party were there for you,” Josh continued.

As I left his office I wondered if those women were a company expense which is why Jack gave me the message. And I never could shake the thought that the whole party incident was a setup for future blackmail. From that point on, I never attended another Friday after-work gathering.

Another event which was satisfying was the availability of tickets to the Green Bay Packers football games. In early September, Darth came walking through the laboratory and said he had four tickets to the Sunday game in Green Bay and wanted to know if anyone was interested in them. I quickly said I would like to take my wife and John and Jeff took the other two tickets. Later, I talked to John and Jeff and invited them to ride along with my with me my wife. Since our house was on the way, I thought it would give Anita and I a chance to socialize with John and Jeff. After all, I was still trying to befriend them.

I was thrilled. Not only was I going to get to see my first pro football game live, I was going to see my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers. Somehow, despite growing up on the East Coast, I had become an avid Green Bay fan during their illustrious Vince Lombardi era. And although the team had fallen on bad times, I remained a loyal fan.

That Sunday John and Jeff arrived in John's pickup truck and after a brief tour of our new home, we departed for Green Bay. That day was to be the only day in one and a half years that anyone from Gamma Supplies would enter our house.

The weather was perfect with a cool fall breeze, a sunny blue sky and moderate temperatures. During our drive north, John remained true to form and talked nonstop on any and every subject that came up. It was a relief to get to the stadium and hear the roar of the crowd in lieu of John's verbal barrage.

Green Bay's loss that day did not distract from the excitement of the game. The return trip to Williamsburg was relatively quiet, since John was tired from all of the beer that he had consumed. On the way back home, I extended an invitation to John and Jeff to join us for some hamburgers when we arrived home. Both of them quickly refused. I repeated the offer and Anita also requested that they stay for some dinner, but both were adamant in their refusal.

When we arrived at our home, John and Jeff got out of the car and headed directly to John's pickup truck. John was the first to notice that the rear window of his truck was totally shattered. Since the truck had been parked in the rear of the house, out of sight and a considerable distance from the highway, no errant stone or flying object had caused the breakage. The glass from the broken window was on the truck seat so the window had been smashed inward and had not exploded outward from the force of some temperature build-up within the cab. After we helped John bi clean up the mess, John and Jeff left with no explaination as to what had happened. Overlooked in the incident was our invitation to join us for dinner.