Diary

"One of these days I'm gonna run this construction company."

For those of you old enough, there was a beatnik comedian from the 60s named Brother Dave Gardner (no relation to Aaron, I assume). He told a story about going to a construction site where he saw a fellow standing over by the gravel pile with his foot on his shovel, muttering, “One a ‘es days, I’m gonna run this construction company.” Now right over from him was a little fellow who acted like he was strapped to a two-stoke engine…flitting from one job to the next, never stopping, eating on the run, forever in motion. Brother Dave said he visited that company again a few years later, and sure enough, that little fellow was now the general foreman. But still, over by the gravel pile, his foot still on that shovel, stood that other fellow, still saying “One a ‘es days, I’m gonna run this construction company.”

Moral? No, this isn’t a union joke..it’s an Obama-organization joke, only it isn’t a joke anymore. Fellows like Art in Alaska (and myself) have seen this developing since the 80s, Art in government, me in manufacturing. And a little dust-up we caused…are still causing, I hope…on RedState reminded me of that tale by Brother Dave.

My only company was formed by a little man from Hungary who came here in the 1920s with $13 in his pockets, took his first job cutting cloth in a tailor shop on Delancey Street in New York. But instead of spending his paycheck, he saved his money and bought a sewing machine, then five, and in 1932 set up his first factory. By 1972 he owned five factories, with 20,000 employees in four states, when he sold the company to an NYSE conglomerate, then sat on their board until he died. Behind him he left a team of six executives who then grew the company to seven states, 12 factories, 40,000 workers and nearly a billion in sales before that generation also began to retire. It was divided in two parts: The sales and marketing side were all old school Jews from New York who had been with the old man since the 40s. The manufacturing side were home-grown southern boys who’d gotten their degrees on the G I Bill. I recall there were two MBA’s among them, one from Denver the other from Columbia. All that Phase II growth was their doing. They proudly called themselves “manufacturers” and it was because of them that I came on board as a “manufacturer” in 1977, after having turned down the corporate counsel job a couple of years earlier.  I learned the “making stuff” side of the business top to bottom, and ate it up like butterscotch pudding. Imagine hundreds of thousands of pounds of cotton yarn coming in one door and a week later hundreds of thousands of pounds of cotton shirts going out another door….and all the bells and whistles and organization that has all those cogs neatly meshed and running at about an 85% efficiency rate. Wow! You cannot possibly have more fun than that…with your clothes on. Besides me we had only two other “doctors” inasmuch as a Juris doctor is one, the corporate attorney, and a chemist who ran our lab. There might have been no more than 20-25 advanced degrees in that whole billion dollar enterprise.

We didn’t start getting Wharton people until the mid-to-late 80s. Sales and Marketing were still the old school Jews, who suffered fools lightly, could cuss the head off a snake, but oh my, could they move product. But there were definitely changes going on in the way the corporation was structured…and it all had to do with finance, which in turn, reshaped the entire culture of the company. Jimmy Carter and Bert Lance had a lot to do with that. By 1985 “manufacturer” had become an epithet…in a company where all it did for its billion a year was “make” (syn. manufacture) things. Go figure that one out. ???? They just couldn’t wait for those old goats at the top to retire so they could replace them with who, a few years later we now recognize as the “Skilling and Fastow” type, who indeed, by the early 90s, after I had left and those old goats retired, had bankrupted the company.

The good news is that I had my office in one of the factories 100 miles away, had the run of the company, and only had to visit corporate once a week, to meet with the CEO and the production bureaucrats. But what started out as one meeting a week turned into one day of meetings a week. If you’re in production there’s nothing more bothersome than to have to drive 100 miles then sit in on a bunch of meetings with bureaucrats, which became so frequent and mandatory, I actually started making academic inquiries into why so many people in an office actually thought anything they said or did would make our product better, or cause it to be sold better…which, if you look it up, is what business is all about…making a thing well, and selling it well. The answer, I found, is that was what they were teaching them at Wharton, Stanford, Tuck, not to mention UGA’s Terry School of Business.

Briefly, those meetings consisted of one boring VP sitting at the head of the conference table, who didn’t like me, by the way, holding to the Christopher Hitchens belief that 1) everyone carries their class on the end of their tongue (I’m a hellcat with Japanese and Latin, but my American was always lacking, as I always mispronounced “far”…not as in “far away”, but as in “far truck”. Good thing they never heard my Muleskinner.), and 2) I was a manufacturer. At that time they still had imposed on them the silly rule, later discarded, that when the topic was manufacturing someone who’d actually done it had to be there. (This was before emails, which would have solved a lot of their problems.)

But at the other end of the table, depending on which department we were in, there was always some newbie MBA, bright eyed and bushy-tailed (I counted 12 over 4 years) who constantly were raising their hand to interject some comment that professor so-and-so made at Tuck, or wrote at Harvard, or said at some  symposium. (You know the type.) I never paid much attention to this at the time except, for one, while he was only a bee buzzing in my ears, he was annoying the living hell out of the veep at the head of the table.

Then I (actually we, a whole bunch of us, Art, Janis, Remant60, and finally Neil with his slingblade) met Buck68 the other day in a diary, and it was deja vu all over again. That little weenie at the back of the room had grown up and OMG, he had inherited the earth…because I am quite certain that this 42-year old fella/fellette was no mere administration defender. He was Them, and we had grabbed that pig by the tail.

There we were talking in a general sort of way as to “why Obama can’t govern”…and this all-growed up fellow wonders why we’re saying such ugly things. His reply, or defense, I’m not sure which, was “We took all the classes in school” and then went on to quote all the theories he’d studied. (If you’d like to see for yourself, be my guest.) And then the awful thought struck me…25 years later, they still haven’t learned one single thing except what Prof Moriarty told them in Holding Meetings IV. They’re still stuck on stupid. And as politely as we could (Neil gave him 2 days which to my mind was pure Christian charity that he’s not normally noted for, but for which we all thank him) we tried to understand what Professor Higgins’ theory on the taxonomy of Eliza Dolittle had to do with calling a meeting instead of the “far department” when the building caught on fire? And once the fire department was called, after several annoying phone calls from the victims, why then did Obama still try to make his 2 PM tee time? Isn’t it sort of the job of the chief executive to at least stand around and encourage the firemen and console the victims? Bush would’ve manned the pumps, this I’m certain. (This is all about the Gulf oil spill, mind you.)

There’s an old axiom, running from Hannibal to George S Patton, that when you grab a pig by the tail and he squeals…don’t let go. This is why I don’t think we should let go of this.

I’m all for saving people when I can, but I’m not really for trying to reform this “child”. The fact that he’s here, and he (they) is squealing is instructive. We’ve grabbed onto a portion of their anatomy that hurts. So we certainly don’t want to let go.

My little diary, noted above was just a flight of personal aggravation about the Obama team’s “management” mishandling of the oil spill, which Vladimir has laid out on RS in a prize-worthy manner from Day One, and which Flagstaff, albeit with a snarky title, went one better on the management and organization issues, and masterfully laid out a series of “what-if’s” that provide meat for dozens of supporting theories from any or all of you who, unlike the hapless Buck68, actually would have thought to call the far department first, then canceled the golf game.

When that pig squeals, don’t let it go…so I invite as many…not comments, but theories, and suggestions, and aggravations, as diaries. People are watching. Make ’em squeal.

Cordially