End Run

Woke up around 9:00 that night — after a 3-hour nap that I was in dire need of from being exhausted and sick all day (still dealing with my lingering cough to boot)

Crank up the coffee, second shift’s comin’ on.

I know that feeling for real — factory and all (which just came to mind with that coffee comment). Believe it or not, I don’t have a plan for every connection in here — which is part of what makes it so much fun.

You know what it feels like to have your wrists strapped into safety cables to prevent your hands from being smashed in a press? 18 years old, future in doubt, substellar grades, grimy job, and surrounded by lovely people going nowhere.

Felt like opportunity to me

I could see it as being boxed in by my restraints — or make the most of my surroundings by defining them however I choose. There’s a shift quota — something to meet, something to break, or something to smash.

It was a bit rough going when I first arrived. I was in the same town but I might as well have been on the moon.

I didn’t mind the environment at all. I liked the people and my supervisor named Shelby, and I was thrilled to land that job at $7.70/hr. But what was in store for my future weighed heavily on my mind. The company had hired on a bunch of students right out of high school as a stopgap, but cutbacks were being made as the weeks went by.

I was a little slow to start — especially on the spot-welder. I would back up every time the spatter fired back at me (which was ridiculous since I was draped in protective gear). So one day Shelby stops by to let me know that they had to make some more cuts — but that I wasn’t on the list. She looked right at me and said . . .

I’m keeping you because you’ve got heart and I know you’ll come around.

She might as well have been God, and from that moment on — I was on a mission. Mind you, my newfound purpose wasn’t about keeping my job — it was to honor the grace and golden opportunity I had been given.

THAT — is what real leadership looks like. I may have sent you guys a quote from a leadership book, but I had those ideas long before I ever read about ’em.

I lived them

If you have performance reviews at Elara — what the hell do you people talk about?

Your “management” style is completely in line with the times (sanctioned as if time-honored traditions of leadership did not exist for reference).

After Shelby’s feedback, I came up with a strategy to improve on every machine, but I would excel on those that most suited me. The idea was that I would exceed the standards on any press of interest, so that I would hopefully have my choice when my favorites were up for grabs.

That did not go over well in a union shop, as some felt that I was drawing attention to the quotas by consistently going over them.

I was not thinking about raising the bar for everyone else — all I truly cared about was earning the faith that Shelby had placed in me. I went into work every night with the purpose of proving that she was right about me, and I would do whatever it took to make that happen.

Co-workers would walk by on the way to the lunchroom and ask me to slow down. I was not deterred in the least.

When Shelby found out about their complaints, she just came right up to me and said:

You just go ahead and do whatever you want and don’t worry about them.

I was empowered all the more, and once again someone was leaving an everlasting impression on me. By the end of the summer, I was one of only two students left from the batch hired on after high school. To be fair, the small-parts department got hit harder than where I worked, but I had more than earned my way to stay.

Recognize the trend?

To be fair, the small-parts department got hit harder than where I worked . . .

I wrote that story nearly 20 years ago — and that kind of thinking is in everything I do.

Rollo would leave it like this:

By the end of the summer, I was one of only two students left from the batch hired on after high school.

Because THAT is what is best serves his image.

Just a few words of honesty from Shelby forever altered my future. A coworker called me “College” but I don’t know why — since I don’t recall talking about it beyond a vague possibility. I guess he sensed I was going somewhere.

I was, as I destroyed every quota I could night after night. But one goal eluded me — 10,000 parts in one shift on my favorite press. It was something of a game and time flew by. I had to reach that number somehow. Through another twist in the story, we were moving back to Indiana that September. I wasn’t ready to move out on my own, and I wanted to move back to Indiana anyway.

Two best things that ever happened to me: Moving to Michigan from Indiana, and moving back to the same town 5 years later — for a whole new series of stories.

Very last night at Wickes — I saw the counter click over 10,000 parts.

And by the way, Shelby was in the audience at my graduation from Purdue University.

All the constructive criticism in the world wouldn’t have a prayer without someone listening on the other end.

I’d put my record of reception against anyone who has ever lived. How many people do you know who have had a life-altering experience on the basis of the not just one word — but the inflection of it?

You’ve really gotta be listening to pick up on something that subtle (all the more so because “interesting” can be perceived as a positive — especially by those who hear what they wanna hear).

At home here in Houston, I walk down the long hallway and as I turn the corner — I flip the panel of switches one by one, and each click brings me back to my industrial days from another time.

In that instant, there’s a reflection of a lifelong journey — and as the lights come to life, so do I.

Since I was 16 years old, I’ve never not been pursuit of some big goal. I could spend days talking about what I was chasing and why, but without including all the people who helped shape those pursuits and define their successes, you’d never know the whole story.

To this day, the painting below remains in the Monticello, Indiana post office. As far back as I can remember, I loved going in there and looking up with wonder. It sounds idealistic, but I’ve been around such beauty and brilliance for real — where the manner in which everyone works toward their own goal, serves a shared purpose.

I find the power of influence to be magical — that you can think one thing, take new information into account, and think another. It’s fantastic. As I wrote 15 years ago:

There’s nothing more edifying than taking a trip to another point of view

I still remember where I was standing in this shop as a sophomore — and being mesmerized as I watched a student carve those drawer faces with a grinder. He was Michelangelo in my eyes, as this was way beyond woodworking — this guy was a sculptor.

I knew right then and there, I had to do something special — something no one had ever done before. I couldn’t do freehand like that, but I was on fire with inspiration — and that’s all I needed.

Inside of 60 seconds, my life would never be the same

It amazes me how people reject criticism as if the input exists in a vacuum — as though others don’t feel the same simply by virtue of not hearing it from them. Then there’s the fact that the wisdom someone’s trying to share — was most likely inspired by others. So when you turn away from one person, you’re likely turning away from many.

And in my case, the line is really long.

Rollo said a few times on the death-knell call:

You talk about truth — you don’t want the truth. You need to be constructive in your criticism.

That — is Grade-A horseshit . . .

As in the notion that it would make one damn bit of difference to him.

And I would know — as I’ve been down that road with him . . .


And after over 3 pages of harsh but irrefutable scrutiny — “you don’t want the truth” is the best ya got?

Here’s what exemplifies that height of such childish “counterargument”:

With how I felt all day, I wasn’t able to get much done. I was running behind for End Run — again. I am not blameless in that fiasco, as I wildly underestimated a key part of the project. I could offer rationalizations for how that happened — some nice gestures to make myself look and feel better. I don’t care about that crap — I screwed up, no matter how you slice it.

I’m a seasoned professional and I know better — MUCH better!

So I’m just about to settle in with my coffee and I get a message from Unknown Legend#2 — who was doing month-end billing and asking politely (more than I deserved) — about her report.

This precious lady had been put off so many times (between Elara’s mismanagement and my own) — and I had been deeply concerned about this for months. She had been waiting on this report that we had started and stopped (like others of hers) — killing our continuity and progress.

No way was I gonna say I had something else I needed to do — so we kicked it gear and got going.

And besides, I was feeling better and reasonably rested — and at night with no distractions, there was no better time. That’s how we started out in the first place — one Friday night so long ago. She was one of the best parts of my job, and I owed her better than what she had been getting.

Fast forward about 4 hours and we’d come a long way. She’s shot and about ready to crash, but I just felt the urge to share my concerns . . .

including my covert op with End Run

That these are dangerous waters in our plush little worlds is deplorable.

What all the more astounds me is how these “leaders” manage to do some complex things that I could never do (nor want to) — while they seem oblivious to the clusterfuck all around them. You’ve got two of your most relentlessly dedicated employees talking at 2 AM about problems that persist for one reason and one reason only:

Dereliction of Duty

Yo, Head Honcho — if you don’t want me hurtin’ your boy’s feelings, get off your ass and do your goddamn job.

So I told Unknown Legend#2 all about how I approached End Run a week or so before. He let some frustration slip a time or two — but we got 10 times more patience than we deserved. For whatever it’s worth, despite previous delays — on what was supposed to be our next deadline, I did deliver.

Rollo was nowhere near that

Now, if I operated like he does — by selecting from an eye-popping à la carte of convenient of information, I’d just leave that alone and move along.

But that would be wrong, unfair, disingenuous, dishonest, self-serving, manipulative, calculating, deceitful, insincere — and so on.

I don’t roll that way — ever!

I’ve almost 51 years old — and I don’t need all 5 fingers on one hand to count the number of times I’ve lied in my life. Several years ago I was catching up with a friend from high school and he invited me up for a visit. In our next conversation he relayed what he told his wife about me:

Rick’s the most honest guy you’ll ever meet

He said it with such enthusiasm — and it brought a smile to my face to be remembered as such. 

There is no amount of gain you could give me to believe something to be true that is false. When warranted, I will defend those I despise and call out those I like. I call a spade a spade, period.

So why would “Rollo was nowhere near that” be wrong if left alone?

Because my workload on End Run’s project pales in comparison to Rollo’s.

Nevertheless, unfair or not — we had a deadline, and at some point you have to recognize that you have a problem if you’re repeatedly making mistakes and failing to deliver on time.

This is where his bulldozing mentality comes in — along with the level of importance he places on himself for the sheer volume of work he does. It would be like me thinking that it’s okay that Unknown Legend#2 was repeatedly put off — after all, I was “in demand” and busy on so many other things.

Negative, Ghost Rider

That doesn’t get it done, in more ways than one.

No amount of chaos by Elara, Rollo, and Head Honcho change the fact that I put myself in a jam in the first place. And once it got out of hand, I kept thinking I’d find a way through — and I never could.

Broadcasting my mistakes with ease comes from with a lifetime of practice.

Rollo, well . . .

This guy’s got an excuse for everything — I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire career. And for the mountain of waste I have witnessed in over 2 decades of company-sanctioned self-delusion . . . THAT speaks volumes.

I see you fell on your sword

I made a database blunder a few years back at a place I call Heavenly Hannover — and my manager sent out an email to the DBAs saying,

We made a mistake that requires a restore . . .

That’s what a manager should do — but now it’s my turn to do what I should do.

I replied to all by saying . . .

While I greatly appreciate the sentiment, “we” did nothing of the kind . . .

When I walked into his office a little bit later, he said, “I see you fell on your sword.”

Week after week went by, with twice-a-week meetings with End Run. To listen to Rollo represent our team in such embarrassing ways, wore on me unlike anything I had ever experienced in my professional life.

Something had to be done

Going to Rollo was out of the question — and I had serious reservations about going to Head Honcho. I only met him once when I first started — and talked to him once or twice at most since. So I didn’t have a good read on him from that standpoint.

But lemme tell ya what I did have a good read on . . .

The inescapable fact that Rollo’s behavior and abysmal performance reflect on Head Honcho’s leadership.

So End Run was the only real chance I had. We set up a call and lo and behold — he already had his own plans in mind to approach Head Honcho. They have a relationship though — and End Run‘s a manager, so it’s not at all the same thing as my situation.

But it became clear that it was a golden opportunity for both of us — but most importantly, Elara.

We scheduled a second meeting to discuss more specifics, and I was up till 3:00 AM documenting my evidence the night before. End Run could only address issues specific to his project, but it was greatly beneficial for me to document everything.

So the plan was in motion — that End Run would meet with Head Honcho to discuss our case, and maybe through that Head Honcho would want to talk to me directly.

I hated putting End Run in the position of dealing with this for me — but what else could I do? Going to Rollo would be worse than worthless. This guy would go out of his mind if I questioned his leadership and performance on the level of my concerns.

So that was that — and I’d just wait to hear back from End Run.

But then that night arrived when Unknown Legend#2 sent me that message about her report. We were about to call it a night, but I just had to express my burden for putting her through all this for so long — and that I was trying to do something about it. After listening to her talk about Head Honcho and her honesty with him, I was inspired with hope. I had no idea when End Run was going to meet with Head Honcho, but it no longer mattered . . .

I was done tiptoeing around this utterly ridiculous saga that had been suffocating me for so long.

I thanked Unknown Legend#2 for her support and input, and I told her that I’d be sending an email to Head Honcho shortly. If you’re reading this Unknown Legend#2, not for one second do I regret what I did. I’m glad you messaged me that night.

An hour later I clicked Send . . .

End of the Line: Part I