Friday, November 6, 2009

A wolf in corporate clothing

posted Mon, 15 Nov 2004

The CEO gave a talk this morning that was broadcast to all 100,000 of us. This guy does do one thing right: he is not afraid to take questions directly from the audience. When I worked at Ryder, the CEO had employee meetings every month or so, but he never took questions from the floor. If you wanted to ask a question, you had to submit it in writing a week before the meeting. Then he decided what questions he would answer. Anything requiring specific numbers or information went to the appropriate department for a carefully-crafted answer. I know that because I drafted many an answer for corporate finance and strategy.

I left the uniform look behind me when I stopped going to Catholic school.

That’s not to say my current CEO answers the questions. But at least he has the guts to let people ask them. He will attempt to answer, even though the answers are lacking in some cases. Someone asked him about employee recognition and budget cuts. The CEO answered that really, money is not the only way to recognize someone – that sometimes a big “thank you” is all that is necessary.

Right. Easy to say if you make over $1 million a year and got $500,000 in bonus while the rest of us were held to raises of 1.7%.

But here’s the part of the broadcast that really got me. They had it at one of the factories, but a bunch of the bigwigs from corporate flew there to attend. They all sat together in a special section – and they all wore identical shirts! No, it wasn’t one of those things where they each called each other this morning and asked, “What are you going to wear? Let’s all wear our blue pinstriped polo buttondowns!”

No, they were each wearing one of those knit golf shirts with a company logo on the left breast pocket. What’s worse, the shirts were all gray. They looked horrible on the broadcast. The CEO wore a button-down shirt and blazer. Maybe he put these guys in the ugly shirts on purpose so he would look better in comparison.

I hate those shirts. I refuse to wear them. I do not see it as a benefit that my employer gives away these shirts left and right. The only times I have worn one are under duress – at the trade shows I used to work. They were always too big for me. I finally learned to cut the bottom seven inches off the shirt. Yes, it hurt to do it the first time – to ruin clothes deliberately. After all, my people, we do not waste. But if you have to stuff all that extra shirt into your khaki pants (another fashion abomination – show me a woman whose butt doesn’t get ten inches wider in khakis), you realize you can waste instead of looking weirdly fat.

But Class Factotum, you are asking, why not just get a smaller shirt?

Oh, I tried! These shirts were men’s smalls. I asked the guy who ordered them to get me a shirt in my size – you know, perhaps a woman’s size? He told me – with a perfectly straight face – that our vendor did not make shirts in women’s sizes.

Of course. Because it is so very unusual to see women in the workforce these days.

My friend Leigh, who is about 5’ tall and only 90 pounds when she is not pregnant, had to wear her employer-issued shirt to work every Friday when she worked for the city. The city must have bought shirts from the same vendor as my company, because the best they could do for Leigh was a men’s small. The shirt fell past her knees. The shoulders must have hit at her elbows.

That’s OK, though. The rest of the folks at work can keep wearing those ugly shirts. All part of my strategy to look better by comparison.

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