Big Box vs. Big Water

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Someone who helped shape my professional career is a man by the name of Johnny Morris, a founder of a big-box marine store. I only met him once, but he was a mentor of mine for many years. I studied him. I mean, I read everything I could put my hands on about him. I wore out his mail-order catalogs every year since the 1970s. I passed his attention-to-retailing-detail philosophy on to my staffs. He’s humble, a gentle giant in the marine industry. 

So imagine my excitement at being hired as a service manager at the company Morris started. In hindsight I shoulda seen some warning signs. The first was that I had applied for this position online nearly two years before I received a call for an interview. I’d forgotten I had even applied (Sign No. 1). And then I was hired after just one interview and informed I was not allowed to wear my Keens (Sign No. 2). That was really a red flag. 

I am a hardworking employee and a good manager, but corporate politics are just not my bag. When I see a wrong I want to right it, red tape be damned! I thought I was being hired to run a service department, however, this particular service department—at the time of my hire—more closely resembled Animal House than the marine-service department of a billion-dollar empire.

I inherited a service writer who would gather up the techs in the shop, load ’em up in a company service truck, and drive across the parking lot to order up lunch. Upon their return (20 to 30 minutes later) they would then clock out for lunch. WHAT!? And mind you, this was an everyday occurrence. My techs, who ultimately were replaced, would show up in the morning, clock in, grab one of the tractors, and return to their personal vehicles to pick up their toolboxes, 20 to 30 minutes of nonproductive time on the clock. They would then spend at least two hours a day shuffling boats between the shop and our storage lot two blocks away. Needless to say our efficiency rating was poor, make that … very poor.

I didn’t make too many friends while straightening out that mess. I was later summoned to a management meeting where the question was posed: What do we need to do to sell more product? As I listened to the suggestions I remembered the tutoring and mentoring I’d received through the years from the likes of Pete Corrigan, Zig Ziglar, David Marlow (of Marlow Marine), and a few other industry greats; I was a fish out of water with this group.

As comedian Ron White puts it, “I had the right to remain silent, but I didn’t have the ability!” So, I chimed in, “I hear what you’re saying, but you are forgetting one major thing. What we do has very little to do with a boat. A boat is just a vehicle, a discretionary vehicle. Everything we do is about discretion, discretionary time; discretionary money. We are in the people business and if we lose focus on that, we are in a losing battle.” I was promptly excused from the meeting by the corporate regional manager.  

So, as you could imagine, I was only half heartbroken when HR decided that my cleaning-house antics and reluctance to embrace middle management showed me to be someone “who doesn’t get along with others.” I was escorted to the door on day 89 of my 90-day probation period!

If given another opportunity at a big-box joint, I would have to pass; I’ve learned from Morris (though in a roundabout way) that I’m having way too much fun back working on the big water! Bon voyage! 

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