I have met some really interesting people over the years. Many of these people have influenced my life and I am very thankful that they shared their thoughts and ideas with me. One of my biggest influences within the business world was my boss John. I had worked a couple of small accounting jobs right after college, but John gave me my big break and hired me as the controller for his manufacturing company. John was in his mid-fifties, his hair was graying, he was short and just a tad bit overweight. John had developed palsy when he was in his thirties, and it began to worsen as he got older.
When I first started working for John, I didn’t know how to take him. He had a great personality, but when he got mad, everyone knew it. I can honestly say that he never got mad at me, but I did get mad at him once or twice. John became my mentor and, thanks to him, I learned how to handle most any situation. He taught me how to be calm in stressful and uncomfortable situations and he always told me, “Remain calm and never, ever let them see you sweat.” I took his advice and carried those words of wisdom with me throughout my professional career.
I believe John liked being my teacher and he took me to every important meeting he attended. I found myself rubbing elbows with attorneys, bankers and other prominent professionals and I soon became John’s “right arm”. We had a good crew back then and we all worked hard, but were able to have fun too. As time went by, John was depending on me to make more and more critical decisions about the business and I was his backup whenever he was out of the office. With the more responsibilities came a big raise and an assistant.
Two months and over two hundred resumes and nearly fifty interviews later, I found the right person. Dianne became the assistant controller and she learned her responsibilities very quickly, she fit in with the other staff members great and she never missed work; except for the few weeks when she took maternity leave. By then, Dianne had been working as my assistant for over a year. She was very good at her job and I knew it would be hard to find someone to take her place for the few weeks she would be out, but I never realize how hard it would actually be.
A month before Dianne’s baby was due, I called three or four temporary agencies and lined up one interview after the other. Once I began the interviewing process, I began to realize that good help is very hard to find. After an entire week of interviewing the candidates I had chosen from the temporary agencies, I still had no replacement for Dianne. The next Monday I had five more interviews lined up and I was getting worried that maybe I was just being too picky. I talked to Dianne about not being able to find a suitable replacement and I told her that I thought I was being too picky, so I asked her to sit in on the next interviews and she could help me choose someone.
Most interviews consists of a list of generic questions because you are not allowed to ask personal questions like, “Are you healthy?” “How old are you?” or “Are you married?” or “Do you have any children?”. So you end up asking questions like, “Why do you want to work for our company?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What do you consider your greatest strength?” and “What is your greatest weakness?” When I interview people and I always ask a few open-ended questions. In my personal experience, the question, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” always seems to get the person being interview talking. Believe me, you can find out a great deal about a person when you ask that one particular question. Most of the time the person is nervous, and once they start talking, they can’t seem to stop.
The next four interviews Dianne and I sat through didn’t go the way I had hoped. We were down to the last candidate and we had not chosen anyone yet. I was getting worried that we would never find anyone. Dianne would be off work having her baby and I would be doing all the work myself. It was one o’clock that afternoon when the receptionist buzzed me and told me the last of the interviewees was there. I asked her to bring the lady to my office and I called Dianne to come to my office too. After the introductions were finished, I closed the door and we all sat down and the interview began. The lady’s name was Annie.
I believe Annie was in her late fifties to early sixties. She was about 5’9”; she had short, wavy, jet black hair; she wore black rimmed glasses and she wore dark red lipstick and tons of perfume. So much perfume that after ten minutes of the door being shut, Dianne and I were both choking, so I had to open the door. As usual, I started asking my list of questions and after about fifteen minutes and half way through the list, I had decided that Annie was nowhere near qualified to do the job. I looked at Dianne and said, “Well, I think that’s all the questions I have. Dianne, do you have any questions?” Dianne, looked at Annie and said, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
Dianne and I found out some interesting things about Annie that day. That day Annie gave a response to, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”, that I have never heard before. Annie looked at me and then she looked at Dianne and said, “I can’t remember very much. I do know that I was a bookkeeper for fifteen years and I used a computer, but I haven’t worked in two years. Other than that, I don’t have much to tell.” I was a bit puzzled about the fact that she had been a bookkeeper for fifteen years and she didn’t have anything to say about it. I looked at Dianne and smiled, then I looked back at Annie and said, “Well, Annie, do you remember anything about bookkeeping and do you remember how to use a computer?” I caught Dianne in the corner of my eye putting her hand over her month to keep from laughing. I quickly focused my attention on Annie again. Annie had a very serious look on her face. She looked at me and said, “My son is teaching me how to use a computer. You see, I was kicked in the head by a horse two years ago. The horse fractured my skull and I was in a coma for eight weeks. When I came out of the coma I had total amnesia and I didn’t even know who my son was for quite a long time. I still can’t remember too much about my life before the accident.”
If Annie had forgotten everything else, she had not forgotten how to talk. She went on and on for thirty or forty minutes talking about her son, her accident, her being in a coma, her garden and her getting new tires for her car. Now, I don’t know if I was just tired of interviewing people or what, but I did something really stupid that day. I hired Annie to fill in for Dianne while she was on maternity leave. Dianne just about fell out of her chair when I asked Annie, “Can you start work tomorrow?”
Annie came to work the next morning and Dianne started training her. Everything was going fine for the first couple of days. I really don’t know what happened to change that, but one afternoon, Annie came into my office and she was crying. I told Annie to sit down and I asked her what was wrong. Annie took off her glasses and when she looked at me I saw the biggest tears in her eyes and I felt so bad for her. I couldn’t imagine what could be wrong. I handed her a tissue and I asked her again, “Annie, what’s wrong?” By this time, she was sobbing, but she did manage to say, “That woman!” I said, “What woman?” Annie pointed toward Dianne’s office and I was a bit surprised and confused so I said, “Dianne?” Through the sobs Annie blurted out, “That woman is vicious!” I said, “Dianne???” Annie just nodded her head and continued to cry. I told Annie, “You sit right here and calm down. I’ll be right back.”
I went into Dianne’s office and shut the door. When I looked at Dianne, I could see that she was mad as hell. Before I could say anything, Dianne practically screamed, “Keep that crazy woman away from me!” I said, “What in the hell is going on?” Dianne was talking so fast and she kept saying Annie was crazy and she would never be able to learn anything. I kept saying, “Calm down! What is going on?” Dianne finally told me that Annie was either crazy as a loon or dumber than a rock because she couldn’t remember anything from one minute to the next and she was driving her absolutely crazy. I took a deep breath and said, “I shouldn’t have hired her, but I did. Listen Dianne, we only have two weeks left to train Annie before you go on maternity leave. You don’t have to train her on everything you do, but I at least have to have someone to take care of accounts payable. If you can do that, I will train her on the other things I need done. Now, please, just calm down.” Dianne managed to calm down, but I had to promise that I would keep Annie in my office the rest of the day. When I went back into my office, Annie had finally quit crying. So I worked with Annie that afternoon showing her different things that I needed her to do for me.
Dianne took her maternity leave as scheduled and Annie filled in for her. I never could teach Annie how to do anything other than enter accounts payable invoices. It is my guess that’s what she did for fifteen years as a bookkeeper. I had Annie do the simple things like help with answering the phones and filing. However, one day I called her into my office and I explained to her that I needed her to type a letter for me. I gave her the details and told her to write something up and when she was finished, I would proof read it. About an hour and a half later, Annie brings me the letter she had written for me. I took the letter from her hand and started reading it. The letter was fine except for one small problem. The font was super small. I mean it was so small that you almost needed a magnifying glass to read it. I asked her to make the font bigger. She took the letter and went back to her office and an hour later she brought the letter back to me. The font was just as small as it was the first time, so I handed the letter back to her and asked her to make the font bigger.
This “redoing of the letter” went on just about all day long. She would bring me the letter, and I would hand it back to her because the font was too small. She would bring me the letter, I would give it back to her. She would bring me the letter, I would give it back to her. Give me the letter, give it back to her. Give me the letter, give it back to her. Give to me, back to her. Me, her, me, her, me, her. The last time she brought the letter to me it looked exactly the same as it did the one hundred times before. But this time, instead of giving it back to her, I just started laughing and looked at her and said, “This is perfect. Thank you.” I decided that I would just type the letter myself, so I laid the letter on the corner of my desk.
After a few minutes, one of our sales representatives, Ray, came into my office and asked me how my day was going. I looked at Ray and then I thought about the letter, so I picked it up and said, “Can you proof read this for me Ray?” Ray looked at the letter, then he looked at me and said, “Ha! I would if I could see it.” Then I just died laughing and said, “That’s how my day’s going! And it’s been going that way over and over and over again.”
Dianne had her baby and she returned to work eight weeks later and believe me, I was so relieved to have her back. I kept Annie’s letter for a long, long time and every time I needed a good laugh I would pull it out and look at it. I don’t know what happened to Annie after she left, but every time I think about a business letter, I think about Annie and I just die laughing. 😛