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Back before I landed the high-paying, do-nothing job of Stay-At-Home Mom (heavy sarcasm here), I worked professionally for 15 years. During that time, I was often privileged (more sarcasm) to work for some very unique individuals. Let me tell you a bit about one of them today. I call him “The Boss From Hell.”
First a little back story. At one point in my career, I toyed with the idea of running a business of my own. So I accepted a job working for the owner of a small marketing firm–thinking it would be a good opportunity to see what went into the running of a small business and hoping to learn some valuable lessons. (This firm was so small that the only employees were him and me.) I learned quite a bit during my time there; unfortunately, it had nothing to do with marketing or successful management of a small business. Rather, I learned about fraud, theft, and what self-delusion looks like up close. Here are some highlights of my time spent there.
- My very first day of work, I was handed a shoebox overflowing with bills, checks, receipts, and bank statements and told to get the company’s accounts in order. Apparently, this “shove it in a shoebox” method had been the company’s accounting system since the previous employee had quit 4 months before. Once I finally sorted everything out, I discovered that the firm had a total of $145 in the bank. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I gave my report to my boss, who blithely said: “Don’t worry about it, I’ll move some stuff around. You’ll get paid.” To his credit, none of my paychecks ever bounced, but I never fully understood how he pulled it off. After a while, I didn’t want to know.
- One day, my boss was complaining about his camera equipment and how he wanted to upgrade his lenses and base camera. Coincidentally, the very next week, the office was burglarized and his camera equipment was stolen. The (very neat and tidy) burglars had carefully broken a window to gain entrance (a window that would be replaced by the company from whom my boss leased the office) and moved things askew … leaving almost everything important behind … except for the camera equipment, which was “stolen” from my boss’s office. Naturally, the camera equipment was covered by insurance, and my boss was able to replace it with the very same equipment he had talked about wanting the previous week! “How fortuitous,” I thought, “And very, very, very suspicious.”
- This guy was a crank of the highest order. He was forever dictating epic letters of complaint to the myriad of people who “crossed” him in his everyday life. One time he had a bad burger at Burger King. Not content to complain at the counter or just throw it in the trash and move on (like a NORMAL person), this guy spent WEEKS dictating increasingly angry letters to the CEO of the Burger King Corporation. Whenever someone crossed him–and it didn’t take much–I would gird myself for weeks of angry letters that would steadily grow longer and angrier … until they were dropped to begin another campaign against a new enemy.
- It didn’t take me long to realize the guy was a master bullsh*t artist. Whenever a new client would come in, I felt like slipping them a note and telling them to run for the hills. My boss was a master of seeming like he knew what he was doing, but he was a huckster and a liar. He once got a client who wanted some marketing research conducted for a new business and wanted help picking a location. There was this new, very expensive software that my boss sold the client on … software that would permit the user to assess various business locations relative to competitors, traffic flow and so forth. My boss convinced the client that this software was the key to his future success, along with my boss’s “years” of marketing expertise to analyze the data. The only catch was that my boss didn’t actually own this software … nor had he ever used it. Once he got the contract, I was told to get a trial version of the software for 30 days, learn how to use it, generate the information the client needed, and return the software before the trial period was up. This was the company’s typical modus operandi the whole time I was there.
- One of my boss’s hobbies was playing in a Grateful Dead cover band. I spent countless hours printing out postcards promoting the shows and designing tie-dye t-shirts they could sell at their (infrequent) shows. During my time at the company, Jerry Garcia passed away, and–I kid you not–my boss sent a letter to the manager of the band offering his services to replace Mr. Garcia. It was at that moment I knew he was truly off his rocker and began contemplating my exit.
Believe it or not, I worked for this guy for a year!!! Part of the reason I stayed so long was that I really needed the job and wasn’t in a good place personally to quit. Another part of the reason was that working there was like watching a car accident … I couldn’t turn away. It finally dawned on me that this guy had some serious mental issues, and when I finally decided to leave, I felt like I had to get out of there RIGHT NOW. Being professional, I gave him two weeks notice … and left without having found another job. Once I decided to leave, it was even more unbearable than ever to work there. When I left, I could barely look at him or speak to him. The day I walked out of that office for the last time, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders and I could breathe easily for the first time in a year. Personally, I’m amazed I didn’t develop an ulcer during my time there.
For about 7 years afterwards, he would occasionally find me and call me and beg me to come back. My standard response was always: “I would never ever in a million years work for you again. I would rather go hungry than work for you.” To this day, I’m amazed I never got an angry letter from him.
Still regretting my brief sojourn in Crazyville Marketing Firm*,
* Not the actual name of the firm … but it might as well have been.