Stanley Bing

The last man

We thought our layoffs were complete. But then I heard the rumor that there was still an employee in the building.

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By Stanley Bing

(Fortune Magazine) -- This is an update to senior management on a situation that was brought to the attention of Human Resources last Thursday. On that day Ned Larvish in Accounting came to the conclusion, while engaged in his study of elevator usage patterns, that there was a remaining employee in the building who was below vice president level. The individual appeared to be nesting somewhere in sub-basement No. 3. The news seemed incredible. I was tasked with ascertaining its veracity.

A bit of backgrounding may be in order. As you know, after the events of the fourth quarter '08, the chairman sent the directive to senior management to ameliorate our expense base in order to be positioned for the upturn when it comes. With the help of McKinsey, it was determined by department heads at a meeting on Jan. 26 that the best course of action would be to fire everybody who was not in the room at that time. The decruitment was concluded on Feb. 4, or so it was thought.

On hearing the rumor of a surviving bit of headcount, I went first to the lobby, where Lassiter, our executive in charge of security, sat with a walkie-talkie and a ham sandwich, attempting to perform the function formerly done by eight subordinates. "I would call somebody on this thing," he said, gazing sadly into his electronic implement, "but there's nobody on the other end."

Sub-basement No. 3 was dark, but I felt the presence of another life form, and I was excited. There was still an operating efficiency to be had! We senior officers love to hunt such opportunities, bag them, and issue press releases. "Come out and justify your existence!" I cried.

"I will in a moment," said a low, pleasant voice. "Right after I fix this junction box that controls the lights and ventilation to the right elevator bank. It seems to have malfunctioned due to lack of maintenance."

The lights went on then, and I saw him as he rose to his feet. He was smaller than an executive, with a more ruddy complexion, unruly hair, and muscled forearms. Otherwise he seemed normal.

"How ya doin'?" he said, sticking a friendly paw in my direction. I shook it, feeling a bit strange. I had seen employees on paper, sure, but I had never actually met one. I plunged in and began managing the situation as I was trained to do at Wharton.

"How did you succeed in getting away from us for so long?" I inquired.

"I just always have so much to do," he said. "In fact, if you wouldn't mind going along with me while I walk?"

The next several hours were a merry chase. First we went up to 25, where Bostwick has been presiding over the Sales function from a virtually empty floor. The little employee took a seat in a cubicle. In short order, phones started ringing - calls that were routed to our switchboard in Mumbai, but still. Something was going on.

We visited R&D, Production, Advertising, Marketing, Customer Relations, and Purchasing. In each, the employee completed some self-directed task. I was so mesmerized, I barely noticed that my two-hour executive luncheon window was approaching. "I don't quite know what to say to you," I admitted as I took my leave. "But I'm sure I'll think of something."

"Call me Ed," he said, "and let me know if there's anything I can do for you."

It occurred to me that there might be. My recommendation to management, as a result of this investigation, is that we consider moderating our cost-containment efforts in this one case, and permit Ed to continue doing whatever it is he does. If that works out over the next quarter or so, we might want to think about having a few more just like him around this place.

It might even help the numbers a little.

STANLEY BING's latest book is Executricks, or How to Retire While You're Still Working (Collins), available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at bingblog@gmail.com. For more Bingstuff, go to his website, stanleybing.com.  To top of page

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