November/December  2003

Behind The Counter


by Lyle R. Hill

The boss was upset with me … very upset with me. It was written all over his face, and I knew I was in trouble the minute I walked into his expansive office for the meeting. 

“Lyle,” he started, “I don’t like these Friday afternoon meetings any more than you do. I know we both have better things to do.”

He wasn’t even close. Nobody on the face of the earth could have disliked these meetings as much as I did. It wasn’t that they usually got started about the time everyone else was heading home for the weekend, and it wasn’t even the fact that they often lasted for hours. No, what bothered me the most was the fact that he was good at finding my flaws and exposing them. And there were plenty to be found. I was convinced that he could actually read my mind … and what was most troubling was that he might not find much there to read. He was a great teacher, but there was so much to learn and so little time.

“Lyle,” he began again. “I want to talk to you about Seymour.”

Now I realized exactly how deeply in trouble I was. I had been instructed to terminate Seymour well over four weeks prior, and I hadn’t done it … in fact, I was pretty convinced that I could never do it.

“You read the consultant’s report,” he continued. “You’ve got two guys doing the work of one person and the conclusion is clear, Seymour has to go.”

“But, sir,” I replied, “he’s been a loyal, dedicated employee for almost 30 years.”

“That has nothing to do with it,” he fired back. “This is not a welfare agency. It’s a business, and a business must be run efficiently to survive. Look, you’re young and inexperienced, but you’ll never make it as a manager unless you can make the tough calls.”

“But boss,” I defended, “Seymour is 63 years old. He only wants to work for two more years and then he’ll retire.”

He leaned across his large, football shaped desk so he could make heavy duty eye contact with me. “I’m disappointed in you, Lyle. I had hoped you would have progressed a little faster and further by now.”

“But Chieftain,” I responded, “he had a mild stroke a few years back and his wife isn’t doing very well either. I don’t think he’d be able to find another job.”

“You’re missing the point entirely,” he said with a fair amount of agitation in his voice. “What is it that Bob Trice, the guy I’ve assigned to help train you, is always going around saying?”

“Can I borrow a cigarette?” I answered.

“No, no, no … the other thing he’s always saying.”

“Oh, you mean, anyone can get a job done with too many people,” I responded realizing that I had probably pushed my luck a little too far.

“Yes, that’s it,” he said, standing on his feet. “Anyone can be a manager if he or she is allowed an unlimited number of people to get a job done. But while this might be the way the government works, it isn’t the way business works.”

“The company that survives and thrives is the company that runs lean and mean. Pardon me a moment while I write that down … I might want to use that again somewhere,” he said, stopping to scribble a few lines on the back of a well-worn envelope.

He again made eye contact with me. “Now, Lyle,” he started, “I want to make something perfectly clear. A lot of this is new to you and I know it’s a difficult situation to handle. But you must realize that these things will occur from time to time and you’ll have to be able to handle them.”

“Well,” I began, “I’m sure you’re right. But as you have so eloquently acknowledged, I’m inexperienced and still new and unlearned in the ways of dynamic professional management. You on the other hand, are well-versed in these things and know exactly how to handle even the most delicate of situations. Therefore, most exalted management guru, I think you should handle the Seymour situation. You tell him, and I’ll learn from you.”

It was a small, pleasant retirement luncheon and Seymour seemed to appreciate it—good food, no speeches, a few laughs. And it took place just about two years from the date of “the meeting.” Turns out that guy Trice was right. Anybody can get a job done with too many people … and every now and then, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all. 

Lyle R. Hill works almost every Saturday “behind the counter” at Glass America, a dealer of windows, doors, glass and other products. He is also president of Chicago-based MTH Industries, one of the largest specialty contractors in the world.


© Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.