Thursday, July 04, 2013


c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is another installment of “Retail 101” which is my series about managing in the supermarket industry. Specifically, the piece reflects how I felt when returning to the world of business after a period of unemployment and under-employment, associated with the great financial meltdown.

Looking for work in 2008 and 2009 proved to be a challenging task. As I visited potential employers, news reports persisted about government intervention. Banks received money. Insurance giants received money. Struggling, uncompetitive manufacturers received money. But in the Icehouse, there was no such largess.
Only the kindness of my family kept us from being homeless and hungry.
Briefly, I worked as a cashier for CVS. But a knee injury stalled my path toward their management program. Then, a ‘blind ad’ in the newspaper spoke about needing supervision for a local enterprise.
Though I had already submitted hundreds of resumes, I sent out one more.
The result was an interview with a three-person panel. One of these was the owner himself. Instead of attempting to project a slick and polished persona, I approached the meeting with naked honesty. He needed an experienced steward for the business. I was a failed author and part-time journalist, with a background in retailing. We could help each other.
I was hired shortly after that conversation.
In the years that followed, I pondered writing about the experience. In particular, about the fellow who chose to hire me, knowing little about my personal background.
I imagined offering details of this job-seeking odyssey. But what developed was something different - a portrait of a stranger who became undeniably important in my life, because he offered me a position at his store:   

The Man Who Gave Me A Job

I couldn’t pick him out of a crowd.
He didn’t have a connection to my family, or personal friends. I didn’t know him before the first employment interview he scheduled. I couldn’t even pronounce his name properly. I had rarely patronized his business.
His father was a professional cohort of a previous employer, but I wouldn’t know that until after the fact. He was not rich or stylish. He bought American, union-made cars instead of those created by hip, foreign manufacturers.
His dad was a Vietnam-era veteran of military service. He grew up going to company meetings with cigar-smoking old men in business suits. He liked football.
I was told that he had been a lawyer. And that seemed to fit with the careful and deliberate way he chose his words. But there was no air of superiority in his manner.
His philosophy ran toward old-school minimalism. He controlled costs with the discipline of a platoon commander herding manpower. He wasted nothing.  Every cog in his machinery had a genuine purpose. I soon learned to trust his sense of direction.
‘The Man’ gave me a job while fully aware that we knew little about each other. He read my resume but was more interested in the fellow behind the curtain. He asked questions that were out of the mainstream. He admitted being atypical for a small business in Northeastern Ohio. When I praised his style of customer service, it genuinely seemed to resonate.
He asked what I had in mind. I answered that my career had been that of a salaried business manager. While creative writing was my first love, but didn’t cover the bills.  
He responded with thanks for the meeting.
We shook hands. The next day, his director of human resources called to say that I had been hired. The moment was surreal. I had expected to hear that he wanted to complete interviewing other candidates before making a decision.
I had been unemployed for a few months. The election-time meltdown of America’s financial structure had left me without the ability to support my family. But that didn’t seem to be a concern.
‘The Man’ trusted my word enough to give me a chance.
It took time to earn trust from my fellow managers, however. The business had a long history of promotions from within. I was undeniably viewed as an outsider.
It took eight months to get a key to the main office. Longer still to gain respect with the crew. But because I had endured several store closures and reorganizations, the process was familiar.
Eventually, members of the staff began to seek my advice. I was given greater responsibility within the organization.
And a raise in salary.
At home, I paid off delinquent bills and began to restore my credit. It comprised a long, slow climb out of financial ruin. Many of the institutions to which I owed money were technically bankrupt, only a short while before. It was a fact I repeated often, with no success.
“The Man’ did not pass judgment.  
He had his own needs to consider, like scheduling conflicts, workplace safety, soaring healthcare costs, and employee retention. At every juncture, he seemed to have the same mandate in mind – controlling costs while meeting customer expectations.
If I were asked to name the important people in my life, many would come to mind. My father, who has always been heroic and inspirational. My mother, who taught me to love and forgive. My friend Paul from New York, who I often called “the older brother I never had.” Or Davie Allan, the California guitarist who was a bright light in my youth and a friend as I became an adult.
But greatest among these is a man I barely know. Yet someone who restored my dignity and sense of self-worth. One who gave me a second chance at life. A chance to fix things only a weekly paycheck could address.
Call him TMWGMAJ.
‘The Man’ – who gave me a job.

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