This month, I read a lot of non-fiction about the US Marine Corps — Making the Corps, and Generation Kill, to be specific. And there’s a common theme to both books: Marines who serve out their enlistment, and then either rejoin the Corps after leaving, or who reenlist when their service is over. And for the most part, they’re not doing this out of a sense of patriotism, or a mission: they reenlist because they don’t want to let their buddies down.
I realize it takes a lot of hubris to compare working in a retail environment to warfare, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that selling books is anywhere near as difficult or dangerous as military service (I don’t), but I do think there’s a bond that forms between coworkers: when I contemplated jumping ship to Barnes & Noble, one of the factors that compelled me to remain at the Bookstore was the awesome people I work with.
Sure, I’m not best buds with everybody: there a couple of people there I don’t care to work with, but we get along well enough to work together. And as far as management goes, I’ve been very lucky. Having been working in retail and food establishments since 1994, I’ve very rarely been lucky enough to work with an entire team of smart, caring, management staff.
And the head of that group of managers just got fired.
Last week, our General Manager — I’ll call her “Winter” — was told she was being transferred to an under performing store in Virginia effective Monday the 25th. There’s something you should understand about the store I work at: within the Zone, it’s sort of the flagship store. GMs selected to run the store are usually being groomed for advancement to a district or corporate management level. Winter’s transfer is akin to Captain Picard being removed from command of the Enterprise to take over a garbage scow.
It’s also important to note that Winter built up a reputation within the company as a “fixer” — send her into a non-profitable store, give her the resources she needed, and she’d trim the dead weight, get the sections organized, and make the place profitable. But in this case, she was being asked to take a horribly broken store and to arrive Monday morning with no resources (i.e., payroll) and be prepared to take responsibility for the store’s number for the previous year. On her first day.
How would you feel, for example, if you got promoted to an open Account Management position at your job, and the first hour you’re on the job, the CEO yells at you for the major fuckup the previous Account Manager made the previous week?
Yeah, that’s some bullshit.
And our GM refused. “What happens if I don’t show up?” she inquired of the District Manager.
“You’ll be fired,” she was told.
And so she’s gone. She’s been looking for a reason to open her own company for a while, and she told me Thursday night she already felt a huge weight had been removed from her shoulders. It’s hard being a GM when the company you work for seems to be imploding. And deciding to leave was something she wrestled with all week, but decide she did, and she cleaned out her office Friday before leaving for the last time.
I came into work yesterday morning and opened the fridge in the employee break room to store my lunch. And there, on the rack, was a mostly devoured cake. Winter’s Goodbye Cake. I just sort of stared mournfully at it for a few minutes.
Over the last year, she had to take a six-week absence to attend to a personal matter. Never has it been more clear that she was the glue that held this place together. She made sure the schedule was sane, she pushed managers on long-term projects that probably would’ve fallen to the way-side, she was a hammer cloaked in velvet when she needed to be to accomplish the store’s goals, but she never placed the demands of the retail business over the safety or well being of her employees.
What happened to her is truly awful. But she wasn’t too upset, “Hey, the last event I get to work is Kathy Griffin. That’s a good note to go out on.”
As for the Bookstore — well, we’ll soldier on. As for Corporate? Hey, guys: the company is in trouble. We know it, and you seem somewhat (completely and totally) oblivious to it. Forcing excellent General Managers out of the company isn’t going to help our mutual problem, it’s only going to hurt. What happened to Winter makes me wonder if I’m rooting for the wrong horse.