March 26, 2008
The Internet Island Blogring: Topic 33.2 Playing: Take a Chance: I'm not talkin' about Vegas. Chances are you've taken a big chance sometime in your life, be it short or long, and when you decided to take that chance, something told you there was a very large risk involved, yet you took the chance anyway, and lived to tell the tale. Tell it to us.
It could probably be said that I'm not one of those who play games with life, even though life is constantly playing games with me. I'm rather anal retentive, and the organization of all parts of my existence is pretty important. I like to say that I don't like to be wrong, I can find anything I'm supposed to be looking for, and I've regulated my daily grind into a routine which pleases me and brings me some satisfaction.
When I go to Vegas I don't concentrate on gambling. Even during the three years when I was with Pat, whose mother owned racehorses and who accompanied me to the horse track three times a week, I was the one who regulated the amount of money we would gamble (only $20.00 each), and saw to it that Pat's pursuit of good luck never saw us going broke while following this pursuit.
I like to think I'm intelligent and somewhat enlightened to the foibles of life, after living it over for almost 55 years.
However I have taken a couple of iffy chances while playing the game of life, and they turned out for the better, when most of the repurcussions have been weighed. The biggest of these chances was taken exactly twenty years ago this month.
In the long ago year of 1987 I had worked in the field of retail management for 15 years. I considered this my "career", which began while I was a junior in high school. My first job at 17 was sweeping out the back room of a three day old bakery. Upon graduation from high school, I obtained a job at Ole's Home Centers, a now defunct Southern California do it yourself hardware chain, as a boxboy. Within three years, while still in college, I was the Garden Department Manager, making more money than most of my friends who had gone into academe. I was studying to be an English Professor and attended USC. I could say I took a chance dropping out of college to pursue my retail management career, but this is not true. I had to drop out of college after my father died and I became executor of my invalid mother's estate, to manage things at home and take care of my younger siblings until they were ready to take care of themselves.
I had a skyrocketing career at Ole's, but my penchant for "partying" after work with members of my sales team had a negative effect, and in 1977, after working in two locations over a six year span, I was eventually fired. I could say I took a chance playing pretty hard which caused my firing, but this is not true. I have always worked and played hard. After three month's unemployment, I was able to sign up with the FedMart chain when they moved into the Los Angeles area, and I stayed with them for the next five years, until they went out of business.
Receiving a hefty severance package, I took a chance by staying out of the workplace for about half a year. I used this time to write (physically, on paper, in those pre computer days) to collect movies on the then new CED videodisc system , and to travel. I spent a lot of time with my buds and was constantly criticized by my roommate for not obtaining work. At the end of my half year's "vacation", when the funds were running low, I obtained a position at Gemco, another retail chain, and worked for them for the next three years, almost getting as far up on the ladder of success as Operations Manager, the second highest position in the Culver City store before they went out of business.
Even before Gemco closed their doors for good, I interviewed with Target stores, and got a nice raise to manage the hard lines department for the Manhattan Beach store, which had recently opened. I was one of the top five managers in the store, but after merely a year, because of a breach of security, I was fired from Target, and found myself out of work yet again.
I had not been anxious during the other layoffs, enjoying severance pay and forced vacations, but I was fired from Target, and hadn't been fired from anywhere since 1977, ten years earlier. I consider myself an honest individual, and made the mistake of describing the conditions of my leaving Target in employment applications. The security breach wasn't terrible. I didn't steal anything or sleep with the store manager's daughter. I merely neglected to record a mark down on about $500.00 in clearance merchandise before selling it. But nobody wants to hire someone who has a black mark in the industry,so I bravely traveled from one interview to the next, hoping for the best, and receiving nothing but "don't call us, we'll call you's"
So it's 1987, and my retail career was in the toilet. What to do?
I took a chance.
A friend of mine worked for a "pushbutton manufacturer". He sold electrical controls for a small family owned buisness. The place was small. I called it a place where men sitting at desks answered phones. I'd managed up to 250 people as a duty manager in retail. The small building in Long Beach where the electrical distributor was located only had two dozen employees. I knew the CEO from visiting there to see my friend, and because I was out of work, the boss offered me a job inventorying the warehouse for a small salary "under the table."
I was in a bit of a quandry. The pay would be almost half of what I was used to receiving in retail management. Jack, the CEO, told me he would pay me time and a half for overtime. This was just to get me going while I was looking for work. The chance I took was to move out of the apartment with my friend (the same one who worked there) and move in with another friend, Bob, who rented me a couple of rooms for half of what I was then paying for rent.
This confluence of events, and the chance I took to make them happen, turned out to be the best career move I've ever made. Within three months, in March of 1988, I was being paid a fair if not overwhelming wage "over the table", and allowed to work overtime. I racked up a lot of overtime, sometimes working up to 12 hours in a shift. Since I was paying only about $200.00 a month to my friend for renting at his house, I began to have lots of extra spending money.
One of the electrical engineers at the distributorship tapped me to become a technician building control panels. This allowed me to learn the business from the ground up. All I knew about electricity at the time was that the light goes on when you flip the switch! He taught me a lot about electrical engineering, and after three months, because of his heavy drinking, he was fired. Jack, the CEO, called me into his office one morning, and asked me if I wanted to keep working on panels, or do something else. I took the chance making the panels. There were only two panel customers, since the electrical engineer was just starting the company into that part of the business. I told Jack I'd like to make a go of making the new "panel shop" a reality.
I hired two college kids, who had some experience in the field, stealing them in essence from another panel builder who was one of our customers. Within another five years, we had gained two manufacturers as clients, who used one of our controls whenever they sold a machine, so the money started rolling in, for both the company, my panel shop, and for me. I got repeated raises, lots of bonuses, and gained the respect of a lot of the folks in the industry.
I've been running the panel shop now for 20 years. This month is my anniversary. We lost the two big clients when one went out of business and the other shifted their manufacturing base to Mexico for cheap labor, but I'm still ensconced in the upper tier of the company, and am one of the essential managers. Jack, the CEO, is 86 years old now, and still runs the company, but is scaling back his hours, giving his daughters more of a chance to manage things. I don't get many raises or bonuses anymore, because money is tight for small organizations. We live by our sales, and they go up and down. But I'm happy. I work from 6am to 3pm Monday through Friday and get weekends off. I can also take off a "vacation day" any time I want, as long as my plate is clean and I give at least a 24 hour notice.
It was a chance, but I took it in 1987, and twenty years later, I'm still reaping the rewards for this particular turn of the dial in the Game of Life.