The events of the last few weeks brought to mind someone I haven’t thought about in years, a boss at a baking job I worked during the 1980s.
A small, petty little man, Phil was always trying to prove how much smarter he was than anybody else, especially when it came to business.
And yet, he was always trying to get me on his side. In a business that changed hands about half dozen times while I worked there, I was in the best position as the night baker, partly because nobody else wanted to work the overnight shift alone in a shopping mall, and partly because I did my job as good as anybody else.
Phil was one of those nasty behind the scenes manipulators always calculating, always trying to find ways to get over on people he did business with.
Down deep, he must have felt shame over how he got his fortune in the first place and desperately needed to make another fortune in a manner that was more legitimate.
He just didn’t know how to be legitimate or honest, and so each new maneuver was even more unethical than the last.
At some point after college, Phil had hooked up with a soft drink distribution company, and managed to claw his way up to becoming manager. The job may have been at the request of his father, who apparently was best friends with the company owner, and needed desperately for his son to find some place to land.
As manager, however, Phil’s true talents emerged, especially when the contract with the soda providers came up. He underbid his own boss and then took over contract – a matter that ended up in endless litigation. Phil was always suing someone or being sued, and seemed to see this as a fact of life, and part of doing business.
Buying the bakery where I worked was his first real venture on his own, trying to prove that his success wasn’t merely a fluke. He had a handful of cronies he brought on with him from the soda business, hangers-on who learned how to cultivate favor by kissing his ass, and doing anything he asked them to do – ethical or not.
These cronies slipped into all of the power positions in the bakery, replacing competent people who had cultivated real and honest relationships with the previous boss through hard work and loyalty. Most of them eventually quit because they do not take having to answer to these incompetent jerks.
Naturally, business suffered. Phil was into power and so were these close associates, all leaning on the backs of fewer and fewer competent workers until those who didn’t quit, broke down, got ill or became just like the others.
Phil put the business up for sale. And he was just sly enough and had enough sly shysters to forge a contract with the new owner that set high payments, and a provision that if the new owner didn’t keep up payments, the business would revert to Phil.
At this point, he began to spread rumors among the employees – including me, dark talk about how evil the new owner was, and how corrupt, and how much worse things would get shortly, and how we all ought to get out and find new jobs before everything fell apart.
A number of people took this seriously, and got out – although being where I was and seeing what I saw I knew this was a ploy, one of Phil’s calculated moves designed to destroy the person he had made the deal with.
I asked about it later, and he laughed.
“This how things are,” he told me. “There are no rules in business or in politics. You just do what you need to do and make sure you don’t get caught.”
But like all petty dictators, Phil eventually destroyed himself. His old boss with the soda distribution company forced a settlement that took away a lot of his ready cash, and since Phil was never the businessman his inflated ego made him think he was, he was forced to sell off the bakery to more competent people under terms were far less favorable to him. He, of course, still came out ahead from when he was a mere manager his father begged an old friend to hire, but he lost the one thing he really craved: power.
“It always ends that way,” a reporter friend from
later told me. “Power never lasts.” Verona