Sunday, September 28, 2008

My First Boss (of my first REAL job)

I was out of college with my B.A. in Psychology. I had no money. I was thinking of going back to school to get an MBA, but I needed money to do that. I needed my first "real" job. At first I started sending out resumes with cover letters. After a period of no responses, I actually picked up the phone book and started cold calling.

Finally I got 2 responses to my resumes. One was from Wyse Advertising. I really wanted to work there. The second was from an insurance firm. I really did NOT want to work there. Both interviews were scheduled for the same day. I would take the rapid transit downtown, walk to the first interview (the insurance one), and then walk to the second interview at Wyse Advertising.

I got to the first interview. I was interviewed by Tom. Tom was an insurance salesman who was hiring someone to service his accounts. He started to tell me all about the job. I was not listening. I was busy thinking about my next interview. After talking for a while, he stopped and asked, of all the responsibilities he had just described, which one interested me the most. I panicked. And then his last words came back to me and I reiterated them. They were the only words I remembered. Soon after, the interview ended and I walked over to my coveted job at Wyse. It was full of young people and the atmosphere was lively. This is where I wanted to work. The interview went ok, and then the interviewer said it would be about 6 weeks til they filled the position. Six weeks!!! That was way too long. I came home depressed, and Tom called a few days later and offered me the job. I accepted.

I knew nothing about insurance. To me, the definition of insurance was "boring." Tom was a bear to work for. He was a very bright guy who had no patience for incompetence. He was a perfectionist. If you made a mistake, you would never hear the end of it. I was miserable. I hated Tom. I hated going to work. I found a second job, working nights at a restaurant. That was much more enjoyable than my day job with Tom. With two jobs, I had hope of making enough money to go back to school in a year.

I finally made a friend. We had the same birthday and we were similar. Having a friend made the job easier, but I was still working for Tom. As the year progressed, I decided I was definitely going to go back to school for that MBA. The job started to feel more comfortable to me, but I had bigger fish to fry. After a year of working for Tom, I told him I was going back to school. He offered me more money. I said no. I had a boyfriend up in Toronto where I was going to school, and we were going to live together, and I was going to be worth so much money with that MBA! Nothing he said could have persuaded me to stay.

I left in August. I was enrolled in a 2 year MBA program. In year 2, Tom called me out of the blue. He had started a new company. Was I interested in working for him when I got my MBA? Thanks anyway, but no, I said. I was gonna have my MBA. I was gonna work for a big company and make a lot of money! Well Tom offered to let me work for him while I looked for that dream job of mine, and I accepted that offer.

I returned to Cleveland and started to work for Tom while I job searched. Tom's company was small but it was growing. I applied for a job at Merrill Lynch. I had a very brief interview and then took a test there. The next day, someone called to tell me that I had done very well on the test and they wanted me to participate in their "simulation" program. This was an evening set aside for the final applicants. We had to pretend we were stockbrokers. Our phones rang continuously, announcements were made about special offerings of stocks, and as we participated in this game, we were being watched and evaluated. We were told that a decision would be made in 10 days; we were given the exact date.

I was sure I had failed terribly. On that 10th day, I did something I had never done: I didn't wash my hair. I was depressed and didn't care what I looked like. I put on my ratty old suit and went to work. At 9:30 that morning, I got a call from the Merrill Lynch guy - could we meet for lunch in 2.5 hours? OK, I said, freaking out. I immediately walked up to Higbees, the downtown department store. I bought a suit I couldn't afford. I pleaded with the lady to have a button moved. I walked out of there in my new bright red suit with a cream colored silk blouse, carrying my old ragged suit in a bag. I met my Merrill Lynch guy for lunch. He wanted to know if I wanted the job. Did I want the job? Of course I wanted the job! I was gonna be a stockbroker! This was big time stuff!

So I came back to work and told Tom I had accepted the job. He wanted to take me out for drinks after work. I said ok. As we drank, he told me how much money I would make working for him. He wanted to know how much Merrill Lynch was paying me. I realized, to my great embarrassment, that the subject of money had never come up. So I said that was private (instead of saying I'm an idiot and I accepted a job having no idea what they were going to pay me). The next day I called my Merrill Lynch guy and asked what the pay was. It was not what I expected. It was very low. It was less than what I was making working for Tom. I told him that. He said, in an arrogant way, "you are getting free training from us." Despite being disappointed, I was still planning on starting with Merrill Lynch. I asked my guy when I would start and he said the HR guy would call and give me my start date. A week later, I called my guy again; I hadn't heard from the HR guy; could he tell me when I would start? He said the HR guy would call me.

Another week went by. The HR guy never called me. Meanwhile, I found I was having fun working for Tom's company that was just getting off the ground. We were responsive to our clients and they liked us. And Merrill Lynch didn't have the courtesy to tell me what day I would start working for them.

After much soul-searching, I sent the Merrill Lynch guy a letter, telling him I had changed my mind and would not be accepting the job.

I learned a lot working for Tom. He demanded excellence. We all worked together to achieve it. We put in long hours, and the company grew. We provided quality service, and clients stayed with us.

Six years after I had been back, Tom's behavior started to change. His memory had been impeccable, and suddenly he could remember nothing. Those of us who had worked with him all these years noticed the change. His wife noticed the change. She took him to see a doctor.

In the meantime, I had been married and hubby and I were looking to start a family. I suspected I might be pregnant. One day I planned to drive to the doctor's office on my lunch hour and get a pregnancy test. Shortly before I was going to leave, a co-worker came and told me that Tom's wife had called. Three of us who were officers of the company were to leave at that moment to meet her and Tom at his doctor's office. We got there and Tom's wife was crying. The doctor explained that Tom had a brain tumor. It was shocking news, but we all knew that something had been wrong for a while. The doctor went on to say that he thought the tumor was benign and that it could be treated. We got back to the office, and I flew out to my doctor's office to get my pregnancy test. I got the results later that day; it was positive.

Unfortunately, Tom's news was not positive. It ended up that he had a malignant brain tumor, stage 4, which could not be treated. His wife drove him to work. He had no memory at all. He went through radiation. He continued on a downward slide.

When I had announced my pregnancy, Tom and his wife sent me roses. When I went to see Tom in the hospital, he said he didn't think I would return to work after giving birth. I told him I would. He said he didn't blame me if I didn't.

Eight months after that day that was such a mixture of emotions, I delivered a beautiful baby girl. Tom died three weeks later. I was so looking forward to him seeing my baby, but he was way too sick at that point.

When my son was born two years later, I gave him the middle name Thomas. And I hoped that he would have that same striving for excellence that Boss Tom did. Tom was a wonderful mentor. He taught me to accept nothing but excellence. I miss him. He was one of a kind.


Jeanie said...

I never knew all this -- I'd heard about Tom, of course, but not the history. I don't think I knew Joe's middle name was Thomas. How'd that happen?

Sharon said...

I remember Tom so well! Of course, I used to see him every Friday night when I would walk up to your office to pick you up for our usual Chinese food and movie night. He was very nice to me.

I also remember the day you bought the "suit you couldn't afford." I even remember the price, I think! I thought you were crazy!

AOM-1 said...

I thought this was beautiful story. I had known about Tom, as you have always spoken so dearly about this special man. I did not know that your son's middle name was in honor of Tom, and I think tht makes this story that much more special.

What a wonderful tribute your story is to your friend Tom!