Drinking with the boss.
|The three-martini lunch was on its way out in 1986, but it wasn’t quite gone. That was the year I became a Facilities Engineer at a certain large aerospace company in Seattle. The Facilities department was responsible for the entire plant with dozens of engineers and hundreds of support staff. My group handled the purchase and maintenance of complex CNC machine tools. Our projects often took months to complete with budgets that could reach seven figures. We were a major account for any vendor and they would do almost anything to keep our business. One sales rep set up a standing lunch ‘meeting’ that convened at a nice restaurant on the last Friday of every month. It may sound odd today, but six or eight of us would carpool with our supervisor to get a free meal and booze it up. Then we’d return to work and doze away the afternoon.
Roger was a crusty, old-school type who didn’t mince his well-salted words. We used to call him ‘Goddammit Roger’ (not to his face), because that was his favorite opening line for almost any occasion. Roger taught me a lot about how to get along in the corporate culture. Things like it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. Or, the sooner you admit a mistake, the less chewing out you’ll get. He had a rare talent for pointing out a person’s errors, in detail and at length. But he did it without a personal attack or holding a grudge. Five minutes after getting roasted we’d move on to finding a solution and all would be forgiven the next day.
He had a pretty good sense of humor, too. Once, late in the afternoon, we were sitting in his office reflecting on a particularly difficult day of crisis management. Roger shook his head and muttered, “Goddammit! It’s a good thing I work at this circus. Otherwise, I’d have to buy a ticket to get in and see the show!”
My favorite Roger story took place at the restaurant where we met with our favorite vendor for a liquid lunch. One of my co-workers made a big show of ordering a dry martini.
“I want it dry, very dry, just sort of wave the vermouth over the glass,” Ed instructed the waiter.
‘Goddammit!” exclaimed Roger. “Just admit you’re an alcoholic and order a glass of gin!”
Everybody laughed and Roger looked pleased with himself. Then he leaned over and gave me a bit of fatherly advice gleaned from long experience in the industry.
“Terry,” he said. “Always order something that people can smell on your breath. Otherwise, when you go back to work, they’ll think you’re just stupid.”