Fear of Flying, Ch 4: I Get Promoted

Sorry, I’ve been distracted by life and some odd occurrences since I began writing this. My daughter says she would be creeped out but I find it amusing…

I was here: I’d finally had my “Eureka” moment and The Company’s (TC‘s) new “Package Delivery” customer had received IPCs (Illustrated Parts Catalogs) for planes with passenger doors. Also amusing.

For the next two years I wrote IPCs. During that time I was extremely lucky to work with two of the best Job Set Up people at The Company (TC).

The first was a retired military guy and though I never expected to get along with anyone who’d been career military, I both liked and admired him. When I worked with his son after my promotion I felt the same about him. They were very rare human beings. They lived and worked by ethical codes. Which means, of course, that neither of them got very far in aerospace.

The second was a divorced housewife who was funny, excellent at her job and, like the military man before her, was a wonderful teacher of not just work-related things but of life lessons. I once asked her why she stayed at The Company (TC) instead of going to a place that paid good money. She said she’d done that once but was so bored by the slow pace at the bigger company that she’d come back.

I found that to be true for most of the capable people who worked at TC, the few sprinkled here and there among the throngs of idiots with pencils. Almost all had left once and come back. It’s something I also found to be true when I later worked at big companies (one military and one combo military and commercial aircraft). [The ‘slow pace’ at large aerospace corporations was not due to lax contracts. It was due to thievery, lies, greed and cronyism.] I’ll get to those jobs eventually.

There were other reasons besides the frenetic, adrenaline pumping work pace (30 day work cycles) that kept some very brilliant people working for The Company (TC). The Company (TC) allowed those who didn’t fit into a corporate world to work there. It didn’t require them to dress up or ‘look’ or ‘act’ like everyone else and let slide those who had some problems but made up for those by doing the work of 5 people and doing it brilliantly.

If “John” was an intelligent fast worker and had a binge drinking problem, so be it. He’d work like a mad man for months and then one day someone would ask, ‘Where’s “John?” “John” had not been around for a week. No sweat. He’d be back eventually. Sure enough, a month or so later, “John” would be back at his desk and working away like a mad man. If “Sally” got depressed and disappeared on and off that was OK too since “Sally” did the work of 6 people when she was there.

This is important because it’s what allowed TC to be financially ‘successful.’ In a business concerned more with appearances and ‘blue suits’ than quality work, The Company was unique. TC didn’t allow this because it was loyal to its employees. It was to TC‘s advantage.

TC‘s problem was that there weren’t enough brilliant but flawed people to hire, hence all of the useless IPCs. The few who could ‘fix’ them couldn’t keep up with the many that could screw them up. After just short of 25 years of aerospace writing, I’m convinced that if brilliant or intelligent but ‘flawed’ people were allowed in Aero Corporations the quality of the work would improve. If and when I ever come to the end of my story, I will add something on “Business Lessons Learned” that will explain why I think that way.

While I have nothing but scorn for the work put out by TC I admire the man who started that business. Whenever I said that to others there and elsewhere they’d laugh. But I wasn’t joking. Both the military man and the divorced housewife told me the very short version of how The Company (TC) had come into being.

Before TC the only vendor IPC business in town was Company B. Both people were working there along with most of TC‘s Job Set Up people… and with Mr. H, the future owner of TC. They all loathed the place and the working conditions. Legend has it that one day Mr. H walked up to the guy who owned Company B and said, “I’m going to put you out of business.”

And he did. Something most of us have wanted to do at some point or other in our lives. Something that Mr. H actually accomplished. No small feat. That gets my admiration.

After two years or so of writing IPCs (“Is it me or is this illustration drawn totally backwards?” “It’s not you.”) I was asked if I wanted to be the Coordinator of a new group being formed to write IPLs (Illustrated Parts Lists) for new aircraft being built by The Big Aerospace Company (TBAC). I did. This caused no small amount of bad feelings on the part of many working at The Company (TC). Looking back, I don’t blame them. To that point, the first step up from Parts Listing was Job Set Up and that only after ten years writing experience. To promote me directly from Parts Listing to Coordinator of a group in two or so years was insulting to the Job Set Up people and others.

Besides the work lessons, the most important thing I learned during that time was that this was not my mother and father’s work world. I’d grown up in an era where it was understood that employers were loyal to their workers and vice versa. One horrible day at TC I watched many of the stunned older workers who’d been with Mr. H at Company B and who’d left to join him at The Company (TC) pack their belongings in cardboard boxes and trudge embarrassed down the long rows of desks and out the door.

Layoffs. It had never happened before. And they didn’t need to happen then. There was always overtime galore and no reason to lay those people off other than their age and wages. All of us young people working minimum wage had made them unnecessary. Out they went. I can still visualize that day perfectly and it’s still a dreadful thing to remember. That day tempered my admiration for Mr. H.

But for me life was going pretty good for a change. I was in my early 20s. I was, inexplicably, the Coordinator of an aerospace writing group. And the inside look that position gave me was priceless.

Next: Let The Party Begin!

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