View Termination Man on Amazon.com
Chapter 2 (continued)
“For nine years I was a production line operator at this fuel pump company. Great Lakes Fuel Systems. It was originally a family-owned company. Great place to work. The president of the company, Joe Mentzel, was the grandson of the original founder. He was an old German named Klaus Mentzel. Good man.”
“Joe or Klaus?”
“Both of them. Of course I never knew the old man. Klaus Mentzel founded the company back in like 1952 or 1953. Been dead for years. His grandson, Joe, though, he was a prince to work for. Cared about his employees. Knew each one of us by name. He used to walk the factory floor, stopping here and there to ask questions. Yeah, he cared about the bottom line. He also cared about making sure that Great Lakes Fuel Systems was the sort of company where people would want to work.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming here.”
“You got that right. One day Joe Mentzel has a stroke. He’s sixty-four years old and he has to retire, all of a sudden like. His only child is a married daughter who lives in another state. So he has to sell the company to this big conglomerate. At least that's what he ended up doing.”
I nodded. I couldn’t tell Kevin that I knew all about the “big conglomerate” that had purchased the family-run business where he had worked for most of a decade.
“And how are things going under the conglomerate?”
Kevin took a deep hit on the joint, then laughed as he exhaled, coughing halfway through.
“You alright, man?” I asked.
He waved me away. “I’m fine, I’m fine.” He righted himself and smoked some more Citral. “Things have totally changed under the conglomerate.”
“How have they changed?”
“Well, on the very first day that the new ownership became official, the new management called us into a meeting. They told us outright that the company that the Mentzels had run for sixty years was a thing of the past.”
“They said that?”
“In so many words. They said that now Great Lakes Fuel Systems was a part of a much larger company, one that was responsible to stockholders. So that meant that margins would have to improve.”
“Wasn’t the company profitable under the Mentzels?”
I knew the answer to this question, needless to say. GLFS had been a moderately profitable operation when it was a family-run concern. The company couldn’t have stayed in business since the Eisenhower years if it had been losing money, after all.
But there is a difference between profitability at the family-run company level, and profitability at the publicly traded, Fortune 500 level. Under independent management, the company is the company. Under Fortune 500 management, the company is the balance sheet. Fortune 500 managers earn their six- and seven-figure salaries based on their abilities to maximize share prices and shareholder earnings. They have to measure profitability against every other company in their industries—including companies that pay workers a dollar an hour in Mexico or China. “Good enough” becomes no longer good enough. That is just the nature of global big business in the twenty-first century. Don’t like it? Then don’t work for a big company—or for a smaller company that has been acquired by one.
* * *
Serial to be continued. Visit the Serials page for links to more of Termination Man, or purchase the entire book from Amazon.com.