In 1976 the primary focus of my executive search business was in finding people with public accounting background to place with corporate audit staffs. I was recruiting one day from one of what were then known as “the Big 8” firms when I spoke with a young man. He told me that he was leaving his firm to start his own company and added that he was looking for investors.
He and two other members of his firm were starting a business which was going to repackage old song hits. They were going to sell these on a mail-order only basis and were going to be millionaires. At least that was the plan.
The company’s ads – which aired over late night television – all began, “Sessions Presents…” Perhaps you heard some of them. The first package that the company put together was a compilation of Connie Francis’ greatest hits.
I made a modest investment in the company and at the end of our first Christmas season attended a stockholders meeting. The company was within inches of insolvency. We had sold a lot of product – but we had overpaid for our advertising during the pre-Christmas season. Those costs far outweighed our profits.
So the shareholders had to decide. Did we want to fold the company or make an additional investment to keep the company going for another year? Some of us chose to take the risk – others chose to take their loss and move on to other ventures. Those of us who stuck with it kicked in more money to enable us to survive what would be our second and perhaps final year.
That next year we began making a little bit of money. The first quarter was good, the second okay but summer was slow as people were involved in other activities than watching television. And then came the period to which most businesses look forward – that period before Christmas. That was our dead season. We looked forward to starting our extensive ad campaign on December 26th.
During the summer, one of the original founders, who was in charge of the fulfillment center, left the company. The remaining two asked if I would take over his duties. I agreed to this four month commitment and promised that I would find someone to replace me when our busy season had ended.
Our projections were that we should sell no less than 150,000 records, eight-tracks and cassettes during the first quarter. As it turned out we sold over 250,000. When we were in high gear, I worked two shifts a day six days a week and one shift on Sunday through the entire first quarter.
The fulfillment facility had a permanent staff of only eight employees. But during our busy season I needed to hire 125 people. These employees would open the orders which were forwarded to us by the television stations, remove the checks and money orders (and even cash) which were sent to us, input the customers’ addresses into our computer system, print the labels and pull and package the products for shipment.
I began hiring for these positions at the beginning of December. That was a tough time of year to recruit since people were more focused on the Holidays than they were on employment. The fact that it was a full time position but would only last three months added to the difficulty.
I was twenty short of the number of people I needed and had no further applicants to interview. Then I happened to read about a private agency in a nearby suburb that assisted wheelchair-confined individuals in finding employment.
I called them and explained my situation and the skills I needed. They assured me that they could find me the necessary twenty people – and would provide them transportation in a special bus that they owned. They came through for me with flying colors.
This was before there were requirements that provision had to be made so that handicapped people would have a way of gaining entrance to a business via ramps. So John, who headed up our shipping department, the bus driver and I would help them over the curb leading to our facility.
As I was walking to the door one day to assist these employees, I heard one of my permanent staff make the comment, “Here comes the geek squad.” It was one of the few times in my life that I was truly mad. But I continued to get our employees in from the winter weather and then asked the employee who had made the comment to see me in my office.
My comments to her were brief. I said, “Darla, you don’t know how lucky you and I are. We don’t have to deal with a handicap – and we should be grateful for that. The people you refer to as the ‘geek squad’ would trade places with us in a heartbeat. So if I ever hear you make a comment like that again, rest assured it will be the last words out of your mouth as an employee of this company. Am I clear?”
I never heard her say anything disparaging about these employees again. In fact, she went out of her way to try to assist them. I was delighted to see her attitude adjustment. And as Darla was second cousin to the town criers of old – I think our conversation in my office made the rounds.
Based on my experience with these handicapped workers, I would have filled the entire distribution center with them. Not one of them ever missed a single day of work – and the volume and quality of their work output matched or exceeded that of their co-workers who had all their physical capabilities.
I never heard a single word of complaint from any of them. But most importantly, when I passed out the paychecks each Friday, each one thanked me – and on their face was a look of sincere gratitude.
I knew that they meant it.