My last day in a corporate environment was April 20, 2016. It felt like the great escape. I have spent the last year and a half overthinking my career history and vowing to learn from it and never return. I was immensely unhappy and I refused to live with that. I made a promise to myself the day I left my corporate job that I would never sell my soul to make money ever again. I am certain that my purpose in life does not revolve around building profits for shareholders. I have not gained wealth since my resignation but I have gained a sense of inner peace and invested my time in only things I am passionate about which has translated into a steady, modest income. It is true. We do not HAVE to be a slave to the grind and I am officially done conforming with the insanity. Best decision of my life. The end.
If you’ve followed my story from the beginning you know that I have worked consistently since I was a young teen and started out working in the office where mom was the accounts payable manager. I had several clerical positions throughout my teens and early 20’s as well.
I started bartending and serving when I was 21 after working in clerical jobs. I worked in a small neighborhood bar with a regular after work crowd, mostly blue collar workers and men who worked at the nearby auto auction. I bartended in a truck stop that had live music 7 nights a week and a 24 hour restaurant. That’s where I learned all about “red beer” which was draft beer in a frosty glass with tomato juice in it, sometimes spicy. This was back in the 90s before “Micheladas” were all the rage.
I served a rough crowd in a few establishments and often suffered verbal abuse because of my obesity. Bartending gave me consistent income and the cash every day was a perk so I soldiered through the abuse and shared my charm with anyone who would accept me for me. There were some awful people out there but for the most part I had a way with customers that made them come back to see me on a regular basis. This only built my confidence for days when there were jerks at the bar making fat jokes. I became a better bartender because of it and a very efficient server. When you are 350lbs. and carrying a tray full of beer, there are people just watching and waiting for you to trip, fall and make an ass of yourself. There are people who like to purposely put their foot in the walkway to trip you just to embarrass you. F*&% those people. I became a rock star server so I never had to worry about looking like a fool. I was a size 26 when the other girls were a size 6 but I could make a hell of a drink. My customers knew it too! My skin is thicker than most and I know what it is to smile while someone bullies me. This is why I’m the first to stand up for the injustice of others. People are cruel. When I read and listen to discussions today about the “size acceptance” movement it gives me mixed feelings because of the health factor but it warms my heart to see women with extra pounds be seen as human beings. When I was growing up and struggling with weight it was not acceptable. I always had friends but boys wouldn’t give me the time of day unless it was to be their BFF. I was always cool enough to hang out with but it wasn’t cool to kiss a fat girl. I spent my early life feeling like I didn’t exist to people who looked down on my weight. Today, I see young men and boys holding hands very large girls and women. It’s just proof that a change of mindset changes everything with time. There is hope.
During that time I also worked as an on-call banquet bartender and server for a hotel chain in Portland. This corporation misled me. They were organized. They paid well. They staffed appropriately to make sure the workload was manageable and service was optimal. I worked there nearly 2 years and truly thought this was normal. Those jerks. They lied to me!
Working for the Double Tree Hotel chain in the 90’s taught me how to run an event without missing a detail. Everything was carefully planned and laid out in advance, right down to the number of plates needed for a buffet line. Every employee had a role and there was enough staff to properly run the event.
I just assumed every place operated this way but I’ve learned over the years that they were in the minority. Who knows if it is still the same today but I can promise you that I’ve never worked in a foodservice operation or hotel that owned enough forks and water pitchers to properly execute an event since leaving Doubletree in the 90’s. Does that sound crazy to you? It should. What I’m telling you is that you’ve likely attended a black tie function, wedding or special event catered at a price tag of $70+ per plate and there were not enough forks to feed you all the courses on the menu. This means that your server (who is expected to give stellar service) is running bus tubs full of dirty forks from the dinner course to the kitchen in the middle of dinner service and begging the dishwasher to stop what they are doing to wash the forks so you can serve desert. Ludacris, right? You better have a tight friendship with those dishwashers too! They don’t HAVE to stop what they are doing to help you.
How about water pitchers? Is it asinine to expect a huge corporate hotel chain to own enough water pitchers to serve a banquet? They don’t. That would mean spending money on things needed to run efficiently. By not purchasing the proper tools it simply passes the responsibility to the minimum wage worker to work harder and run faster… for a damn fork or water pitcher. After all, do you think the Food & Beverage Director is the one getting mistreated by annoyed guests when a server is unable to provide efficient service? No, that director just expects service to be stellar, obstacles be damned! By keeping operating and supply costs down that Director meets his budget “goal” which is a criteria for his personal bonus. So, no water pitchers for the hotel. In hotels with multiple foodservice outlets this actually creates a hostile work environment where employees in food outlets label and hide equipment from one another for fear it won’t be available to them when they need it. I’ve seen heated arguments and hostility first hand between coworkers because of supply hoarding work habits. This is such an unnecessary but real frustration in many service industry jobs.
Are you the owner of a business that has constant morale or service issues? Please ask yourself if your staff is adequately equipped to meet your expectations. If you are too cheap to provide properly working equipment and the inventory required to serve your client your employees will not perform for you. Eventually, they will just stop serving water because it’s a pain in the ass. Your customer is going to go thirsty and it is your fault. You have a choice. Do you fire the server for providing bad service or do you provide the equipment they need so they are able to serve water without fighting for a pitcher to put it in? The choice is yours but this is how companies lose really good employees for really dumb reasons. Listen to your employees. They know your customer better than you in many cases. If they need a tool that is reasonable, provide it!
My question is, why do employees have to fight so hard to get the basic resources they need to serve customers? When the company you work for is reporting record profits and they don’t own enough forks, there is a serious common sense problem and it has a huge impact on the work place. It contributes to the employees’ constant anxiety and feeling of failure, especially when they speak up and ask for the tools and are treated as though they are being unreasonable and difficult. I’m guilty of being THAT employee. You know… the one who wants to make things more efficient without sacrificing service? I’m the one that speaks up when something isn’t working. This is my greatest asset and liability in the workplace because when information falls on deaf or unwilling ears, I can’t tolerate the complacency and ignorance. I’m just not built that way.
I left The Doubletree, truck stop and neighborhood bar and grill when I relocated back to California from Portland. I took a job at a small neighborhood bar in Hayward, CA but I didn’t stay long. The regular crowd liked to come in after the owner was drunk so they could drink free. They weren’t big on gratuities either so the pay was too low to justify the gas I put in my car to go to work every week. I started feeling the itch to grow professionally and decided that going back to administrative work was the way to make that happen.
When I was in my early 20’s I applied for a job at Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream. I didn’t graduate from high school in 1994 with my class which I talk about in my previous chapters and this was the first job I can remember leaving the question about high school graduation on my job application blank. I didn’t want to lie and preferred they ask me why rather than writing down what sounded like an excuse. They never asked and hired me in their call center where we handled orders and customer service for foodservice customers who purchased ice cream in Bulk (3 gallon tubs.) This included movie theater chains, hotel chains, ice cream parlors and large restaurant chains.
I was proud of myself when they hired me because I remember feeling completely under qualified for the job when I applied. I applied anyway. I remember interviewing and being overcome with fear that this was more responsibility than I was capable of. Every administrative position I’d held before was completely manual with only shared access to a common computer for word processing and data entry. This job meant a dedicated desk, phone, computer and headset. My whole day was spent in front of the screen and on the phone with customers.
I knew the basic operation of the computer but I was not anywhere as advanced as the people in my new work environment so I knew I had to learn, and I did; by chatting in chatrooms in my personal time (that’s a book all in itself because that was 20 years ago when chatting was something you didn’t admit to). I chatted so often that I went from typing about 25wpm accurately to 80wpm and 10 key by touch. I also learned about using email and the internet comfortably which was new to all of us back then.
Between my work and personal life I became very computer literate and efficient in several programs, mostly self-taught. Finding shortcuts and efficient ways of completing tasks was one of my strengths. I applied that strength at work and it rewarded me greatly. I went from managing a small territory to overseeing multiple territories. I learned the computer inventory system inside and out and became a “go to” person for troubleshooting service issues, data entry and delivery issues across multiple states. I opened up line of communication between sales, distribution and customer service which did not exist before. As my internal and external relationships grew I was given the opportunity to travel to our distribution centers in City of Industry, CA Houston, TX and Bronx, NY. My objective was to present solutions to reoccurring challenges and bridge the communication gap between sales, distribution and the call center. These were all proven practices I put into place in the markets I was responsible for and they worked!
I was very young without a credit card or ATM card and traveling with less than $100 cash in my pocket during that time. I didn’t have a cell phone or GPS and had to rely on the company to make all my reservations ahead of time for hotels and car rentals. I was scared to death but I traveled any time they gave me the opportunity. I thrived on the challenge of the experience. In 2002, I flew to Houston with 2 plane changes, rented a car and found my hotel at 3am after hours of flight delays. The drive was long and scary and I remember all the tolls along the way and not knowing what to do. I made it to the distribution center for my meeting at 7am, early enough to have coffee too! Thankfully, I knew how to read a map. It saved me then and would save me today if GPS died. I still keep one in my car.
Thinking about that time period feels so foreign to me now. I can’t imagine leaving my house today with less than $100 in my pocket and no credit or ATM card for a 5 day trip to Houston (7 hours of flights), a 45 minute drive to my hotel and distribution center and only a paper map with no cell phone to call for help. 23 years old. Some of the 23 year olds I know today might see that as equal to an “Amazing Race” challenge. Back then, that was my normal and I survived to tell the story. Go me!
Dreyer’s was the second corporation I worked for that truly lied to me. They made me believe that all corporations cared about their employees to include pay, benefits, training and providing on the job resources. They made me believe that I would be rewarded for my efforts in my professional life. My pay raises were equal to dollar amounts per hour. In fact, the first time I got a 2% increase of my annual salary through a future employer it felt like a slap in the face on my paycheck. It was almost non-existent but seems to be the way corporations compensate people today. If you don’t make a sizeable salary, that 2% annual increase is about $8-11 a week after taxes. How much extra work can you squeeze out of someone for $8 more per week? That’s the corporate game. 20 years ago, I was compensated for my skills and hard work through increased wages and bonuses. The bonus structure was attainable back then too!
When I started with Dreyer’s the call center was located in Union City, CA, about 2 miles away from the manufacturing plant where the ice cream was made. My elementary school went on a tour of this plant when I was a kid because it was so close to my hometown so I remember it feeling like a big deal that I worked here. It was this huge place that I always visited as a kid and they made ice cream. Now, all the sudden I work there and service their customers! So freaking cool!
If you go back to my blog entry, Someone forgot to tell me about college I talk about catty women in the workplace. I learned all about them as a young teen in my after school jobs. When I started at Dreyer’s the call center was full of catty women and the scene was all too familiar. They considered themselves a “family environment” which only works when you are a family who tells it like it is. This “family” coddled poor performance and covered for each other when mistakes were made instead of addressing things truthfully. It was a very “clicky” environment and the manager of the call center had her favorites. The gossip and drama was out of control and she was the center of it. I saw it from day 1 and tried to remain neutral and professional by staying out of it. I decided early on to focus on the job and learning as much as possible rather than get involved with the office games. There were a few really genuine people who worked there and I am still in touch with them today. There were a lot of immature jealous women that worked there and aside from tolerating one another for the sake of professionalism during that time, I did not continue relationships with them beyond my time with the company.
A little over a year after I started working at Dreyer’s, the corporate office replaced the call center manager with a new manager who had a much more rigid style. The “family” crumbled. She was so rigid that she would not socially interact with employees on a personal level and she all but canceled holiday parties and the little office traditions that made the environment fun. She went in the complete opposite direction of the previous manager who wanted to be everyone’s mom or friend. She went completely overboard and was the new office Scrooge! The new structure didn’t work for the “family” and people either resigned or were terminated over time.
All the employees came and went but I stayed for about 5 years. To this day I can identify the reason I survived a full turnover 6 times and 2 location moves. It’s because of my willingness to speak up.
The new manager was rigid and professional. She came in with a college degree and an employee manual she intended to follow to a fault. She approached her new position in a way that told us how we were going to do our jobs from now on. She laid out a structured game plan and unreasonable goals. She did all of this in a meeting with our entire team. The response was like a kindergarten daycare.
A room full of adults pouting with their arms crossed, sighing heavily about the changes. There were stomping feet and threats to quit. There were protests to other managers in an effort to gain allegiance. They gossiped and got angry. They called off sick. They reacted every way possible except the most obvious which was to have an open dialogue about how these changes were not the best decision for our customers, work schedules and distribution centers. Seriously, not one person except myself and one other woman could calmly articulate to this new manager about why her preconceived notions of how we were going to manage our business in the future was not going to work. She was dead wrong. She was so misinformed and truly sounded like a fool in our meeting because of her assumptions. Instead of pouting and crossing my arms, I told her she was crazy. I was confident that I had more tangible information to offer and did not hesitate to say so. Why did everyone else sit and pout and create drama? Who knows? It seems to be the typical practice in the workplace, though. I wish it would stop. From my perspective, those women were insecure in their ability to communicate so they shut down and acted catty instead because they didn’t want to make a better suggestion or accept change. There were 2 men as well and they both pouted like children.
Yes, I told my new boss that she had no idea what she was talking about. I walked in her office (where she looked completely defeated) after the meeting and asked to schedule a time to meet with her to discuss my concerns directly. During this meeting I asked her to spend one hour at my desk learning about what I do before she assumed what could and could not be changed. She decided to spend 3. I told her she should spend a week cross training in every market and working the phones so she would be fluent in our customer database and its glitches. I laid out what the actual challenges were in each market rather than the challenges she assumed were happening because someone 4 levels above the call center gave her their far removed opinion. Her mistake was running with bad information. Her mistake was assuming she knew more than the people who were doing the job every day and you can be sure I told her that.
We immediately bonded over our ability to openly communicate and respectfully disagree. She respected my willful disobedience because it came with fact based solutions. This made me the most unpopular person on the customer service team amongst my peers. Instead of seeing that I was speaking on our behalf, the ladies on the team acted like jealous teenage girls. Instead of participating in productive discussions, they gossiped about hating the changes. Instead of being happy that I was able to get our holiday parties back with some compromise on the number of hours, etc. they were mad and accused the manager of favoritism because of the time we spent in meetings.
The changes were inevitable so I wanted to make sure they would be as realistic as possible for the team. I got involved and made a difference. We had several strategic meetings for months to follow which led to new training practices and the way we managed our customers. In fact, we were able to have a new customer contact database built around our needs because of our discussions about challenges with the current system.
The original team I started with did not last. We saw multiple turnovers. As the department changed I learned every aspect of the industry that I could. I had already worked in foodservice outlets but now I was servicing them and learning about the supply chain. I was also learning about my competitors and partner brands. I developed relationship with the delivery drivers throughout multiple states and they taught me a wealth of information about their challenges. I knew them and their struggles so well that I could do them favors to make their life easier by doubling up customer orders or moving deliveries when needed to make their route shorter or more efficient that day. I knew my customers and their peak sales times well enough to know when I could get away with making these changes without causing a service issue. Having these relationships meant when I needed a driver to make an emergency delivery 60 miles out of their way, they said, “anything for you!” I learned more about ice cream and the manufacturing process than I ever imagined. If you ever want to talk “butterfat content” or “overrun,” I’m your girl. One of the best things in life is the rich flavor of freshly made ice cream before it’s sent to the hardening room to freeze. Pure Heaven! Yea, I am an official ice cream nerd.
As my responsibilities continued to grow I was learning all about working with lazy sales people and I came to detest them! Some Sales managers had a bad habit of opening a new customer account, dropping the new account form off to the call center and never contacting the customer again. I helped a customer in a different state open his Dreyer’s branded ice cream parlor through emails and hours of phone calls because his salesperson could not be bothered to visit his establishment after the contract was signed. The guy who made the commission and bonuses on these accounts simply ignored them and left it to customer service person in a different state to handle everything by phone. I flew from California to Texas to visit the parlor at the customer’s request because he didn’t even remember his sales person by the time he opened the parlor. Customer service employees were hourly and paid much less than salaried sales people. Regardless, sales people loved to dump their work on the workers “below” them without consequence. They also liked to place blame and use the call center as the scapegoat for any issue. The only time we would hear from some of these sales people is when their account sales were lower than usual which affected their pay. If the sales person had been doing their job they wouldn’t be calling customer service to complain about decreased sales. I felt this way back then. Now that I’ve had 20 years of sales experience personally I feel exactly the same way. There were 2 stellar Sales Managers and they happened to be women. I found them to be friendly, inspiring and professional. These women knew every detail about every customer and this made them successful!
This is when I learned the difference between a really good sales person and a lazy, self-entitled sales person. I was inspired by the really great sales people and found myself more and more interested in doing their job. I did it for the most part anyway but I was locked up at a desk rather than in the field where I could get in front of people and truly make a difference. I was on a mission to be better than our lousy sales people but after nearly 5 years in ice cream, I was burnt out. My 8 hour days were now closer to 10. I was always in trouble for acquiring overtime but it was required to manage the workload they gave me. If the work didn’t get done I would have been in trouble. If I worked overtime to get the work done I would get in trouble. They were not staffed adequately to efficiently manage customers under the new Nestle call center model and no one cared to listen to reality. We had numbers to meet and we were to meet them! There was no winning in the situation and I felt like a number. The writing was on the wall so I spread my wings and submitted my resume in an entirely different field.
I started out with Dreyer’s Ice Cream in 1999 as a call center representative and resigned from Nestle Ice Cream as a Senior Customer Care Manager/Team Lead/Senior Customer Care Team Trainer in 2004. Yes, I had 3 titles by the time I left but was only being paid for one, the lowest paying one. Dreyer’s and Nestle went through a merger. The corporate culture I came to know at Dreyer’s which they called, “The Grooves” was no longer. This “Grooves” culture was enforced and it made the corporation a magical place to work. When Nestle took over that culture died a slow and painful death. We were no longer required to take “Ownership” for our decisions and had to ask permission to get basic things accomplished that we could have done on our own before. It was no longer an expectation that we show “Respect for the Individual” when interacting with internal and external customers. My personal favorite was, “Face to face communication.” This meant that before you complained about a coworker or anyone for that matter, you have enough “respect for the individual” to have an open conversation in the spirit of “face to face communication” with that person before you go to their boss or complain about them. This would allow the person a chance to respond and make a change before blowing things out of proportion or pointing fingers. Imagine what life would be like if everyone emulated those 3 behaviors in life and in the workplace? Take responsibility, Communicate honestly, face to face and show respect for one another. Dreyer’s enforced this culture and if people tried to go around their coworkers to cry to managers they were asked, “did you discuss this with your coworker first?” It was a culture that implemented a policy of courtesy and respect and I’m telling you it worked!
I oversaw the transition of over 2,000 accounts from the Dreyer’s to Nestle system. In 2003, I traveled to NY to train Nestle plant employees on the Dreyer’s distribution system. After Nestle took over the corporate culture changed. I was no longer rewarded for my work. Our bonus structure was not attainable. The focus was to answer a certain number of calls every day rather than handle customer issues to completion. The objective was to take a larger quantity of calls in a shorter period of time which meant providing abbreviated service. It was a fight to get things accomplished for my accounts within the new limitations set throughout our distribution centers and I was exhausted from getting yelled at daily over things beyond my control. My customers were angry and my coworkers were unhappy. It did not matter how open or realistic my boss was because there was a corporate Nestle executive making uninformed decisions for us. I literally felt like I was working with a timer at my desk to count the seconds I’ve invested in helping a customer and if I exceeded the time I would be held accountable for it. It sucked!
I decided to move on and accepted my very first Sales position for a cosmetics company based in Lema, Peru. Their office was in San Francisco. The salary was $15,000 more than I made at Dreyer’s. I got a brand new car, a benefits package and the freedom to do what I did best… Sales and customer service. This time it was face to face!! My new title was “Area Sales Manager” and my workspace was my spare bedroom at home in San Leandro, CA. This was the 2nd job I left the “Did you graduate from high school?” question blank on my job application because the answer was no. I left the college part blank too because there was nothing to write other than the Grooves Facilitator, “Train the Trainer” course I took. My resume and skills spoke louder than the blank spaces in the education portion of my job application so I took the opportunity and ran with it. How was I going to be a kick ass Area Sales Manager for this company that was brand new to the US? Challenge accepted!
Just now joining me? You can start from the beginning at: When a Ginger Snaps