Thursday, July 14, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #26

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY RETAIL CAREER

Written : November 8, 2004

It would have been February 1997. My written statement of the events of a few nights before clutched in my hand, I managed nervous smiles to all the staff members as I made my way up the staircase in Donnelly Sport’s HQ on O’Connell St, Dublin. Bill Dobson, the Operations Manager who had summonsed me, was at the top of the stairs, and stoically led me into a private office, along with Katrina O’Sullivan from HR and Managing Director Pat Macken’s PA, whose name I think was Sarah. She was supposedly there as “my witness”.

What proceeded was a kangaroo court whereby Mr Dobson turned my account of the story into a means by which I could be fired from the company. I vividly remember the moment when he mentioned the word “terminated”. I could not have felt lower. Well that’s not quite true. My wife’s initial reaction to the news of “Oh my God what am I going to tell the people I work with?” managed to knock me down a few more pegs.

This is not meant to be a medium whereby I protest my innocence. Suffice to say that a subsequent legal challenge under the Unfair Dismissals Act proved successful to the tune of an amount which more than made up for my loss of earnings between then and the start of my new job for their principal competitor.

The simple fact of the matter is that had my performance as a retail manager in the Donnelly Sports chain had been satisfactory, I would not have found myself in that position. And by performance I mean the political ball game which needed to be played to advance within any organization. I was absolutely awful at it. I was neutered by desires not to be seen kissing people’s arses, and also not to be seen looking for kisses sent in my posterior’s direction. I just got on with my job and tried to be fair.

All this seemed a long way away from my Psychology degree which I had picked up 6 years earlier. Most would be thinking of how they would make the most of a having achieved a 2.1 honours grade, but not me, I was planning to get hitched and set off around the world. I can honestly say that it wasn’t just a case of me thinking career choices was something for the future, it was something I did not think about at all.

When we arrived in San Francisco shortly after our wedding day, it was my love of all things sporting that sent me into Copeland’s Sports on 5th and Market in search of a job. When I left a year later, I was told that I was a good candidate for a trainee management position, and this sounded attractive to me. The next job in Hermans in Boston was more of the same, really, and once MyX fell pregnant with our first child our thoughts were directed at returning home.

And so my American experience was to stand me in good stead for my interviews for Donnelly Sports in May of ’94. The sporting goods industry was relatively young at the time, and Pat Macken had a clear vision as to where to go with his chain. I started in their branch in the Ilac Centre and again was quick to catch the eye of my superiors, so much so that I was bumped up to Assistant Manager of Grafton Street before long.

It was here my fortunes started to decline. The staff of the company, especially those in Grafton Street, were, shall we say, fond of the nightlife. Desperate to fit in, I fell between the two stools of bonding with my work colleagues and supporting my young family. I never knew where I was going, and my work suffered. I was dumped over to Assistant of a smaller branch not far away, a kick up the arse which led to a good recovery and resulted in my taking over as manager in my own right.

And so I was elevated to the next level, and I was expected to “play the game”. Meanwhile I was also expected to stay at home more, as our second child had now been born. Looking back it is hard to imagine how I could have managed both easily. Few of my peers had young kids. It wasn’t the done thing. I was torn between my two lives and spent most of my time putting out fires from one to the other. It did not take Bill Dobson long to spot this when he came along. His job was to turf out the weeds, and I was one of them. His own tenure as the company’s hatchet-man lasted just six months.

The competitor gig was fine while it lasted; I shifted from store to store until being given my own shop on the northside. This would have been perfect if only I could drive. Instead the hours I needed to put in there were exacerbated by the time I spent getting two buses to and from the place. It was while I was here that my marriage failed, though the job was only a bit player. Having moved out of home, I left the company of my own accord as I felt I had to start afresh.

Neither of my next two jobs, one in a gas fire showroom and another in a smaller sports chain, inspired me as anything worth taking through to retirement. As of now I’m still not sure if my inheritance from my grandmother’s cousin was a blessing or a curse, but the result is I am here today with a poor CV and little certainty as to what the future holds. Officially I am my grandmother’s carer and a part-time father, but I fear posterity will choose not to praise me for these achievements. An iron will need to be pulled from the fire pretty soon, that’s for sure.

© JL Pagano 2004

PS : In case anyone reading this knows both me and the real company in question, I wish to point out that it is under new management these days and would by no means be associated with the behaviour of those in charge during my time in their employment. My behaviour, on the other hand, hasn't changed so much.

NEXT, #27 : 1000 WORDS ON…THE AIRPORT INCIDENT

1 comment:

shandi said...

Well, I'm sure that I wouldn't be the first to say that what you are doing for your grandmother is thoughtful and honorable. It takes a selfless person to spend their days caring for the health and welfare of another. I can think of a million careers that while bringing a larger paycheck, would not be as appreciated.
I know that one of these days, I will be called to the same cause when my mother enters her twighlight years.
Thanks for taking us through your journey.