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Amusing anecdotes – part 1

In this series of posts I would like to share with you some of the funny, strange and weird happenings that have occurred to me, or have been recounted to me, over the last few decades. In true writers fashion, almost all names and some locations have been changed, to spare any discomfort to those to whom the stories refer.

The IQ challenged group

The following two stories involve separate individuals; the time and location is different but the theme is similar.

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The first account is of a chap who was employed as a driver, in a firm of which I was General Manager many years ago. This chap’s nickname was what we might call eponymous, in that it was “Crusher”, he had the physique of a demolition cube, rather than a demolition ball. In work he was an affable and sedulous fellow, nothing was ever too much trouble but he did lack… let’s call it initiative.

One day, the Managing Director of the firm had a call from a major customer, who needed immediate delivery of a product the precise moment it was finished.

The MD called out to Crusher,

“Crusher!…I need you to go to London!”,

“no problem, boss”, came the compliant response

After a couple of hours, the product was finished and Crusher was being called upon to deliver this hugely important and urgent product to the customer.

“where’s Crusher?”, the MD asked me,

“I dunno, I’ll call him now”, I replied.

The ensuing call went something like this:

 “Crusher, where are you?”, I asked,

“London”, came the reply.

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My next enlightening encounter came a few years later when I was responsible for setting up a new manufacturing site that was going through a rapid recruitment drive. Back in those days I was mistakenly obsessed with selecting each team member myself, so when the time came to employ a full-time factory cleaner, I was insistent on carrying out the recruitment.

The chap I found standing in front of me was Alexander; this wasn’t going to be a drawn out process, he looked like he had all his faculties in place and seemed fit, he was also related, in some way, to one of the other members of  staff; an easy decision.

The conversation with Alexander went something like this:

“Hello Alexander. Thanks for coming to see me, I hear you’d like to be the cleaner here, helping to clean the machines.”, I said, to which he responded,

“Yeah, I’d be good at that”.

Perfect, I thought, so I continued,

“right, I know you’re related to (other employee) so that’s good enough for me, you’ve got the job. What I’d like you to do is to get a cleaning rag from the store over there and some cleaning spray and make sure the machines are clean, is that clear?”

“yep”, he replied and off he went and so did I.

Due to how busy we were, a week must have passed before I could make my next visit to the factory floor; I was shocked at what I saw. The place was filthy; a complete mess, so off I went to remonstrate with Alexander. When I found him he was where I’d left him a week earlier, happily beavering away on the machine near to where we’d had our “interview”. I went up to him, the conversation going something like this:

“Alexander, why is the place such a mess! What have you been DOING for a week?!”

It was at this point that I noticed, over his shoulder, a machine in what can only be described as Concours condition (this refers to the car competition, where judges award prizes to owners of classic vehicles that have been restored to showroom condition), something was definitely not right. Alexander looked at me with a bemused look on his face and he responded,

“I’ve been cleaning the machine, like you said”,

“but what about the rest of the machines in the factory???”, I asked in a raised voice

“you pointed at this one, I didn’t know you wanted me to do the others”.

I apologised to Alexander and walked away; lesson learnt.   

Funny stories can occur in all corners of the business world

Safety first

These two stories are quite different but they fall under the same heading of safety, a subject that I am passionate about and one that has taught me a huge amount throughout my career, mainly because of the person in the first story.

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A business that I was GM of was taken over by a large corporation, who placed a great deal of importance in H&S. In a short time I had descending upon me a rogues gallery of H&S experts, whose reputation outside of work in their “downtime” counter balanced their reputation as fierce exponents of H&S best practice. At the helm of this piratical bunch of individuals was the most serene of men, the epitome of a Health and Safety practitioner. Purposefully pessimistic, yet possessing a sympathetic and supportive nature; this was a man who always got it right, beyond question. Or…

At the end of the three day audit, the team decided that what was needed was an exercise in letting our (their) hair down. In the evening, after a few stimulating beverages, they did what appeared to be their normal end of audit ritual; they told the story of the one time that their revered leader had fallen from H&S nirvana; it went something like this (I shall call him Henry, as this is the least likely name that he would ever be called):

Henry was driving his car and trailer one weekend afternoon to the municipal rubbish site to tip off an unwanted bed and mattress. About 30 minutes into the journey, Henry looked into his rear view mirror and saw the flashing blue lights of the local constabulary. Henry pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the policeman to approach; the conversation went something like this:

“Good afternoon, Sir, may I ask where you are going?”, said the officer,

“Yes, officer. I’m on my way to the local tip to dispose of a bed and mattress that we’ve replaced at home.”, Henry replied,

“Ah,” said the officer, “would that be the bed and mattress that has caused the traffic jam about 4 miles back?”

Apparently, that was the only day that Henry ever faltered.

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My second H&S anecdote is from Saudi Arabia, a place that seems to apply “rules” in a rather fluid manner, by which I mean, a rule today could not be one tomorrow, or vice versa.

The site that I was responsible for was large, around 11,000 sqm (120,000 sq ft) and had a broad mix of nationalities, cultures and language (I think 43 different languages and 26 different nationalities).

Among many things that I brought to the business with was my passion for Safety. As this was a manufacturing business it was vital that H&S was implicitly followed, any lapses could have dire consequences.

With a workforce of over 450 employees and the plethora of languages spoken, I expected certain difficulties in communicating a consistent H&S message throughout the site but I wasn’t expecting a complete dereliction of personal safety to be one of the challenges.

On one of the H&S audits we discovered that the highest non-conforming area turned out not be an actual area but a person.

The chap in question was a Sri Lankan national. He had worked for the parent group for almost 30 years and truly believed that his length of service and being on nodding terms with the Sheikh (the CEO) elevated him above such insignificant inconveniences such as H&S rules!

The H&S officer reported back his infringements and they defied belief. He had drilled about 20 holes in his safety helmet to get air to his head (his explanation)  and had also “modified” his safety boots to make them more comfortable by ventilating the steel caps with drill holes and cutting out various sections of the leather upper!

Fortuntately, this was at the beginning of my tenure and we continued to pursue levels of H&S that ensured safety throughout the workforce. I kept both the safety helmet and the boots until the day I left, just as a reminder.

n.b. The above are just a couple of the examples of which I hope to share with you over the future of the blog. I enjoy the memories they bring back, I see them and use them as the mind cleanser for the more serious articles (I use the same technique when reading heavier material, read a lighter book at the same time).

© Andy Collinsson 2020

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