Twenty Five Years Later – Why Me?…Why Me?… ……WHAT!!!???

(Been awhile since the last non-RV story….Many more in the pipeline…While not a classic, hope this one is worthy of a chuckle or two)

February 1994…Ionics, Inc Headquarters…Watertown, Massachusetts.

I was a few months into a project to hire and implement an outbound call center selling bottled water services to businesses. Ionics’ main business was the manufacture of membranes for municipal desalination systems but they also operated eighteen bottled water distribution offices throughout the Eastern United States. A year earlier, I more or less developed a simple system to call…rather than visit in person… businesses and close new customers after a one week free trial. This had never been done before and in later years was adopted by most other bottled water companies due to its lower acquisition costs.

Before this method, salespeople (including yours truly) used to drive to their assigned territory and literally pull doors and cold call prospects. On an average day “walking down the street”, I’d have fifty new contacts and close two or three new accounts. By phone, I could contact two hundred prospects, write fifteen one week free trials and then convert twelve (80%) into new customers. It was effective, less expensive to both employer and employee and fun. When I look back on my careers within the bottled water and filtration industries, my development of this phone sales technique was the biggest building block in my early career.

So anyway….this telemarketing center was located in Watertown, Mass, just outside of Boston. I was given twenty work stations and decided to staff forty part time folks rather than twenty full time people. While certainly more work to staff and maintain, my hunch was that two people could be more successful in four hour shifts than one person smiling and dialing for eight straight hours. Many of the employees were local college students, stay at home moms and retirees looking for extra money rather than careers.

I operated an atypical work environment within a stoic building of engineers, financial-types and bean counters. We’d be tossing Nerf footballs around…each employee had stress relief balls and mirrors at their desks to ensure that they were in fact smiling while dialing. I used some of my promotional budget to clothespin Massachusetts Lottery scratch tickets to a long string in our workplace. Each five free trials written would allow that rep to pick a scratch ticket. Long story short….we were having FUN and writing more new accounts than the local offices could keep up with.

Then, one day an employee asked to speak with me and reported that a female employee on my team was selling pot and alcohol to fellow employees in the parking lot on breaks. Given the high percentage of college students, this sale of alcohol on company property was particularly disturbing. So, I brought in a senior manager and our corporate human resource manager to the conversation and over the next few days, the three of us witnessed multiple hand to hand cash transactions in the parking lot.

With full permission to terminate all involved, we first met with a few of the “buyers” who confirmed that they had indeed purchased both pot and alcohol from this fellow employee. The next morning at the start of the day, we would then terminate the “seller” and escort them from the building. As the hiring manager, I was instructed to lead the discussion.

As soon as I saw the “seller”, I asked her to come with me into an office. Standing inside were my manager and the human resource manager. Standing in a circle, I began talking in a calm / matter-of-fact voice that we had witnessed her selling drugs and alcohol to other employees. She denied all of the accusations….calmly at first, then tears…and then she began threatening to sue Ionics for defaming her reputation and character. I calmly explained that we had interviewed employees that confirmed our own observations and that she was terminated immediately and needed to remove her personal items from her work station and be escorted out.

Here’s where it gets fun…

She starts getting wild and begins poking me in the chest. The HR Manager tells her to calm down and leave the building. The employee continues her rant and then my manager explains that we have transactions on outside surveillance cameras and can obtain written statements from other employees and this can be taken to the police.

She’s now hopping up and down, crying hysterically and then leans in close to me and screams at the top of her lungs……(Wait for it)

“I know what you did.”

“Why did you do it?”

“You hurt Nancy and I’m going to tell the police where you are”

“You are going to jail!”

“You hurt her and now she can’t skate at the Olympics.”

“I know it was you.”

It went on like that for a minute or two…all the while I have no freaking idea what this nut is raving about. Then I realize that just eleven miles away from where we were standing in Watertown is Stoneham, Massachusetts – the home of Nancy Kerrigan who, just a month prior, had just been clubbed by some slick henchman of Tanya Harding in a trench coat.

Apparently I am THAT guy.

OK, given that she was likely drunk and high…I guess she could mistake me for that guy…so perhaps I should give her a pass.

Twenty five years later, I still chuckle about that termination.

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