Probably the most fun I’ve ever had on Halloween, especially at work, was back in 1987 when I was with CitiPhone on Long Island.
We had an incredibly-talented & (while generally young) experienced group of outstanding people.
We were enjoying probably the greatest year of my entire career & more than likely, the greatest year in the history of CitiPhone!
(Unfortunately, it was also the first time in my 10 years at Citi that I did NOT receive a “1” rating (“Exceptional”, top 10%) from my immediate supervisor…but we’ll talk about that “beloved” SOB, Mr. Cruz, in another story!)
Our unit was simply rolling along!
We surpassed, or equaled, our all-time bests in timeliness, productivity, efficiency, quality (measured internally), customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, financial performance.
We lost -0- employees that year, had an absenteeism rate below 3% & had no employees on “formal documentation” (corrective action program)! It was actually that last item – – no employees in trouble! – – that actually lead to that idiot lowering my rating from “1” (top 10%) to “2” (next 20%) and my leaving CitiPhone as I just couldn’t work for someone so ungrateful & absolutely delusional.
And our performance topped all other CitiPhone units & ranked amongst the very best branches/departments in all of NYB/New York Banking!
We were SMOKIN’!!!
And these people loved to party just as hard as they worked…and, at times, simultaneously.
The area had made plans for everyone to dress in costume to celebrate Halloween. And all the people looked great!
We had a nun, a hobo, a cave woman, a nurse, even a fairy princess! We had the place decorated and a ton of food & refreshments available in the training room, along with some holiday music!
I never got dressed for Halloween as I just wasn’t a costume person. Plus, I was probably scary enough so I really didn’t need a mask or props to put fear into people.
(“All bark, no bite” as someone once told me.)
But this particular holiday, my people were very insistent that I dress up in costume.
Everyone was encouraged to enjoy the festivities & take as many breaks as possible…as long as we kept a close eye on the phones. (Every ACD phone in the place had an arrow that we reprogrammed to reflect the size of the current call queue. No arrow? No calls waiting. Slowly-flashing arrow? Manageable queue size. Quickly-flashing arrow? All hands on deck!)
As it turned out, we were, indeed, able to kill the proverbial 2 birds with a single stone. Great job by everyone!
And we all had an incredibly-tight working relationship.
I absolutely loved my people. They knew me very, very well…my expectations, my insistence for excellence as we pursued perfection, my stubbornness (yeah, could you imagine?!?), my drive.
But they also appreciated the true love, respect & admiration I held for them, my willingness to go to war on their behalf & my penchant for a laid-back work atmosphere that tried to make a difficult job as enjoyable as possible.
But when I arrived for work that day, just as I normally (always?) did…suit & tie, buttoned-down white shirt & often times, the “power tie” (red)…they laid into me!
Unmercifully, no less & with absolutely no regard whatsoever for my feelings or well-being!!!
“Where’s your costume, Mike?”
“Oh, you’re too good to get dressed up & play with us, heh?”
“OMG, if that stupid fuddy-duddy Bob can dress up (Note: As a lame coach, I might add!), why can’t you? You’re no fun!”
That last comment really stung me pretty deeply.
I was hurt. Badly.
My legs wobbled as I staggered against the ropes.
Even the referee asked the doctor sitting at ringside to take a closer look at me.
“THAT’S IT!!! I’VE HAD ENOUGH!!!”
I called my wife, Laurie, for an immediate consultation.
Of course, I had to initially withstand the mandatory barrage of “I told you so!” & “Didn’t I tell you to get yourself a costume?” before I was able to turn the conversation into something productive…
“What do I do now???”, I pleaded.
“I know!”, she replied. “Gimme a few minutes to get some stuff together & dress Heather & we’ll be off!”
About 30 mins later, the cavalry finally arrived!
Laurie came armed with one of her ugly-ass robes, hair rollers, bright-red nail polish, a bra, a spatula (she wasn’t exactly fond of the kitchen so she didn’t have a rolling pin!), jewelry, slippers, etc..
Within the sanctity of my locked office, with no interior windows & reflective glass on the outside, the transformation surgery took place!
And it was a success, though it really looked as if the patient died!
When Mrs. America finally emerged, the place went crazy!!!
I gotta believe that a great many of our calls were placed on hold as she, er, I made my way up to the Control Desk.
Unlike larger call centers with separate support staffs for scheduling/forecasting, queue management, real-time adherence, systems issues, call routing, queue design & the like, our “Control Desk” had George Krekeler, a tough, experienced, non-nonsense manager who took care of all the immediate issues, including QCing every completed paper form we produced (investigations, Citicards, checkbook orders, acct maintenance, stop payments, etc.)…Fred Fucaloro our Telecomm dude in his own cube…and me, who manually produced our schedules, short & long-term forecasts, call routing schemes & whatever else was necessary to run the center from my office or while running around the joint.
The Control Desk was a raised platform, situated right in the middle of the floor.
On it, we had the ACD terminal, the Type 1 machine (used to hold funds, issue immediate credits, etc.), the Datasaab screen (for other acct & card-related maintenance functions), an ACD phone capable of silently monitoring phone calls (I always used it…in a very obvious manner, too!…to keep my people on their toes, even though I wasn’t actually listening to them on most occasions), a remote checkbook terminal from our vendor (American Bank Stationery…I also managed the program for the Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island Region & later, the entire NYB) and, of course, the famous Mickey Mouse phone!
Mickey served as the main internal number for the area. You’d often hear, “Suzie, call on Mickey!”…
…which was quite strange as we didn’t have anyone named Suzie!
Mrs. America used the Control Desk as her royal throne, as she looked upon her subjects…
…and ruled with an iron fist!
And a steel spatula.
We all had such a wonderful day! And we invited people from other units in the building (Marketing, HR, Finance, Branch Ops, Credit, Dealer Finance, etc.) to come & join us in the festivities, have a snack, enjoy themselves.
Somehow, and to this day, I’ll never understand why, they found “some of us” to look hilarious.
In fact, one of our Marketing officers (a lovely lady whose name currently escapes me…I think it might’ve been Fredda Stuart…took pictures.
*can’t leave the room as his swollen head will not fit through the doorway*
Years later, on a business trip I took from San Antonio, I’m in LIC/Long Island City (located in the borough of Queens in NYC, not Long Island) at Court Square.
I’m roaming the various floors occupied by NYB (Retail Bank support groups, Finance, Service, Sales Planning, etc.) in between meetings when I find myself in the area occupied by Marketing.
Yes, the 42nd floor.
If their door wasn’t closed & I could see that they weren’t on the phone, I’d just pop my head into people’s offices to say hello.
(I’ve always felt VERY, VERY
STRONGLY about the need to reestablish, and cultivate, the working relationships you have with people over the years. Yeah, you see them at meetings & speak with them on conference calls, but there’s nothing like a short personal visit…with no specific purpose or hidden agenda…to keep those bonds as strong as ever. Never forget that you’re working with people, not machines, and that if they actually like (tolerate? not hate?) you, that’ll go a very long way in getting stuff done!)
I knock on Ms. Marketing’s window…and upon recognizing me, she immediately gets up from behind her desk & gives me the warmest & nicest greeting in the world!
It’s called a hug and while it may not be the most professional thing in corporate America, I’ve rarely, if ever, been accused of being professional.
(Besides, I’m much more concerned with being true & genuine…yet not unprofessional.)
She shows me my Halloween picture…that she had framed & hanging on her wall!!
I was totally shocked & she’s laughing up a storm!
I told her she’s nuts & she shot it right back at me.
We had such a good time reminiscing about the good ol’ days!
No matter how long you worked somewhere or whatever position(s) you held or how “successful” you & your business was, it’s ALWAYS the personal relationships & bonds we made with people that are the most memorable.
And the most important!
We had a great li’l reunion, but then I had to hurry off to another meeting in the building before eventually returning.
I remember when Maura Markus (soon after being named the new head of U.S. Retail Bank) came down to visit us at the USCC in San Antonio.
I had worked closely with Maura when she was just a little girl growing up in National Marketing. We often referred to her as “the Queen of the Model Branch”!
She managed this program designed to totally transform our Financial Centers…physically as well as “psychologically” (in the minds of our consumers).
Instead of being presented with a row of teller stations as soon as they entered the premises, customers would encounter our sales professionals in various open-air settings & offices, with the tellers & service staff located more toward the rear of the floor.
We’d be more like a store than a bank, switching from emphasizing transaction handling to promoting an atmosphere of financial analysis, planning & sales.
Anyway, when Maura came to tour our facility with her mini-entourage, surrounded by the prerequisite group of USCC swarming bees, er, senior Directors, she entered the CitiPhone area, coincidentally, right by my office.
I hadn’t seen Maura in several years, especially during her mercurial rise to the top.
While she was receiving some rehearsed speech about CitiPhone’s role in saving the world & how we bravely slayed all those damned dangerous, fire-breathing dragons, I made my way toward the inner circle, putting my life & limb into grave danger as I’m sure I didn’t have the proper credentials.
Or anyone’s blessing, for that matter.
She turned around, left her speaker speechless, and approached me.
When we hugged & I congratulated her on assuming her rightful place on the throne, she smiled broadly & we exchanged pleasantries.
I could feel the icy stares & laser beams penetrating my skull as we spent a few precious seconds together.
“How dare he approach our new Queen without bowing first, without an official proclamation from the local Lord & without any offering of any sort!!!
“The bastard didn’t even bring any bags of gold or recently-slaughtered animals for the royal feast.
Off with his head!”
“I’ll let ya get back to your hosts, Maura! If you need anything, just lemme know!”
Don’t you just love it when your bosses are in the presence of their boss?
Seems that much of their “personalities” get surgically removed as they subserviently wait on their boss, hand & foot.
I seem to derive a lot of satisfaction when I’m able to witness the role reversal.
(And if you think that they were surprised when Maura & I hugged, it was NOTHING compared to the wide eyes & open mouths that surrounded us…when Citi’s Chairman & CEO, John Reed, gave me a warm embrace a couple of years earlier as he entered my Micrographics area when he & the Board of Directors visited us for their quarterly meeting!
I could’ve sworn that I heard a few USCC jaws drop to the floor that time!)
🤔 I was writing about Halloween, right?
*gets back on course*
Halloween…great time…stupid “costume”…picture…sees it years later.
As always, thank you so very much for listening!