Friday, January 25th, 2013

MEMO re: Inter-departmental mail

I came across something recently that reminds me that I’m no longer young. Ask a kid today what an inter-departmental envelope is, and I bet you’d get a blank stare. Yet in the days before email, these envelopes were ubiquitous.
An inter-departmental envelope from the 90s
(click to embiggen)

In case you can’t picture a inter-department envelope, you can see one to the right. Amazingly, you can still buy envelopes like these ($26.81 for a box of 100 at Business-Supply.com), so I guess someone must still be using them.

What went into these envelopes? The same thing that later went into Microsoft Outlook and now goes into Gmail.
A memo I wrote in 1995
(click to embiggen)
Messages headed with lines indicating the date, a subject, the sender and recipients. What was known as a memorandum, or more commonly a memo, of course survives yet today in electronic form as an email.

You may not have been able to imagine what an inter-departmental envelope looked like, but you’ve used email and thus have an idea what a memo looked like, even if you never drafted one, printed multiple copies, optionally physically attached additional material by paperclip or staple, and then stuffed them into hand-addressed individual envelopes to be put in an outbox, picked up by mailroom staff, and delivered to recipients in multiple offices across a company.

If you’re curious, to the left is a copy of just such a memo, one I drafted in late 1995 in the course of my job for my first employer. This was approaching the end of an era, for early the next year I would be drafting a memo on how to send cc:Mail messages to people on the Internet.

Thus it turns out that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Office workers around the world are still, sometimes, doing productive work, but we’re also communicating endlessly about our work.

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Really out-of-date SPAM marketing lists

I just got an e-mail that made me laugh out loud, from someone working for roam4less.com. Roam4Less logo
Logo of a clueless corporation
What made me laugh was the line, “I'm sure that  The Mazer Corporation 's executives are looking for ways to reduce IT costs and diminish international cell phone roaming charges.”

Mazer Corporation logo
Logo of a dead corporation
Two problems with this e-mail from roam4less.com:

1) I haven’t been concerned with reducing IT costs for the Mazer Corporation for about ten years now.

2) No one at all at Mazer has been concerned with reducing IT costs or anything since the company abruptly shut its doors the last week of 2008.

Looks like the folks at Roam4Less need better marketing intelligence.

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

6680 Poe Avenue,
partially de-mazered
(Click image to embiggen)

Driving north of town recently I noticed that the mm Mazer logo logos had been removed from atop the former Mazer Corporation buildings on Poe Avenue, and so I decided to stop by to take some photos. Mazer was a privately-held family-run company based in Dayton for over 40 years. I worked for Mazer for almost 18 years, and my mother worked for Mazer before me for about 10, so between us we have a fair amount of the company’s history covered.

I started at the company between my sophomore and junior years in high school, as a keypuncher, typing data onto 8-inch floppy disks for batch jobs to be run on Mazer’s IBM System/36 minicomputer. Yes, I got that job because my mom was Mazer’s data processing manager, but nepotism had a long history at the Mazer Corporation, starting with the Mazer family* but not limited to them.

Those were the days when Marshall Mazer, founder of the company that bore his name, not only was still alive but still ran the company. His son, David Mazer, about whom you can find plenty of angry comments around on the web from people displeased with his handling of the demise of Mazer Corporation, was only the crown prince back then, and Marshall put David through his paces, making him learn the business from the ground up, working in every department. David even worked for my mother for a time; I remember a story she told once of David’s being angry at her for something and her replying to him, “What are you going to do, go tell daddy?”


My Neff Road business card, complete with a 513 area code and old-style embossed Mazer logo (not very visible, but it looked like this: mm Mazer logo)
(Click image to embiggen)

My mother left Mazer for a job at Reynolds+Reynolds shortly after getting me hired on at Mazer, but I stuck around, working my way up to my level of incompetence, first as a programmer and then eventually as director of MIS. Actually I did manage to be quite competent for the majority of my time at Mazer, writing quite a lot of software for systems such as paper inventory and invoicing and computerized job cost estimating, some nifty stuff for the time, even if I do say so myself.


My gay car,
parked in the Neff lot
(Click image to embiggen)

The bulk of my time at Mazer was not at its fancy new world headquarters on Poe Avenue but rather at its original Dayton plant on Neff Road, where office space was carved out in odd bits from the manufacturing and warehouse space. This is where Mazer printed vast quantities of Marshall’s invention of spirit duplicating masters, the dittoes that school children of generations past would so eagerly sniff as worksheets were passed out in class, and whose purple ink got Mazer employees banned from setting foot in the local Marion’s Piazza because a group of our press men once hadn’t changed their shoes, tracking purple all over Marion’s carpet.

It was at Mazer that I came out, at first by my increasing involvement in local gay rights groups and then by pulling into the parking lot on Neff Road in my brand new gay Mazda Miata. I wasn’t the only queer employee at Mazer, either in the offices or on the plant floor, but I was the first openly gay one. My boss at the time, Mazer’s president and Marshall’s son-in-law, wasn’t phased by my coming out—when I told him I’d written a letter to the editor that made it clear I was gay, he said, “Oh, is that all? I thought you were going to tell me you were quitting” (a reaction very similar to my uncle’s). The vanity plates I ordered for my gay car, however, did cause my boss some concern; he thought I was asking to get killed.

It was also at Mazer that I first got onto the World Wide Web, both with a personal site (http://www.mazer.com/dlauri, which the Internet Archive does not have, but I do) and with Mazer.com, hosted on a primitive Windows server running IIS for which I was responsible.

One of the last big things I did at Mazer before really reaching my level of incompetence was helping to plan the company’s move to its new headquarters buildings on Poe. These buildings weren’t built for Mazer but we did have them completely gutted and renovated, and they were quite a step up from the hodge podge of office space we were used to on Neff. Not only did we have new carpets, textured walls, and fancy new office cubes and furniture, but we also had state-of-the-art technology including T1 lines connecting us to the Internet and our remote plants and fiber-optic backbone throughout the buildings. Also, at my boss’s insistence, we had no public address system**; no instead we got what is now common place in restaurants, an on-premises paging system to be used to let people know when they had calls or visitors.

Mazer scrolls:
(Click a scroll to embiggen it)

Looking west from atop 6680 Poe Avenue at the time of Mazer’s move, this view is before the I-75 renovation and the Miller Road boom
(Click image to embiggen)

In preparation for our Exodus from Neff Road to Poe Avenue, the creative folk in the Creative Services division drew up some scrolls about the anticipated journey. After the move, these scrolls were carefully cut out from the drywall at Neff and installed in the new lunchroom on Poe (click a scroll above to embiggen it).


My corner office at Poe
(Click image to embiggen)

Around this time was the pinnacle of my career at Mazer. A perk I got with the move into our buildings at Poe was a corner office, albeit a ground floor one without much of a view, hidden as it was behind the new concrete Mazer Corporation sign in front of our building. Not that being on the first floor was entirely without its status, for Marshall, by then retired, also had a first floor corner office, directly opposite mine and conveniently accessible through our new computer room. Despite my rise in stature, when Marshall (whom actually I still called “Mr. Mazer”) needed computer help, it was I who had to supply it.

Unfortunately it was all downhill from there. I had employees to hire and fire, stupid H/R forms to fill out, and executive meetings to attend. Read this earlier post to see some notes from an utterly useless but typical meeting of this time period. I had reached the level of my incompetence, was no longer happy in my job but too afraid to just quit and forgo its perks. Luckily for me, however, my boss, in a restructuring hinting of the company’s ultimate demise, thought me at this point to be dispensible and cut me loose, along with a fair number of other employees. With the focus that hindsight gives one, I can see now that that was the right thing for me, and I was luckier, in many ways, than Mazer employees who stuck around to the company’s bitter end.

*Fun Mazer nepotism story: For a time, Marshall Mazer’s nephew worked part time for me as a programmer and part time up in the lab in the small building on Neff that also held Marshall’s office at the time. It seems Marshall’s nephew would tell me he was needed in the lab and he would tell Irv in the lab that he was needed down in MIS, giving him the cover he needed to go goof off somewhere. Eventually, of course, Irv and I figured out what he was up to, and to Marshall’s credit, he fired his nephew for his duplicity.

**Fun paging story: Once, in my early days at Mazer, my boss at the time got in trouble when Marshall heard my voice over the PA system paging someone to pick up a call; Marshall thought it inappropriate that I, a man (well, actually then still just a boy), be assigned to cover the reception desk.

Saturday, April 14th, 2007
Seven years ago I was still working as IT director for an educational publishing company and had worked there for 17 years. Much of my time there was good and enjoyable, but by the last few years, when I’d risen to the point where I reported to the president and was part of the executive team, it was often rather mind-numbing.

Today I happened to run across some old backup CDs and discovered the following notes from a meeting held in July 2000, the year before I left. I don’t particularly remember this specific meeting, but I do remember many meetings held over the years with highly paid consultants hired to re-engineer the company using whatever corporate buzzwords or acronyms were in vogue at the time (TQM is the one I remember most, following by “thinking outside the box”).

Read and enjoy, or skip past the bullshit.
Meeting 07/05/2000

Start of process over next 2 to 3 months

Bill’s thoughts on organizing values
  • value creation for customers, employees, shareholders
  • reward employees for contribution
  • become more flexible and adaptive, using continuous learning and improvement
  • increase work collaboration amongst divisions
  • grow value of company at 15% per year
  • integrity and ethical management
New strategic operational structure
  • strategic team to set corporate goals and make strategic decisions apart from operational concerns
Miles Kierson, consultant with JMW Consultants (Stamford CT), will act as moderator
  • Bill looked for outside experts on organizational development
  • How to create new leadership and management style
Miles gave overview of his company, which does two major things:
  • Organizational transformation: companies with a goal for the future that requires a different structure to get there
  • Break-through projects: e.g., work in Canada with oil company alliance extracting oil out of oil sands and need to do a $2 million project for $1.8 million
100 people, in business for 18 years, offices in Connecticut and in London. He’s been consulting for 20 years. Worked for CSC Index. Alan H used to work there also. Miles has been at JMW for 2 years now.

Concept: background and foreground conversations
  • foreground are what you say normally, out loud (“Oh, yeah, that sounds great”)
  • background are what we don’t normally say out loud but think in the background (“Is he out of his mind?”)
It’s important for this process to get more of what we think out on the table.

Miles’ activities:
  • Meetings with Bill F, at least once a week
  • Two 2-day offsite meetings of strategic team (probably next month and the month after)
  • Two 2-hour on-site strategic team meetings
  • Two 4-hour operational group meetings
  • Individual discussions with all managers
  • Collaborative design of the process
  • Coordinating organizational communication
Deliverable of this process:
  • A vision of the future that we’ll have created together and to which we’ll be committed and alignedA clear set of strategies on how to meet the goals we’ve set (a specific plan for the next year, something less specific for beyond that, and a process for continually reviewing the plans)
  • We’ll all know our roles in the plan and will be organized as teams that can work together effectively.
  • We’ll have gained skills and insights about ourselves and begun a process to develop ourselves as leaders of this company.
“There’s always room for more ‘straight’ talk.” If we don’t have “straight” talk, it will impede our progress and minimize our success. Improving straight talk involves our willingness to increase the background thoughts that we’re willing to say out loud.
Doesn’t that last bit just kill you? Imagine a roomful of white executives all wanting to keep their jobs, thinking about what they could say that would pass for “straight talk,” unable to say what they really thought, which would be along the lines of “what bullshit!” Or perhaps some of them really bought into this stuff, but I know I didn’t. Looking at my calendar for the day of this meeting, I see I spent 5 hours of an 8-hour day in meetings. Mind numbing.

A year after this meeting, I’d be gone from the company, involuntarily, but I’d also be going to Europe for the first time and back in school. I should have quit long before and done something different, but I was still scared of change, despite having gone through some. I’m not quite so scared any more.
 
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