Budgie Fletcher wasn’t your average commerce student at Joe Clark Collegiate. Not only did he pass most of his courses, he also got the highest mark ever seen in Innovation and Growth. (I know that because the class is taught by Wanda’s brother-in-law. He was a postman before getting fired for suggesting too many ways to speed up the mail.)
Wanda, my general manager here at Nimbus Co., urged me to hire Budgie, stat! “He’s smarter than Wirtz,” said Wanda, “and twice as crafty as Kernel.” That sounds like small praise, given no one ever called either our foreman or our vice-president “Einstein”. But Wirtz knows things that no one ever taught in books, and Kernel, well, he’s actually read one.
When I interviewed Budgie, I was impressed. He understands balance sheets, cited R&D as the source of all wealth and even complimented me on my Deep Purple wallpaper. Basically, he’s better qualified to work at Nimbus Co. than any of our employees, so I offered him a job on the spot. “Uh, what would I be doing?” he asked. “Anything you like,” I said.
He asked for time to think about it. The next day, he called to say he had accepted an offer from Kodak. Cleverly hiding my disappointment, I threw my phone against the wall.
When he called back, I blamed a faulty phone line and then asked why Kodak’s offer was better than ours. Was the money better? A bit. Working conditions? Not really. (They have newer furniture, but they don’t have windows that open or Joe’s Snack Truck pulling up at noon.) So what was the difference? “No offence,” said Budgie, “but I’ve heard of Kodak. Nimbus seems pretty funky, but I know nothing about it.”
Funky is good, but it doesn’t make up for losing the best prospect I’ve ever met. I expressed my disappointment at a managers’ meeting that afternoon. “For new grads, we’re just not on the map,” I sighed. “We used to have that problem at PuffCo,” said Kernel, referring to his previous employer, which we acquired a few years ago. “What did you do about it?” I asked. “Nothing,” said Kernel. “My dad just stopped hiring, figuring some sucker would buy the company anyway.”
Even Kernel realized his dig went too far. The next day he stayed shut in his office, laboring over a document. Late in the day he came to my office to announce he had solved our recruitment problem: “Nimbus is about to be named one of Canada’s 99 Finest Companies to Work At.”
If you don’t know, that’s a contest conducted every year to find Canada’s best employers. It’s run by a Slug Flats recruiting firm that’s really trying to market its services to the companies that enter and lose. “I filled out the whole form myself,” said Kernel proudly. He had put a positive spin on every question. He called our offices “as comfy as your favorite shoe,” and our computers state-of-the-art (he doesn’t realize Pentium IIs have been out for quite a while now). He even praised our staff benefits, citing our dental plan, barbecues and my practice of giving lottery tickets to staff on their birthdays.
Kernel even tackled the last question: “If your boss were a tree, what kind of tree would he / she be?” I was touched by what he wrote: “Cumulo would be a big sturdy oak; his roots are firmly in the ground. But his branches would sway like a willow, because he lets employees follow their own lead. As a proud Canadian, his leaves would be maple. Yet there would be apples and sweet cherries on every branch, representing the rewards enjoyed by customers and staff. And birds would nest in the tree, feeling safe and singing sweetly in his employ.”
I wiped away a tear and thanked Kernel. I learned several things that day: not to take my employees for granted; that loyalty is an everyday miracle; and why Kernel flunked high-school botany. I filed the form away forever, but I’ll never forget what it said.