I was hired away from a job that I enjoyed but which paid little to become editor-in-chief of the Northrop News, a monthly tabloid sent to Northrop’s employees in the US and abroad, and to stockholders. The woman who recruited me promised that I would have broad authority to transform the News from its stodgy 1950s format into a contemporary magazine and that I would have six full-time employees and one part-timer at a small Northrop facility on the East Coast.
I took the job and immediately learned that none of six at Northrop headquarters worked for me. They reported to “Mary,” my boss, and if I needed them to do something, I had to ask Mary.
But Mary was never around. She traveled constantly, and in that era before cell phones, she was almost impossible to reach. I left countless messages for her in the offices that she was supposedly visiting, but she never called back. Meanwhile, each of the six individuals that I had been promised worked for me were all busy on tasks that Mary gave them, none of which had anything to do with the Northrop News.
So for the first two months, I wrote the whole magazine myself. I also served as the art director. The one thing I persuaded one of Mary’s people to do was to proofread my copy.
My first issue would, in the year following, win several national and international awards. We received over 200 requests for copies and had to go back to press to satisfy the demand.
My second issue won a few awards as well.
On one of her rare visits to her own office, Mary sent for me and scolded me for my re-design work during the transmutation from tabloid to magazine. She said that the secretary to the vice president of one company division had written a note of complaint. She was angry that some “college boy” had taken over and changed her beloved News. (I was then 37 years of age, a Vietnam veteran and yes, a college graduate.) Apparently, Mary was terrified of this secretary. When I took the opportunity to remind her that I had been promised six and a half workers under me and that instead, I had none, she got angry. “All you have to do is ask me, and I’ll assign someone to help you on a specific task,” she said. “But everyone in this department reports to me, and to me alone.”
I reminded her that she was rarely around to ask, and she rose from he chair and hurried off without replying.
After another month, I was burned out. Midway through the third issue of my tenure, I was working seven days a week. I took work home every night and wrote until I could hardly see the page. I got up early and was in the office at 7:00 so I could work without interruption by phone calls and office business.
When Mary returned from her next trip, I went into her office a little before noon and closed the door.
“Did you have an appointment?” she asked, as I sank into the visitor’s chair.
“Mary, I must have some help. I cannot do this job alone. Just give me ONE person who can assist me.”
“Everyone reports to me,” she said. “That’s how it is.”
“Mary,” I said. “You’re an attractive black woman in an aerospace company. THEY WON’T FIRE YOU. You need to learn to delegate.”
“I have a lunch,” she said and grabbed her purse as she flew from the room.
When I returned from my own lunch, there was a firing notice on my desk. My tenure at Northrop Corporation was over because “I did not fit in with the corporate culture.”
I would learn in the years ahead that this had been Mary’s first management position and her first communications assignments. She was previously in charge of corporate equal opportunity at Northrop. Before that, she was a flight attendant. Her husband was an actor, but I have yet to see one of his credits in a film or TV show or on the Broadway stage.
When Mary got that employee communications job, she immediately spent some $27,000 of Northop’s money to hire an international business consulting firm to do a corporate communications audit. They produced two copies of what was essentially a how-to book. That’s why the other six writers were doing things for Mary. When they weren’t out of the office on personal business, they were trying to create a package of new communications media: A virtual bulletin board, a complaint hotline, A weekly video report to all employees, etc.
Mary was unable to secure funding for most of those projects.
And at a writers gathering 22 years later, I ran into the woman who had replaced me at Northrop. She lasted six weeks. He replacement lasted five. I learned from the first woman that apparently one or more of my office colleagues had eavesdropped on my last conversation with Mary.
Apparently, I had become an office legend for the manner of my departure.
© 2018 Marvin J. Wolf
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. I'll be posting weekly. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.