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Nick’s Top 10 Favorite Ex-Employees

Sep 7th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Stopped by my old place of employment yesterday and reminisced with some former coworkers about the good old days. I was reminded about some of the employees I hired or supervised who committed acts of treachery and deceit, and I lamented my softness — that desire to give someone a second chance. Or a third. Or a fourth. There were many times when I should have bit the bullet and just fired someone on the spot for their poor performance, and probably a few times when I should have passed on hiring someone I knew wouldn’t work out in the long run, but I needed someone to fill a spot.

You never know, however, what kind of impact a prospective employee will have. When I published a monthly newsletter for the company I managed, I usually reserved one page for humor and trivia and in one issue I included “Nick’s Top 10 Favorite Ex-Employees.” Wow, what a reaction that got. It was like someone simultaneously stirred a pot and knocked Pandora’s box off the shelf.

Every employee has some value. Many employees have great value. A few who have great value make royal screw-ups that you have to fire them for, even if they have great value. Those were the people who made my list. These people also make life richer, which I have a genuine appreciation for, as mentioned earlier.

One young woman came in to apply for a dispatcher position. She had recently moved from California. She had a background in towing, although she was only in her early 20s. In fact, her father had run a towing company and had taught her all about it, even teaching her how to drive the heavy wrecker. I didn’t think to ask how she pulled this off at 4’ 11” and 97 lbs., but she was convincing. I didn’t really need someone to drive a heavy wrecker, but she seemed self-confident, which is an important trait for a dispatcher, I believe. Looking back, I doubt that any of what she told me was true, but it probably wasn’t the content of her fiction that got her hired — it was the delivery.

And she was a good dispatcher, but like most self-confident people, she rubbed some of her coworkers the wrong way. She was very crafty — good at psychological warfare. Even if she made a questionable decision, she could make a good case for it. Most of her coworkers did not share this talent, so they were at a distinct disadvantage if they had a grievance. I knew there were things she was not being completely honest about, but she was spunky, and spunky goes a long way in business.

Almost lost in the melodrama was something she started doing that had an immediate positive impact on the bottom line. We would frequently receive calls from vehicle owners, or former vehicle owners, whose car we had impounded, who could not or did not intend to claim the vehicle. Often these people were calling after receiving a notification letter from our lien department. Sometimes these people were concerned about how the lien process would affect them, or their credit rating, if they did not claim the vehicle, even if they had sold it to someone else before we impounded it. This dispatcher recognized an opportunity to put them at ease. At the time, we simply processed the lien and sold the vehicle for whatever we could get out of it. Only if the vehicle was involved in an accident, and we knew that an insurance company was responsible for it, would we attempt to recoup the difference if it sold for less than the accumulated towing and storage charges. Our dispatcher would talk to these lien letter recipients and assure them that if they helped to make up the difference when the vehicle sold at a loss, that they would not be pursued further. Which was true. And it was also true that our state laws allowed us to pursue further if we wanted to. It was simply a market we weren’t taking advantage of at the time.

After she showed some success at this, I offered her a percentage of the new income she was generating in addition to her hourly wage. She took it upon herself to ask me if she could write up a proposal for a debt satisfaction program, and a week or so later she gave me a notebook with proposed form letters, revenue projections, phone scripts, and multi-colored graphs that blew me away. At that point, we were flying high with call volumes, and our profit margin was comfortable, so we weren’t sure we wanted to make a strong move in this direction. She kept doing what she was doing, and people sent in checks for $100, or $200, or $25 — whatever she negotiated.

Not long afterward, there was incident involving the ladies’ restroom, a garbage bag, and smoke from an exotic weed, which led to multiple incidents involving a drug testing facility and a tainted sample, which led to an angry husband with a history of addiction screaming obscenities. It all ended very ugly, which is a shame, because she really was one of my favorite employees, and whatever issues she had with controlled substances didn’t seem to affect her job performance. Like I said, though, she rubbed some people the wrong way, and when those people smelled blood in the water, they were swift to strike.

A year or so later, when our call volumes started dropping, I dusted off that notebook she’d given me, and we implemented most of her ideas, which resulted in more than $125,000 in revenue over a five-year period, with almost no expense. Really — I analyzed it at one point and determined that the program was generating more than 80 percent profit.

You never know where a good idea will come from.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper