Tuesday, October 18, 2011


What do you make of a thirty-something-year-old man who has a perfectly respectable name, but prefers to be called by his self-given nickname - Dick? To be clear, it's not a family name or a college nickname, it's just a conscious decision to be called a name - that if said out loud by any one of my children, would likely result in a mouth full of bar soap. Between 1930-1940, the name Dick reached its all time high in regard to popularity. From there, the use of the name declined sharply. Likely because the idea of passing down a name like Dick had a pretty clear downside. Imagine yourself calling the home of your new elementary school friend Dick. His mother answers and says, "Little Dick or Big Dick?" Enough said.

When I met Richard, I was immediately struck by how unusual he seemed. Typically, at least in the work environment, people did not reveal their oddities right away. When he was introduced to me, he was introduced as Richard. He extended his hand for the customary handshake, and then - with what felt like the grip of a small feeble child he said, "Hello, I'm Dick."

It wasn't just the fact that he preferred to be called Dick. There were all sorts of odd things about Richard. He was the guy who laughed last at every joke, and the way he laughed, clearly indicated that he had no idea what he was laughing at. He was considered a bigwig, and wanted to make sure every vendor knew his title - even if they'd already met. The one thing that always stumped me, the one thing I just could not wrap my mind around, was how this odd little man somehow went from a supervisor of the team in charge of cleaning our building, to a C- level position - in less than five years time.

When he spoke to you directly, it was challenging to understand what he was saying. In a group setting, it was hard to not feel embarrassed for him (although he did not seem to be embarrassed for himself). We would often leave meetings where he had the floor and ask each other if anyone understood what he was talking about. It reminded me of the story about the little girl who pointed out what everyone already knew - the Emperor has no clothes!

As time went on, it was clear that he was one of the CEO's pet projects gone awry. She didn't have the heart to let him go and he had no shame in collecting a substantial paycheck.  He was known to pitch the ideas of others and then take credit for the idea himself.  He would always admit to it when confronted, never trying to cover up for what he had done. He knew what we all knew. He was a untouchable - awkward laugh an all.  Fortunately, I didn't report to him and I was able to avoid him for the most part.

Our facilities manager, Jim wasn't so lucky. Jim had no idea what he signed up for when he accepted the job. Not only did he report to Richard, he joined the company only to be told about a month later that we hit an iceberg and things didn't look good. He did what many of our employees did, he began aggressively searching for a new job. I still remember the day he came to my office. We didn't interact much at that point. He was on a different team and at our company, we didn't cross department lines.

His face was bright red and he was shaking. He told me Richard asked to see his resume, he wanted to proof it and use it to write Jim a letter of recommendation. Jim said he was so appreciative of Richard's gesture, he went against his good sense and not only did he give it to him, he told him the name of other companies he applied to. Jim also told him he was one of the final three candidates for a really big job. As it turned out, bigwigs run in the same circles, and Richard knew the CEO at the company Jim applied to. Jim said he got a call from the recruiter telling him that one additional candidate was being added to the final three, specifically requested by the CEO. He said he didn't catch a last name, but the first name was Dick.

I'm not one to believe everything I hear so I went to the source.  When I went to Richard's office he was packing boxes. I told him Jim was pretty upset. I told him Jim was telling people that he tried to steal his job. After what seemed like a very long and painful silence, Richard said, "After reading the job description, I felt like I was much more qualified for the position." Then, he asked me if I had a copy of our newly created training manual. He said he realized he may not be here for too much longer and wanted to get copies of anything he may need in the future.

I finally figured out what was so odd about Richard. He was the most transparent opportunist I had ever met. Opportunist are typically secretive and manipulative, but there he was, hiding in plain sight. It was easy not to notice him, he seemed so harmless.

Richard didn't get Jim's job. Jim was one of the first to leave, and as it became more and more evident that the ship was sinking, Richard's motives became more and more visible. My last memory of Richard was the evening he escorted me from the building. As my eyes welled up with tears he very calmly explained to me that he would need to look in my car to make sure I didn't take any documents or training materials that belonged to the company. It was the first time in my life that I was truly rendered speechless.

Richard taught me a very valuable lesson. I learned that Richard behaved outwardly the way every single one of us did in secret. He promoted himself in any way he could, but only to those that could help him get ahead. He never had to fight his way to the top, because no one ever saw him as a threat. We were all so busy scheming and manipulating in the dark, we couldn't see what was going on in broad daylight.

I'm not sure if I took every bad thing that was happening in my life at that moment, and associated it with him. I had so many years of jealousy and resentment built up towards him because of his incomprehensible ability to move up the corporate ladder. I was suddenly very aware of my disgust and anger towards him during that long walk to my car. I couldn't help but feel like he won and I had lost. After all, he was the last manager standing, and it was apparent he would land very well with the new company. I was about to be unemployed and for the first time - since I was 16 years old,  and scared to death about what my future held.

It wasn't until many months later that I realized why I had such a visceral reaction to him. It was because I saw in him, what I was. The only difference is that I thought no one else could see it. I now know, my methods of climbing the corporate ladder were no more dignified than his. The things I said - to position myself in a positive light, were no less devious, just because I felt more qualified than him. I turned into an ugly and bitter person. The bitterness can consume you without notice and suddenly you are left with this seemingly justified anger. It took a long time to dig through all the ugliness inside of me and find my true self again. I learned many lessons from Richard and I am better for it.

As I pulled out of the parking lot I saw him standing on the curb. He was waving good-bye. As I drove by, I rolled down my window and in a moment of weakness, I said something that still makes me cringe. I asked him if I could stop by his house to get a copy of our old training manual - just in case I needed it in the future. He stared at me with his usual blank stare. Then, after a long pause, he simply turned and walked away. I immediately felt bad for saying it, and as I contemplated throwing out a casual "just kidding", I heard him begin to laugh.

*Disclaimer - This is fiction. Any resemblance to a real person is totally coincidental.

1 comment:

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