Archives for posts with tag: John Mastro

Haresh Shah

All I Want To Do Is To Take A Beak

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As I roll off the QE II in my Buick from the port of  New York city, my plan is to drive cross-country with the destination of Santa Barbara, California. Or more precisely, Mark and Ann’s (Stevens) farm house in Goleta, some twelve miles north of downtown Santa Barbara and a stone’s throw away from the carefree Isla Vista off UCSB campus. Awaiting me is the culture and the people so unlike the America I have known so far. Three years earlier, just before Playboy offered me the job, I had planned a long vacation to explore the California Coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Instead, on the very day I was to fly west, I end up making a sharp hairpin turn to fly east over the Atlantic. I owe it to California to make up for my sudden turn.  But I am not in a hurry. And I am open to any other possibilities that may exist or arise.

Chicago awaits for me with its arms wide open. Lee (Hall) throws a staff lunch for me and am treated like a homecoming war hero. He has even arranged for me to meet with the Photography Director Gary Cole. Lee thinks very highly of me and feels I would make a good photo editor for Gary. Gary is congenial, but not so sure. He has probably agreed to speak with me more out of courtesy than to consider me for a position he didn’t have in the first place. As devastated as Lee is at having to let me go, this is his way of demonstrating that it wasn’t his decision or within his power to keep me.

Of all the people, the person most upset and concerned about my departure from Playboy is the production boss, John Mastro. Even when he hired me away from Time, he had his apprehensions. Not because he had any reservations about the job I would do, but to take me away from what in the industry was considered to be one of the best jobs around. Worrier that he is, it ended up being just what he must have feared in the beginning. What if things with the foreign editions of Playboy didn’t work out the way they had planned and envisioned?

After all, these were uncharted waters. They had not yet figured out the cost-benefit ratio of maintaining a staff abroad. So there were going to be all sorts of uncertainties and the growing pains to deal with. It was not the performance, but the cost cutting that caused my position to be eliminated.

John feels personally responsible for my well being. And he is intent and insistent on finding me a comparable, if not a better job once I returned back to the States. He himself doesn’t have anything to offer, but with his wide spread contacts and the influence within the printing industry, he is sure to find me a desirable position. Totally ignoring my protests and wish to take a little break after the nineteen years of squeezed together hectic life.

I am only thirty five years old, but I have spent nineteen of them going to school. Joined my uncle’s publishing company Wilco soon as I graduated from high school, while enrolling myself for college education. First majoring in Economics and Political Science and then taking a ninety degree turn and joining the printing school. For two years, I served apprenticeship at the Precision Printing – a small printing house to learn the ropes. That was between eight in the morning until the noon. Hurry home and have a lunch on the run and be at my desk at Wilco by one. Dart out of there at five and off to the evening courses at the Government School of Printing, which took me until nine or later. Come home and barf down the lukewarm dinner my mother had shelved – still an hour or two of homework and that day’s diary entry ahead of  me and make it to  bed around mid-night. My mornings would begin around the time when I heard the first clinking of the milk bottles being unloaded at the government owned milk kiosk down the street. My eyes still half closed, I would pick up family’s ration. Perhaps grab another hour’s sleep and be under the cold shower and gulp down a glass of hot milk before running out to start my apprenticeship.

But I never felt stressed. On the contrary. My back-to-back long active days invigorated me. After I graduated from the London School of Printing, I loved every minute of the several odd jobs I had to take on before the three post-school real jobs that stretched into nine years. I am  suddenly tired, exhausted even. I certainly need a break from the routine, and for now, all I want to do is write. I want to get off  the speeding train – side step the rat race and stop to smell the roses. What’s more, I have saved enough to live on for a couple of years, supplemented by the unemployment benefits I am entitled to collect.

But how do I explain this to the man to whom having a job rates on the top of his priorities? And how do I fend his genuine concern for my well being?

‘You have all your life ahead of you to rest and write and do whatever else you want to. But I have just the job for you. Go talk to them. What you’ve got to lose?’

John’s gentle but insistent prodding reminds me of how my mother and auntie Shukla had began to nudge me soon as I had turned barely eighteen. All they thought of was to hook me up with one girl or another at every opportunity they got.

‘Doesn’t cost you anything to see her. I bet you’ll fall in love with her. And she is from a family just like ours. Will fit right in. You’ll never find anyone as pretty and sweet. Longer you wait, the best ones will all be picked clean.’ And auntie Shukla, the poet as she is, would even recite a couplet or two to describe her beauty, as if she were a serious contender herself. Not to mention, how pretty she herself is.

Once it became clear that I was going to go abroad for further studies, they begin in earnest their campaign to convince me to at least get engaged before I left for London. Their crafty underlying logic being, once committed, I would have to come back and not be lost forever to the West as did most others. And the horror or all horrors, what if I were to succumb to the wicked charms of a gori – a white woman? But I was steadfast and so it came to pass. And then when fifteen years later I came home, indeed not only with a gori in tow, but also nine months old Anjuli perched atop my shoulders in a back pack, they couldn’t have been happier.

But John turns out to be more persistent than my mother and the aunt were. So I relent. As much time and energy he has put into finding me another job, I don’t have a heart to tell him with any more emphasis that I really wanted to take bit of a break for some months, give my first passion at least a chance and then decide if I want to go back being the color guy.  Not to mention that long ago, I had decided I didn’t want to work for a printing company in the same position as I would for publishers. Because I would rather be in a position to give shit than having to take it. Never mind, John has arranged an interview for me with the World Color in Louisville, Kentucky. As much to please him as with the thought, what have I got to lose? An airplane ride and bit of a diversion would do me good. Now it’s been six months since I had been on a plane last, something that had become practically a part of my daily routine, so to say. And I am beginning to miss it. It feels good to get on a jet and fly to Louisville.

First I meet with the production boss Grover Plaschke, who sounding serious, talks to me at length about the organizational details of the World Color and how the company is growing by leaps and bounds and how they are proud of their ultra modern equipment and the talented professionals who help them grow. Hopefully I could add to their pool of talents. I can tell I have positively impressed him. He enthusiastically turns me over to his press supervisor Bob Saxer. I like Bob. He is soft spoken and easy going no nonsense kind of a production guy like Ben Wendt  of Regensteiner. My would be boss if I took the job. I get a good feeling about him and I am sure, we would get along well. I spend a whole day walking the huge World Color plant and I am indeed impressed by their streamlined operation, the cleanliness and the efficiency of the plant and the quality of the signatures rolling off web presses. I make appropriate comments and compliment him on how impressed I was with the plant and the people. And doing so, I can see that I have impressed him too without really trying.

‘I am sure we could use someone like you. I am very positively impressed by your resume and your experience of the last few years at Time and Playboy. So is Mr. Plaschke.’ Bob concludes.

To which I thank and tell him how I too would be proud of being a part of his team. But lacking from my voice is the excitement and the enthusiasm that of a man really wanting the job. I am struggling with how best to tell him what I am thinking. But he is more perceptive than I give him credit for. He doesn’t say anything, that is: until late in the afternoon when we are having lunch at a local bar and the grill. He lifts his beer mug, says cheers and while putting down the mug, looks at me point blank: You aren’t really looking for a job, are you?

So I square with him and tell him the truth. The only reason I was there was to please John, that I wanted to take a break first and give my desire to write a chance. At least give it a try, while I am able.

‘Fair enough. But when and if you ever want to come back into the work force, give us a call first.’

© Haresh Shah 2014

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

SISTER SITE

http://www.downdivision.com

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Butting Heads With Experts

Haresh Shah

whattime_revised

My ex-girlfriend Susan (Serpe) was a successful management consultant. And yet, I never quite understood what it was exactly that she did. Once in a self-deprecating mood, she told me a story of three consultants, which has probably been told and re-told or perhaps not.

A large international corporation in need of a consultant invites proposals from some of the top professionals in the industry. From the huge pile of applicants, they have boiled down the list to the TOP three that seem most likely to fulfill their needs. They are to be interviewed by the CEO himself. He seats them down around the conference table in his office.

‘Good morning to you all. And congratulations for making it to the top three. That’s quite an achievement, considering that we had received more than a hundred offers. You guys are the crème de la crème and it would be an honor for our company to work with any one of you. Unfortunately, all we have is only one position open, so here goes it – the final round. I do not wish to take up much of your valuable time, so without much a do, I’ll come right to to the point. Before we decide, I only have one simple question to ask of you, which is: Can you please tell me, what time is it?  Confused only momentarily, the three realize it’s one of those trick questions. Everyone could see clearly on the wall clock in the CEO’s office that its 2:30 in the afternoon. The first of them clears his throat.

‘We all know that right now it’s 2:30 in the afternoon central standard time here in Chicago. But it’s also 3:30 in New York, 1:30 in Denver and 12:30 in the afternoon in California.’

‘Excellent. I like it that  you see the time in a broader perspective of the entire country and not only from where we sit here in the Midwest.’ He shifts his gaze to the consultant sitting next to him. A slight smile crosses his lips as he begins to answer.

‘Well, my colleague here is absolutely right. We no longer can look at the time in the narrow confines of where we are currently. But since you’re an international organization, we need to go beyond the confines of the United States and look at the global time. For example, when it’s 14:30 here in Chicago, it’s 21:30 in the Western Europe and 03:30 in the morning the next day in Hong Kong.’ The CEO is obviously impressed by the second consultant’s world view of his business venture and hands out appropriate appreciation to him with an encouraging  friendly smile while shifting his gaze to the third and the final candidate, who seems to be somewhat lost in her thoughts. Feeling the pointed gaze upon herself, she puts down her memo pad filled with scribbles and doodles and a series of Xs and Os, gently putting her pen on top of the pad, plants her elbows firmly on the table, rests her chin on the bridge of her entwined fingers, she levels her gaze with that of the CEO’s and smoothly lets out.

‘Well, what time you want it to be?’

‘Guess, who got hired?’ Asks Susan with the cutest dimpled smile, which can only be erased  with a kiss. So that’s what she does!

I wish one of the consultants I had to deal with were as sweet and sexy and as professional. In fact, the consultants I was subjected to were all men, dodgy and full of themselves. Pontificating, pretending and patronizing bastards. I have had one too many brush with the bunch of them and as a result had come to disdain most of them. I can sincerely say that there was no love lost between them and me when and if we were forced to cross paths.

Some of my contempt for the consultants came from my days at the GATF, where I got to experience first hand how intimidated the people were when we walked in to audit their plants. A couple of total strangers are there to observe and analyze and report on them. Everyone is nervous, trying to be on their best behavior and therefore not being their natural selves. And that’s what most of the consultants are counting on.

There was a phase when us Playboy managers were made to attend a series of consulting sessions with the so called experts on the modern management. The first one of such surveys titled Management Practices and Tactics Feedback Report, had me placed as one of the company’s most popular managers or as John Mastro put it, I’m not as damn popular as you’re. The very man who had hired me, based on his gut feeling and some feedback from the plant supervisor at the printing company. John had his ways of doing things, and yet, no one would argue that he was one of the best in the industry. But unfortunately, that’s not how the young consulting Turks saw it.

The second set of consultants focused on the inter-departmental synergy and reported me to be not a team player. (read, I didn’t fall at their feet and touch their toes with reverence!) Because I refused to fall for their ruse of finding faults in my relationship with my direct reports. The conversation went something like this:

‘You mean to say you have absolutely no conflict with one or more of the people who report directly to you?’

‘Of course I do too. When you work with a group of people day in and day out, some conflicts are bound to happen. Like my good old mother would say: when you throw silverware together, they also make noise. But nothing the sort that the two of us involved can not resolve between ourselves.’

‘Well?’ The leader of the consulting team points his gaze at me. I can tell, he doesn’t like my answer. Years later, I would face a similar gaze from another such consultant, who didn’t like my answer to his: If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? ‘Nothing!’ was my answer. Because I am one of those people who has realized that you can’t turn back the clock – or make things un-happen that have already happened. But to use the corporate/consultants cliché, going forward, play the cards you have been dealt the best as you can.

‘Nothing?’

In the corporate world and in the consultant speak, this would be sloughed off disdainfully as  status quo. A BIG NO NO. Even though one of Hugh M. Hefner’s favorite axioms was, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Another was Why do we need to reinvent the wheel? Whereas, for most of the consultants, I felt the motto was: Never mind if it ain’t broke, let’s break it and then we’ll fix it.

‘You know Haresh, with your experience of years, you can actually help your colleagues sitting around the table!’ The message was clear. Smug and sarcastic and self-righteous. My answer: If I understand it right, you want me to have problems so that you can fix them? I look across the table at my boss – Bill Stokkan. Even in his attempt to remain neutral, I could read in his face that it was okay. It nevertheless earned me the reported reputation of not a team player.

●●●

Up until yesterday, I had completely forgotten about the days and the days a whole bunch of us spent cooped up at the Drake Hotel’s Astor Room participating in what they called the Ideation sessions. It was basically what normal people call Brain Storming. But there is no consulting if not for buzz words and euphemisms to make things sound important. The fact that I had even forgotten all about it and don’t remember even a word of what conspired during those days, in itself proves that whatever ideas the team of the consultants threw at us were ever seen worth putting into practice. The sessions lasted so many long days that we had to have an official break of a day or so to go back to our offices and make sure that the barn wasn’t burning in our absence. What my staff was curious about was: what was it that we talked about for so long? When I gave them a run down on what was it all about, one of them comes up with: sounds more like Idiation to me. Bravo!

●●●

The session I remember the most and could have even been fired for my impulsive response happened in then Playboy offices on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. It was to focus on our international businesses which included product licensing, magazine publishing and the video/television divisions. A well renowned international consulting firm was hired and a team of experts presided by their famous president, lined the opposite side of the conference table. All of our international divisions had achieved various degrees of success in the markets away from home but at this point having already reached the saturation point and/or reached the point of marginal returns, we are experiencing bit of a lull. Let alone the changing market conditions, competition and the altering dynamics of economies of an individual country. But there could have been factors that had escaped our scrutiny. Hence the consultants. The guys facing us were supposed to be the expert international hands with more intimate knowledge of the international markets. For my division, the focus was going to be Japan.

Each of us divisional heads had prepared our own presentations and delivered them one by one, which was basically our own analysis that included input and cooperation of our partners from around the world. I made my presentation with all facts and figures. The team of experts seemed diligently to be making notes in their legal size yellow pads, looking ever so attentive and contemplative. We thought with the intent of addressing the problem areas to discuss further and then suggest some practical solutions – things we may have missed.

Instead, during the second round when my turn came, their Japanese expert shuffles the papers in front of him, puts the pile down in a neat square and shoots: So Haresh, what do you think went wrong and what can you do to correct it? Didn’t I just give him the whole nine yards of what was happening and the measures we have taken and were planning to take? Was he sleeping? Drugged? Doodling instead of making notes? High on something? Pulling my leg?

No, but I wasn’t thinking any of it. Flabbergasted, the answer just rolls out of my mouth, smooth  as the toothpaste slithering out of its tube. I thought you are the ones going to tell us that! And as if I had popped open a can of laughing gas, everyone on my side of the table bursts out in a roar of laughter. Later when we break for refreshments, the group clusters around me and Bob Friedman – the Entertainment Group President walks up to me, puts his arms around me and goes: Haresh you are our hero!

© Haresh Shah 2014

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

SISTER SITE

http://www.downdivision.com

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Next Friday, March 7, 2014

TENDER TRAPS

They are everywhere, especially if you’re looking for them. But even if you aren’t, they find you. After all, that’s what they do for a living. Someone who traveled as much as I did, always staying in the top hotels and frequented the most trendy spots around the world, you are more likely than not, stumble upon one of those pretty and tempting ladies of the night.