Best Job I Ever Had
I recently participated in an Instagram Live interview with Wendy Verwey talking about early retirement and my book. In preparing for it, I looked back at my accounting career (disregarding the experience I had holding cow tails and catching bull semen when I worked for my veterinarian father—those never came across well on a resume anyway.) I wanted to take stock of where I had been and what I had done professionally.
In thirty-four years of accounting I worked for seven different companies in industries including oil & gas exploration, aircraft manufacturing, solid waste disposal, real estate development and leisure entertainment like golf and amusement parks. Despite being able to play all the miniature golf I could from one employer in Myrtle Beach, my favorite job was when I worked for Waste Management, Inc. in the 90s.
I felt like I ‘fell into’ the perfect job. It certainly was an answer to prayers.
Jenni and I had married in December 1989. We were barely back from our honeymoon and my current employer (an aircraft manufacturer) was having severe financial difficulties. Several members of upper management had been locked out of the facility while us peons tried to keep it going. In late January, the day before that company filed for bankruptcy, Jenni and I sat on our bed going through the classifieds in the newspaper. (That’s how you did it back then—it was reason enough to buy the Sunday edition.) There was a blind ad looking for an assistant controller. Blind ads could be problematic in that you had no idea to whom you were sending your resume—it could even be the company where you currently worked! But I had nothing to lose, so I mailed a resume and a cheesy cover letter into the unknown. About a month later, I received word that I was a candidate and I finally got to learn the name of the company.
Now it may not sound glamorous, or very professional, but the company was called Garbage Gobbler. They were a local solid waste disposal company that had a logo of a giant hippopotamus chomping garbage plastered on the side of their trucks and billboards. The local company had recently been acquired by the conglomerate Waste Management, Inc. Public opinion polls at the time revealed that Garbage Gobbler had incredible public recognition second only to the mayor of San Antonio, which is why Waste Management allowed them to keep the name for many years. This was for a controller in training position that would definitely require relocation.
Long story short, I trained as the assistant controller, got promoted to controller of a start-up division south of Houston in Angleton, gained incredible experience there for about 18 months, and then got promoted BACK to San Antonio (TWO weeks before our first child was born, Jenni likes to add!)
What made it the best job I ever had? The people, of course.
In the Angleton office, I learned to work side by side with a management team that had been thrown together with no prior knowledge of each other. In addition to work, we competed in barbeque cook-offs (advancing to the Houston Rodeo cook-off at the old Astrodome), the mechanics would bring me a gallon of gas when I was stranded on the side of the road, and the general manager even let Jenni and I move in with him when our house was in danger of flooding. One of my greatest memories happened one evening after work. I pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway and noticed one of our residential helpers (the guy who hangs on the back of the truck and slings the bags into the back of the garbage truck) walking towards town. It was several miles just to reach the city limits so I asked him if he needed a ride. He hopped into my little Chevy S-10 pickup. I don’t remember the season of year, but I’m pretty sure we put the windows down to let the smell of his full-day dissipate into the moving air. He gave me directions and after several minutes, and some questionable side streets, I pulled up to his house. I didn’t think it was a house at first. It was about the size of a one car garage. The unpainted wood walls leaned to the left but a hackberry tree seemed to keep them from falling. And the open door revealed a dirt floor. I really don’t think there was electricity. He made sure I understood that he OWNED it and that he was going to fix it up. I praised him and confessed that I was only renting my house.
Once I was back in the San Antonio division, I became part of another great team. Most of them were Type A personalities so the interactions could be quite humorous (and exhausting.) But what stood out to me there was how the company treated the employees. Before Thanksgiving each year, the company would procure hundreds of frozen turkeys and fill a dumpster (a new, freshly painted one) with them. After work, each employee came by and got their turkey out of the dumpster. It was a great reminder of what paid our wages! Then, at Christmas, management would spend thousands on televisions, stereos, and other gifts that were given as door prizes to the hourly employees at a huge Christmas party. It was a great lesson in showing appreciation to the frontline workers.
All good things eventually come to an end. In this case, a merger with a competitor split up our management team. I was the only one offered a chance to stay but I chose to transfer to the Carolinas instead. The company was never the fun, energetic place to work after that merger.
After a couple years in the Carolinas, I answered another blind ad and moved on to unlimited putt-putt golf.