The Leroy Harkenfarken Story

I love my job, from the minute I started in 1979 as a $4/hour driver warehouseman to now as the Great Cahuna/El Presidente for Life, never a day gone by that I haven’t look forward to coming to work. That is so lucky because a lot of us dread work. Hate it, toil for years just burning time until the day we can retire and flip the dirty so and so’s the bird on the way out the door. I’m a very lucky man and whenever I get a chance to mentor a youngun I always say, “Forget the money, find something you love, get good at it and the money will come and you’ll never regret it.”

My Uncle Sherwood started this business back in ’69, selling mining and industrial supplies out of a back alley warehouse and he was pretty good at it. A child of the Great Depression he was cheap money wise, with himself as much as others but he had a sharp mind and a good heart and we always had fun with the customers and vendors. He also had sparking blue eyes and a mischievous grin and woe to the slacker that couldn’t keep up.

He taught me about business and credit and who you could trust and who you couldn’t. And he felt strongly that a business should provide basic benefits like time off, healthcare, and bonuses to it’s employees just because it was the right thing to do. We still do that and more even though he’s been gone for 20 years.  The word corporation comes from the old Latin corpus or body, with the employees acting as the heart and mind and arms and legs of the company. To stay healthy we as individuals have to treat our body right and the same with a business, employees are its most valuable resource.

Nothing is ever perfect and when things would get a little twitchy Sherwood would tell me, “Frank, we’re all Prima Donnas” and he was right, everyone needs a little special handling from time to time. One problem we used to have was incessant unsolicited phone calls. Somebody wanting to sell us insurance, or the newspaper, or checking on the model number of our copier, or any other number of unwanted unneeded services. We’re a sales organization and I feel for the poor folks working out of boiler rooms for minimum wage trying to drum up some business but it becomes an expensive interruption when they come several times an hour.

I tried talking with my inside guys, “Just say no thanks and hang up” but they were trained to be polite and had a lot of trouble not getting hooked into long winded unproductive conversations. That’s when I invented Leroy Harkenfarken as our vice-president in charge of everything we had no interest in. And fleshing out the man, he was always on a round the world cruise and wouldn’t be back for 6 months. Amazingly this worked. The folks calling always wanted the guy in charge and it was easy to tell them “Leroy Harkenfarken” and deliver the coup de grace with “Only he is authorized to negotiate (insert whatever product or service) and he won’t be back for 6 months.”

Things have gotten better with the do not call lists and we rarely have to dust old Leroy off and trot him out anymore but he lives on in several ways. We still get mail addressed to him and UPS decided some years ago they needed a name to print on package labels so Leroy’s name adorns all our outbound UPS. We even have framed certificates of appreciation on our office walls thanking Leroy for his donations to this and that charity because Leroy is a very giving figment of our imagination.

Work is still a four letter word but if we can’t treat each other right and slip a little fun into it, what’s the point?

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