Pursuit of a Dream – Chapter 3
Copyright © 2004 by Robert Pruneda
All Rights Reserved
September 29, 1990
John knelt down in front of his wife’s headstone. He placed a dozen roses in the vase next to it, and at that very instant, a light gust of wind passed through the cemetery. It felt as if Elizabeth herself was expressing her love towards John, the wind embracing him when she could not.
It had been exactly two years since Elizabeth had passed away. John remi-nisced that horrible evening when he and his wife were on their way home from a late-night movie. There were plenty of movie theaters in Austin, but John and Elizabeth preferred watching movies at a large theater in Pflugerville, which was also nearby their favorite Tex-Mex restaurant.
The couple had been traveling back home on Interstate 35 when it began raining. A vehicle to their right had hydroplaned. The driver had panicked and stomped on the brake causing his vehicle to swerve into the right-rear of John’s car. John had fought for control of his car, but with the slick road surface and at the speed the car was traveling, it had been virtually impossible. The car had then quickly swerved to the right, slamming into the side of another vehicle and then had been broad-sided on the passenger side by an 18-wheeler. The impact had flipped the car over on its roof and slid seventy yards before coming to a stop in front of an entrance ramp, nearly getting struck again by a truck entering the freeway.
John had miraculously sustained only minor injuries. Elizabeth, however, had been pronounced dead at the scene.
“I miss you so much, Liz.” John wept uncontrollably as he heard sirens in the distance. “I love you, Elizabeth. The kids love and miss you. You were such a great mother to them. You were great at everything. I wish I could hold you in my arms right now… I wish I could kiss you one last time. You always knew what to say to me when something was bothering me. When I got stressed out from work, your voice was enough to put me at ease. You were a gift from God…” John fought for composure. “Why? Why, God! Why! Why Elizabeth! Why did you take her away from me? Why didn’t you take me instead? Or even both of us… then we’d still be together. Why?” John cried.
John was on his knees and continued to weep when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“What about your kids, John? How much more devastated would they have been losing both of you?” The voice behind him began to pray, “Lord, God, You know the pain that John is going through right now. Touch his heart and wrap Your loving arms around him, dear Lord. Give him a peace that surpasses all understanding. Lord God, give him strength to endure the struggles in his life. Help him to continue to be a loving father. Dear Lord, grant him wisdom and help him remember that he can do all things through Christ who strengths him. In Jesus Christ’s holy and precious name. Amen.”
“Thanks. I needed that.” John stood up and turned around to see his best friend, Chris Gonzales, who gave him a sympathetic hug and pat on the back. “I don’t know how you do it, Chris, but you always seem to show up at the right place at the right time.”
Chris smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I’ve got God’s number. Actually, I swung by your house, but you weren’t there. I tried your pager, but it squealed in my ear and said the number was unavailable and to try again later. So, I called Becky to see if she knew where you might be.’”
“I turned my pager off. So, Becky told you I’d be here?”
“She didn’t know for sure but figured you would be because… well, you know.”
“Yeah.” John took a deep breath and sat down next to his wife’s headstone.
Chris apologized, “I’m sorry for interrupting, Brother. I know you want to spend some time alone. I just wanted to see if you felt like going to Antonio’s for lunch. I wanted to talk to you about our little crisis at work.”
Chris was a computer tech at Delco Communications and had worked there for the past three years. John and Chris had also attended the same high school, so they had known each other for many years. Three years ago, when Chris had been job hunting, John had talked to a couple of managers and had convinced them that they needed another tech at work, with all the new network upgrades that were being put in place and all. Along with John’s referral, Chris’s bachelor’s degree in computer science and seven years prior experience in information technology helped convince the I.T. manager to select him for the job.
John looked at his watch. “I tell you what, Chris. I want to spend a little more time alone here, but meet me at Antonio’s in an hour and we’ll talk over lunch. My treat.”
“Don’t kid yourself, John. I invited you. I’m paying.”
“If you insist.” John smirked, “I left my checkbook at the house anyway.”
Antonio’s Tex-Mex Restaurant was John’s favorite place to eat. He and Elizabeth would often meet there for lunch because it was close to each other’s workplaces in Round Rock. Elizabeth had usually ordered a taco salad or an enchilada plate. John preferred one of the house specialties: a large chicken breast stuffed with rice, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese. The plate also came with fried rice, guacamole, and either refried beans or “frijoles a la charra”. John would usually order the latter. The meal, of course, also came with tortillas and was preceded with chips and hot salsa.
When John arrived at the restaurant, Chris already had a table ready for them. Tortilla chips had just been set on the table along with two menus and silverware that was wrapped neatly in cloth napkins. John sat down across from his friend and set his menu aside. Chris greeted him and scooped up some salsa with a tortilla chip.
“So, have you heard about San Diego?”
“Yeah, my brother told me about it,” John answered as he grabbed a chip.
“David. He’s an investments V.P. at a bank in Dallas. I asked if he could check into Delco for me, since he’s more in tune with the stock market and business trends and all that. Anyway, he managed to find a brief article on the computer that talked about the layoffs in San Diego.”
“A hundred of them,” Chris recalled. “And get this. I heard through the grapevine that fifty more got laid off a few days ago!”
John finished chewing on a tortilla chip and then said, “Not a good sign, considering San Diego and Round Rock are roughly the same size operation.”
“Was the same size operation,” Chris corrected.
“Right. Anyway, I wonder how our management team’s going to respond to what happened in California.”
“A memo was sent out last night. It basically assured that our jobs are secure here and that what happened in San Diego wouldn’t happen in Round Rock.”
John drank some soda and responded, “God willing. After hearing about the salary freeze, I don’t know.”
“I hear you. I have to admit I’m a little apprehensive myself.”
A waitress walked up to Chris and John’s table and asked if they were ready to order. John ordered the usual. Chris ordered an enchilada plate and quesadillas. They continued their conversation while waiting for their food and while they ate their meals. They discussed how the employees have been reacting to the salary freeze.
Over the past week, ten customer care representatives had either stopped showing up for work or had put in a two week notice. Several supervisors had also talked about looking for other jobs. The thought had crossed John’s mind more than once, but he mentioned how hard he had worked to get where he was now and was not too confident on the ease of finding a replacement job because of the economy.
John started working at Delco Communications at the bottom of the totem pole taking customer service calls and was now a lead supervisor with hopes of landing an assistant site manager position within the next year or two if the call center began to expand. Unfortunately, the exact opposite seemed to be happening. He prayed that was not the case.
“If the company begins canning employees in Round Rock,” John said as he grabbed another chip, “I think we can be pretty sure your job is secure since I.T. is understaffed as it is.”
“Amen to that, Brother!” Chris agreed. “Hey, I wouldn’t worry too much about your job either, John. You’re too much of an asset. You’ve contributed more than most of the supervisors there combined. They’d have to be complete morons to let you go.”
John joked, “Yeah. Let’s face it, Chris. Our managers aren’t exactly rocket scientists, you know.”
“Can’t argue there.”
“Anyway, I’ve already thought about the worst case scenario. If for some reason I do lose my job—”
“No, hear me out. I’m not trying to be pessimistic or anything. This is just hypothetical. Worst case scenario, I thought about how Elizabeth would want me to handle it. I mean, I still have some insurance money saved up.” John noticed Chris’s uneasy look. “I know what you’re thinking, Chris. That money’s been set aside for Jared and Caleb’s college education, but I think Elizabeth would want me to take care of today if we were put in a bind. The money would get us by for at least a little while if things go south.”
“John, I understand the reasoning behind this, but don’t you think you’re overreacting a little bit? Come on, man, you’re not going to lose your job. You’re too much of a benefit there. You and I both know that. Even the biggest idiot there is smart enough to know that.”
John smiled. “Yeah, well, I guess you’re right.”
“You know I’m right. Now let’s finish up here so we can go shoot some pool.”
Delco Communications Headquarters
Los Angeles, California
Monday, 8:15 a.m.
Edward Phillips opened his planner, prepared to take notes. He awaited a se-nior management meeting regarding the current financial crisis that the company was facing. Managers from all of the company’s call centers in the United States were gathered in the large conference room.
Mr. Franklin Sinclair, chief executive officer of Delco Communications, walked in the conference room and greeted the managers, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.”
The managers returned the gesture.
“I want to thank each of you for making the trip to Los Angeles on such short notice. We have much to discuss over the next several hours, so I’ll get right into our primary subject.
“As most of you already know, our San Diego call center has been reduced by 153 employees over the past couple of weeks. It is something I regret, but it was also inevitable. This could not have come at a worse time than now, considering we had plans to expand in San Diego with an additional 250 jobs. Regrettably, our pending cellular communications contract with Titan Electronics fell through with the decline in the economy. Jeff, would you please update us with the current status in San Diego?”
Jeff Holcomb had recently joined the company’s senior management team after transferring from San Antonio about six months earlier. He had been an assistant site manager at the call center in San Antonio before accepting the position of site manager in San Diego after hearing about the new expansion project, which he would play a significant role in. He had no idea that he would be directly involved in the layoff of over 150 of his employees within a few months of his arrival. He felt horrible about the entire situation.
Mr. Holcomb cleared his throat and addressed the team, “Over the past several weeks we’ve been conducting some extensive cost analysis and, well, I don’t have to explain what our findings were. Delco-San Diego was losing a significant amount of revenue and in an effort to correct our problem we had no choice but to reduce our staff by thirty percent.
“Out of the 153 employees, we had to let go 110 customer care reps, 25 operations support staff, ten supervisors, two trainers, five quality control associates and one assistant site manager. All of our exempt employees received one week of severance pay for every year of tenure with the company. Of course, they’ll also receive unemployment benefits. The rest of the staff has also been guaranteed the same benefits and given a list of government assistant programs, for those who may have the need to apply.”
Mr. Phillips asked, “What are you doing to boost morale at your site?”
“To tell the truth, I really don’t know what to do. It’s not as if I could arrange a pizza party or something like that. We neither have the money left in our budget nor would it be appropriate for a time like this. For now I’ve just sent a few memos to the staff encouraging them to continue doing the excellent jobs that they have been and that they’re the cornerstone for the company during these difficult times. So far, what I’ve seen and heard from those not directly affected by the layoffs have been sighs of relief that they still have their jobs.”
Another manager asked, “Do you expect any further reduction in your staff?”
Mr. Holcomb glanced at the C.E.O. and answered, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Mr. Sinclair thanked Jeff for the information he shared and then continued with the meeting. He picked up a remote and pressed a button. A large screen lowered from the ceiling and displayed a graph similar to the one that the vice president of operations used in Round Rock.
“As you can see, miniscule profits have not only been a dilemma in San Di-ego.” Mr. Sinclair pointed at the screen. “Cincinnati, Tucson and Round Rock are among the more serious concerns that I currently have. In just over the past six months these three operations have cost Delco Communications over five million dollars in combined losses. As you can presumably foresee, it’s imperative—as undesirable as it may be—that each of these locations reduce their workforce as deemed necessary to help recover losses. Are there any questions at this time?”
“Sir,” Mr. Phillips addressed. “We’ve implemented a number of cost reducing measures in Round Rock, which have included the immediate freeze of all merit increases and performance bonuses. Are layoffs absolutely necessary?”
The site managers of the Tucson and Cincinnati call centers both plead similar cases.
Mr. Sinclair acknowledged, “I understand your concerns and efforts. I have been aware of them and have considered your attempts to reduce expenses at each of your individual locations, but after including them in the corporate forecast, it has been determined that your efforts will help but not solve the problem that we are facing. Please be assured that this has been a difficult decision to make and this was the last thing I wanted to resort to within our organization.
“San Diego was in the exact same situation as you are in right now. They had also made the same cost reduction measures, but that was not sufficient enough to make a significant difference. Losses continued to grow.” The C.E.O. paused to drink some coffee. “I apologize, but the only way to correct this problem is to reduce your staff. The three sites that I have mentioned will be required to reduce their annual payroll by at least two million dollars each.
“To put things in perspective, I will use the Round Rock efforts as an example. A merit increase and bonus freeze for one quarter would only reduce payroll expenses by approximately one hundred thousand dollars. A twelve-month freeze would generate between four hundred fifty to five hundred thousand dollars. That approach, though helpful, will not suffice. For Round Rock, Tucson and Cincinnati, I need cost analysis reports reviewed and a decision made on how many employees your workforce will be reduced by and exactly how much you will reduce your payroll expenses by. “The layoffs can be done in three phases, but they must be completed within the next thirty days. I would also suggest talking to your local workforce centers for information on any special assistance and job placement programs that they may have available. Hand this information to the employees with their separation paperwork.”
Mr. Phillips sighed and took off his glasses. The Tucson manager shifted her weight in her chair while the Cincinnati manager nonchalantly opened and closed his pen, with his right leg bouncing up and down. The three site managers had many years of experience, but none of them had dealt with such an intense situation before.
Mr. Sinclair noticed the apprehensiveness of the three professionals. “I do not mean to put the spot light on the three locations that I have mentioned, but that is where most of the revenue is being lost. I regret having to add more weight to your already stressful jobs, and I had hoped that the layoffs would have stopped with San Diego. However, it is either lay off employees now or shut down entire call centers later. I think we would all prefer to avoid the latter.
“Although I have focused on Cincinnati, Tucson and Round Rock, revenue is being lost elsewhere. Kathleen, Miami is not doing too well itself, so check your numbers. Alex, Boston could also use some further cost reduction. Maria, San Antonio is not doing badly, per se, but double-check your stats and do some forecasting. As for the rest of you, make sure you do your part in getting revenue up. And one last thing before we take a short break… there is to be absolutely no overtime allowed until further notice.”
The tension was so thick in the conference room, that when the C.E.O. of Delco Communications dismissed the managers for a break, no one budged. Everyone—especially the managers of the Cincinnati, Tucson and Round Rock sites—were so deep in thought about the coming layoffs.
The managers whose sites that seemed to be spared for now wondered how long it would be before they found themselves in the same situation. As for Mr. Phillips and the other two managers who shared the responsibility of recovering over five million dollars of company losses, they feared for their own jobs if the next quarter did not show profits on their cost analysis reports.
Almost in unison, the three managers grabbed bulky cellular phones out of their leather satchels and called their offices.
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