I had hoped by the time I was promoted to assistant manager it might mean something other than long hours and an increase in pay.
But unlike others who had taken the job, and eventually become jaded and left, I stayed. Something I realized that others seemed to either ignore or just didn’t understand, this was a company that rewarded loyalty.
It was why there were quite a few who had served 30 years or more. They might not reach the top job, but they certainly well looked after.
I had a long way to go, having been there only 8 years, and according to some, on a fast track. I was not sure how I would describe this so-called ‘fast track’ other than being in the right place at the right time and making a judicial selection.
When it was my turn to be promoted, I had a choice of a plum department, or one most of my contemporaries had passed over. At the time, the words of my previous manager sprang to mind, that being a manager for the most sought after department or the least sought after, came with exactly the same privileges.
And, he was right. I took the least sought after, much to their disdain and disapproval. One year on, that disapproval had turned almost to envy; that was when the Assistant Managers were granted a new privilege, tea, and lunch in the executive dining room.
“So, what’s it like?” John asked, when our group met on a Friday night, this the first after the privilege was granted.
He had been one of the three, including me, who had the opportunity to take the role. Both he and Alistair had both declined, prepared to wait for a more prestigious department. It hadn’t happened to them yet.
“The same as the staff dining room, only smaller. Except, I guess, the waitstaff and butler. They come and serve you when you have to go to them in the staff room. They’re the same staff, by the way, except for the butler.”
I could see the awe, or was it envy, in their eyes. “but it’s not that great. The Assistant Managers all sit at one end of the table, and we’re not part of the main group, so no sharing of information I’m afraid. And the meals are the same, just served on fancier crockery.”
“Then nothing to write home about?” Will was one of those who they also thought to be on a ‘fast track’. I was still trying to see how my ‘fast track’ was actually that fast.
“Put it this way, the extra pay doesn’t offset the long hours because you get overtime, I don’t, so on a good week, you’d all be earning more than me. Without responsibility, if anything goes wrong. I think that’s why Assistant Managers were created, to take the blame when anything goes wrong.”
That had been the hardest pill to swallow. Until I got the role, I hadn’t realized what it really involved. Nor had the others, and it was not something we could whinge about. My first-day introductory speech from Tomkins, my Manager, was all about taking responsibility, and how I was there to make his life easier. It was a speech he made a few times because he’d been Manager for the last 16 years, much the same as the others, and promotion if ever, would come when they died.
And Manager’s rarely died, because of their Assistant Managers.
“How old is Tomkins now?” Bert, a relative newcomer to our group, asked. He was still in the ‘in awe’ phase.
“About the same as Father Time,” I said. “But the reality is, no one knows, except perhaps for the personnel manager.” O looked over at Wally, the Personnel Department’s Assistant Manager. “Any chance of you telling us?”
“No. You know I can’t.”
“But you know?” I asked.
“Of course, but you know the rules. That’s confidential information. Not like what you are the custodian of, information everyone needs.”
Which, of course, was true. Communication and Secretarial Services had no secrets, except for twice a year when the company Bord of Directors met, and we were responsible for all the documents used at their meetings. Then, and only then, was I privy to all the secrets, including promotions. And be asked ‘What’s happening?’.
“Just be content to know that he’s as old as the hills, as most of them. It seems to me that one of the pre-requisites for managership is that you have been employed here for 30 years.”
Not all, though, I’d noticed, but there wasn’t one under the age of fifty.
And so it would go, the Friday night lament, those ‘in’ the executive, and those who were not quite there yet.
It seemed prophetic, in a sense, that we had been talking about Mangers and their ages. By a quirk of fate, some weeks before, that I learned of Tomkins’s currents state of health via a call on his office phone. At the time he was out, where, he had not told me, but by his the I believed it was something serious, so serious he didn’t want me, or anyone else, to know about it.
That phone call was from his wife, Eleanor, whom I’d met on a number of occasions when she came to take him home from work. I liked her, and couldn’t help but notice she was his exact opposite, Tomkins, silent and at times morose, and Eleanor, the life of the party. I could imagine her being a handful in her younger days, and it was a stark reminder of that old saying ‘opposites attract’.
She was concerned and asked me if he had returned from the specialist. I simply said he had but was elsewhere, and promised to get him to call her when he returned. Then I made a quick call around to see where he was and found that he was in Personnel. I left an innocuous message on his desk, and then let my imagination run wild.
At least for a day or so, the time it took for me to realize that it was probably nothing, the lethargy he’d been showing, gone.
I’d put it out of my mind until my cell phone rang, and it was from the Personnel Manager. On a Sunday, no less. In the few seconds before I answered it, I’d made the assumption that Tomkins’s secretive visits to the specialist meant he needed time off for a routine operation.
Greetings over, O’Reilly, the Personnel Manager, cut straight to the chase, “For your personal information, and not to be repeated, Tomkins will be out of action for about two months, and as that is longer than the standard period, you will become Acting Manager. We’ll talk more about this Tuesday morning.” Monday was a holiday.
All Assistant Managers knew the rules. Any absence of a manager for longer than a month, promotion to Acting Manager. Anything less, you sat in the office, but no change in title. There was one more rule, that in the event of the death of a manager, the assistant manager was immediately promoted to Manager. This had only happened once before. 70 years ago. If a manager retired, then the position of Manager was thrown open to anyone in the organization.
It was an intriguing moment in time.
Tuesday came, and as usual, I went into the office, with only one thought in mind, let the staff in the department know what was happening, of course, the moment I was given the approval to do so by Personnel.
Not a minute after I sat down, the phone rang. I picked it up, gave my name and greeting. It was met with a rather excitable voice of the Assistant Manager, Personnel, “I just got word from on high, you’ve been promoted to manager. How could that possibly happen…”
Then a moment later, as realization set in, “Unless…”
© Charles Heath 2020