9. ‘The Three Stooges’ Make A Comeback.

We hadn’t forgotten our love of family partying because of living in Surfers Paradise where it was like party time every day, so  because it been Christmas time, we organized one for New Year’s Eve at our home. By this time too, my sister Rita and her family had also moved from Melbourne to Surfers, as too Joan’s niece Gladys and her family and of course all of our family had come home to roost. We made it a fancy dress one with a Surfers Paradise motif so as to keep it in that flavour, and it was a blast. Unbeknown to us also was that our backyard neighbours had also organized one for themselves, so it ended up with all of them joining us that really shook up the neighbourhood with a Happy New Year into the wee hours.

I upped myself at my next place of employment through my application for a Production Manager’s position that saw me back into furniture manufacturing. When commencing at Don Juan Waterbeds, which was owned by the partnership of two blokes with the one called Don and the other Juan,  that was about all they produced, but they were good at it though with a few local and interstate owned businesses, and they had a day and night shift going. At my interview they were trying to impress the importance of reconstructing their business because it had become stagnant, that their expenditure was beginning to exceeded their returns and that they didn’t have the time to expedite a solution. After perusing my credentials and advising me that as they had other applicants to interview over the following days and that they would get in touch, they phoned me that same afternoon to meet with them the following day to discuss my salary and my modus operandi. It seemed that Reg my former employer in Melbourne had sung my praises to high heaven when they phoned him. Because of what seemed to me a real hodgepodge business after walking around in the factory proper, I requested my new employers not to make mention to anyone of them about hiring me yet because I wanted to suss out the place at my own discretion. My early nights and mornings observations outside the perimeter of the factory sussed out (searched out) the employers comings and goings. It was then a simple procedure in finding out the name of the workers who were starting late and those who were leaving early by discretely checking their clock cards during the day. The night-shift workers drifted in at their leisure due to their friends clocking in early for them, and they took it in turns. They also took it in turns to find a quite spot to kip (sleep) on the job when I began to wander around to see what else they got up too. The day-shift must have been made aware by the night-shift of somebody checking them out for they were falling over each other to impress me how productive they were. Old habits die hard, and my quiet and unexpected wanderings throughout the factory caught them at most times unawares because I was keeping my own timetable for a week by coming and going whenever I pleased.

They employed seventy production workers for the day and night shift that was slackly supervised by an Administration Manager, a Factory Manager and a foreman. The Administration Manager was actually more the purchasing officer and gofer for the owners, so he was seldom seen in the vicinity of the factory proper. The Factory Manager either paced the factory floor as king of his domain barking out orders or sat in his office reading the newspaper and going over the racing form. The foreman buzzed around like a blue arse fly (disorganized and frantic movements) touching on everything but never settling down because he was run off his feet trying to do everything. Taking also guarded notes of stock in hand when prowling around worked that lot out on how the night shift to cover up their unproductive shift they would remove completed stock to replenish orders. Dispatch was doubling up on some of its outgoing orders by doctoring the invoices. The storeroom was left at the discretion of the workers who reigned supreme. The day-shift though was a bit more productive, however, they again required a time and motion study with workstations reorganized so that their work movements could go from a to b instead of from a to z. They would also think nothing of breaking off work to have a chat for yonks (a long time) about mundane things, and smokos (tea breaks) and lunch times were the longest I had ever seen.

The owners called a meeting of staff and workers to introduce me on a Friday morning because the nigh-tshift workers received their wages then, and for me to say my piece. It was short and to the point. My telling them that I was the Production Manager and in charge of all the production and dispatch, and that they would receive a fair go because I was a fair person even though I was dark of complexion, which brought a laugh, but that there were changes to be made for the firm to stay solvent, which caused them to shift around uneasily and look at each other. When continuing that there would be a day-shift only with the night-shift incorporated into daytime employment, they all stood like stunned mullets (a fish, and someone who looks shocked like that). Even the owners, for when they were told before time that there were going to be harsh changes, their response was not to tell them but to surprise them with results that would get the business viable again. Their bewilderment still showed when getting back to the office, and on telling them that there would be retrenchments they still didn’t want to know why or who. When summoning the Factory Manager to their office and my telling him that he should reorganize the workstations to accommodate the night-shift for the Monday morning, he became all flustered with question of why and how. When pointing out to him that if both shifts were producing at their ultimate level, all that had been done was the combining of the two and I expected the same output, we could all see by his expression that he didn’t know his arse from his elbow. When handing him an occupational list of the night-shift workers with a bit of assistance to get him motivated, my telling him that if he found that there were excess workers, space wise at workstations, to utilize them as assistance to fetch and carry during the transition so as to move production along at a steady pace, he couldn’t thank me enough. Then I stood back to observe the rest of the preparation that was expected of him as a Factory Manager. With no forward planning, he was flitting around like a blue arse fly too, and not accomplishing anything effective in his futile attempts as he harangued the workers to reorganize their departments. The foreman though through his own initiative had begun immediately creating space by moving components on pallets to one area of the factory and reading unused workbenches.

The Monday morning saw everybody arriving on time and each one clocking on for themselves, which was a step in the right direction. It was chaotic though when the Factory Manager barked out indecisive instructions to the confused workers. That’s when I stepped in to restore order. With him looking on I took the night-shift workers one by one to their appropriate workstations, explained what was expected of them during the transition and that they would soon be operating on an alternative worker roster that had been compiled by me. The factory was humming then and my next calculated schedule was the dispatch section. They had already packed the trucks with daily delivery orders, which I was waiting for, and at my request for the delivery consignment and invoices, the person in charge had the audacity to tell me that he had been doing it for years without any complaints and that everything was in order. Ignoring him and going meticulously through every order and checking that the articles related, while he and the drivers went to the office to report that I was holding up deliveries, I found discrepancies with four orders and had it removed off the trucks. Coming back with the Administration Manager who was a born again Christian and thought that everybody was in his category of being good, but not knowing yet what he was good at, he demanded to know why the four orders had been removed. My adamant answer was that I would be doing snap inspections at all times and any orders that didn’t come near to correspond would be removed. There wasn’t any reason for accusations because they had gotten the message and knew the score.

The first to go was the Factory Manager followed by the dispatcher and those workers who left on their own accord due to finding themselves incapacitated by the new work regime, which were the night-shift workers who had slacked off.  With my work-stations time and motion study completed, the arrangement and setting out of the factory took on a different aspect. It wasn’t the hodgepodge of before but a smooth oiled running production line where workers didn’t have any excuse to stray away from their work areas. From then on I was called ‘the silver fox’ behind my back because of my shock of silver hair and silent approach, but it was used as a sign of respect for they were receiving a fair go (treated fairly), and production output had doubled. By setting myself up in the vacated Factory Managers office with a female office worker to compile, correlate and dispense production orders to different departments from my forward planning production sheets, and with the foreman then just having to buzz around and look like a busy bee throughout the factory, I found the time to set up an in-house manufacturing department for water bladder mattresses. The owners because they were completely solvent then were investing their returns for expansion of the business, and one of the owner’s had made a trip to America to wheel and deal for machinery and two American workers with the expertise to manufacture the waterbed bladders. Opposite the factory was a row of vacant, single small business factories, with one of them rented by the firm as a storeroom. My renovations converted it into a water bladder department, and with the two Americans installed on a permanent basis, the firm was not only manufacturing for themselves but also for the open market. They were also opening their own retail shops and expanding their franchises further afield, and the variety of produced units also increased. That’s when the increase in my salary was renegotiated with an added bonus of traveling expenses and car fuel.

What they also had in mind was to manufacture and add bedroom units as a complete ensemble to the waterbeds as bedroom suites. That though didn’t bother me, but what did was when finding out that there was not one tradesman in either wood-machining or cabinet making to undertake those measures, and I had to advertise for those qualified for the positions. With the purchasing and installation of the water bladder machinery and extra wood working machinery for the manufacturing of the bedroom units and upholstered waterbed frames, I also had to employ a fitter and turner cum electrician for keeping the complicated machinery operational. With all the increased production and products, the factory space couldn’t accommodate the capacity of products manufactured, and the increasing dilemma caused an increase of flooring across the buildings rafters to transfer the cabinet assemble section and to extend the storeroom and the upholstery section in that area. The factory then consisted of seven fully productive sections in the area of wood machining, assemble, cabinet making, burning and sandblasting, spray painting, upholstery and the water bladder division. The Production Manager and the one foreman were then both flitting around like two blowflies, and that caused me not to be able to keep my pulse on the overall operation. Consulting with the owners and telling them what was required for the situation not to deteriorate further was a working foreman in all the main sections and a permanent store-man was agreed upon. It wasn’t an ulterior motive; it was only a convenient way of also in having my son Harold, the spray painter, who worked in that section to be promoted as one of the foremen. What wasn’t convenient though was when the proprietors asked me to have stacked rows of solid, cut to size Huon pine used for the waterbeds shifted from the close proximity to and in the factory backyard to the far back of it. When explaining the inconvenience and time wasting of that exercise, the surprising explanation was that a complete new factory was to be built there for the water bladder and wood machining section.

They were really riding high and so was I, in the sky, for with the franchise outlets crying foul to damaged goods arriving or too late for fulfilling orders, part of my duties became to fly interstate and pacify the franchisees with dinner and drinks. Expense account, hired airport car, accommodation and attending the Royal Easter Shows in Sydney where the firm had a furniture display at the furniture stand was all laid on. They were also laying it on for themselves and going a bit overboard. One of the cabinetmakers had the expertise of shop fitting and boat building, and when the owners, one who had bought a house up in the hills and the other a restaurant and a hull of a twenty foot cabin cruiser boat that was housed in the then vacant single factory across from the factory, which a casual shipwright was building up in his spare time, they requested if he could be taken off the workbench and do work on their newly acquired projects. The built in cabinets and fittings of the house was constructed with only the best and expensive materials, and so was the restaurant and boat. The new factory was one of modern design, it though was only a shell with no innards for it seemed finances was again at a minim due to extravagant spending by the owners. When requested by them to attend a meeting there was also a financier in attendance, who was unbeknown to me, who it seemed they had dealings with in further financing the factory completion. From me the financier wanted to know my opinion of why the company’s profitable financial turnaround had deteriorated because he had been told that it was due to my production expertise that had pulled them out of their predicament in the first place. He also went on to say that he was told that I spoke my mind and said it like it was, and because drastic measures had to be taken again, what measures could I see that should be taken to get them back on track.

Sitting back and looking at the ‘Three Stooges’, as I privately compared the two owners and the Administration Manager too, for when everything was smelling of roses they use to go around with big grins and rubbing of hands, and had meetings behind closed doors with laughing and going on that never saw my involvement. Not that it bothered me, but I was receiving information from them second hand after they had made the decisions, and it would always be too late to get them to retract or cancel it. As in all businesses there has to be constructive criticism in management to iron out defects, and I had quit a few run-ins with those three. The Administration Manager, who had been with the owners from the conception of the business, had employed a few of his slack friends at that time, and again unbeknown to me they were the ones that had been retrenched. As management, one of the considerations was that any worker retrenched was to be seen as a combined decision, not him, for when his mates who were fired approached him; he would lay the blame wholly on me. At first I let it ride, until it came to a head on one occasion when balled up in the factory and verbally abused by just one such worker. Standing there and just letting him get it out of his system with the rest of the workers looking on wasn’t very pleasant, what I had in mind though for afters wasn’t pleasant too. The three of them were again behind closed doors when bursting in and leaving the door wide open. My outraged, angry sounding very loud thought out barrage was that he was a piker (someone who backs down from an arrangement), and if he hadn’t sat on his brains in the first instance the firm wouldn’t have been in dire straits, and that although he had seen the light as a Christian he was still in the dark ages where production and management was concerned, and that if they were only seeing me as one of the workers who they didn’t have to consult about anything when everything was smelling of roses, then I was out of there. When storming out and walking through the main office there were nods of good on you and a silent clap by an office worker, and the factory workers just grinned with silent approval. When requested to come to the office, I sent a message back to the effect that although not frequented they knew were my office was. Only the one owner had the balls to face me with apologies and question my flare up. When explaining the backstabbing, he assured me that there would be a severe reprimand, and added that a personal apology from the Administration Manager would be forthcoming.

The three of them at the beginning when production was up and running would wander through the factory and stop at workstations to stand, watch, criticize a workers mode of work and try to change it. The workers knew what my standing on that sort of interference was because at our monthly workers discussions where do and don’ts always reached a satisfactory compromise, and that one was a no-no. When approaching the three of them about their unhelpful behaviour they were quite taken aback because they were management. On pointing out that they were stuffing up my production procedures and undermining my authority it kept them far away from the workers. Also, when the owners were splurging their new-found wealth I took it upon myself to have a quite word to them about watching their cash flow, which didn’t go down to well because they were sorting out their own accounting and it was also costing them for the upkeep of the two Americans who had free reign. All that had occurred from the time of my employment there I reiterated to the financier who sat and shook his head in disbelief. He admonished them and told them that it wasn’t a club for the boys anymore, which with the inclusion of the Sales Manager it had become, and that if they had treated me with more respect, taken me more into their confidence and listened to my advice as he discerned hadn’t occurred, they wouldn’t have found themselves back in that predicament again. He also indicated that I hadn’t been hard enough with all three of them, and shut them up quick smart when they told me it was time to retrench more workers. He then pointed out the comparison of workers they had employed for the nil returns to the amount employed then for what had been achieved, and told them that they had their say which wasn’t very encouraging, but that he was sure that I would have a better solution.

If they hadn’t been so thoughtless and greedy to expand that rapidly a financier wouldn’t have been required, for the companies name and products itself was a requisite. I didn’t also have to then introduce a time and motion bonus system that was time consuming and involved heaps of paper work and calculations. That was the solution offered to the financier.  The end result was that some workers would increase their productivity by up to 30 per cent and incur a supplementary monetary bonus rate in addition to their wages. Of course the ‘Three Stooges’ didn’t have a clue what my suggestion entailed, and made inept comments that the firm couldn’t afford to pay extra money to the workers or that extra products were required. The financier though had seen the wisdom of an incentive bonus, and after jotting some figures down he told them to listen and learn. It was simply arithmetic, for if there were forty workers with an extra output of 30 per cent per week it would automatically reduce the required workers by twelve. With an average wage of $180 per worker, less the companies insurance and administration cost for them, plus the bonus rate for the remaining workers, they would be saving thousands of dollars. My other suggestion was to pull out and close their retail shops that were known not to be a cash flow success, and to have one of our qualified trade persons trained in the water bladder section so as to eventually take it over. The financier before leaving came around to my office and assured me that he would be keeping personally in touch with me.

The Administration Manager had employed an assistant to aid him with his bookwork, and when advising the owners that it would be impossible for me to perform both production and the time and motion study efficiently, the assistant was transferred to aid me. When explaining to the workers the intended concept of the operation with times that would be taken of worked components at normal working pace, and that any worked components produced over an allotted time established for one and every component would be converted to a monetary value, and paid as a benefit over and above their normal wage. And also explaining that my assistant would be timing them with a stopwatch instead of me, with my reason given that they might want to impress me by working above a normal pace, but because they would be aware that it was only what his entire role consisted of they would work normally. Also, that I wanted no extra mucking about bunged (put) on to increase times taken, they were quite pleased to be able to receive an extra increment at last for when rushed jobs were at a premium. What they didn’t realize though was what the consequences would be. It was obvious that the workers most efficient would be excelling at the bonus system and producing more products, and would be doing those that were inefficient out of products to produce, and because the departments operated on a set weekly products production schedule there was going to be those really inefficient standing around doing nothing. They were the first ones to go and production was still on schedule with only twenty-eight production employers from the original seventy.

When the financier phoned and I advised him about what had transpired he was elated. He became annoyed though when telling him that the owners were still hanging onto their non-profitable retail shops and trying to flog them off as franchises, and where also trying to improve the company’s image with what I thought was wasted television and radio commercials, and a waste of money. Not wanting to put them down completely because they were relying on his finance, my information that they had installed one of the tradesman in the water bladder section and had requested me to put up a competitive bonus earned section board, so as to encourage the section with the highest weekly bonus earned in receiving an extra bonus, he became more tolerant. Delivery trucks came back over the follow weeks though with removed carpets, shop fittings and bedroom suites from some of their retail shops locally and interstate. The three of them were also treating me with more respect, management meetings found me becoming more involved in decision-making, and Joan and I were invited for socializing. The new factory was then fitted out with the best of mod cons and fittings, and extra new water bladder machinery with an additional new innovation from America of waterbed bafflers for stabilization. The wood machine section of the old factory never had a sawdust extraction system but that one did, which was a necessity because it was in close proximity to the water bladder section, but it was also expensive. The ‘Three Stooges’ were smiling again, so it seemed that everything was rosy again and the workers were also happy and earning a substantial wage.

With that year a bumper one, my suggestion to the owners of giving office staff and workers a breaking up end of the year luncheon party in appreciation for their efforts was well received, and I organized a hot lunch through caterers who served it up and a good time was had by all. It was a good time for Joan and me too, for with a substantial bank account we purchased property at Paradise Point, which is on The Broadwater and the tail end of Surfers Paradise, and then had a house built on the knolled property that overlooked Coombabah Creek; Aboriginal  meaning place of turtles, and Coomera River; meaning wattle tree, that was considered then the arse end of Surfers because of the distance to travel, which was only about thirty minutes by car, and due to that we didn’t have many visitors. We enjoyed the peace and tranquility though, especially as ours was the first house in that newly established area, and the family and friends called our home ‘The little house on the prairie.’ When in North America while in the merchant navy, prairie dogs would be seen from the ship when traveling up rivers through treeless areas of grassland. They were of the rodent type with a bark like a dog and had a peculiar mannerism of emerging out of their borrows to look around from left to right. I had become aware of that quite new mannerism from the ‘Three Stooges’ when they emerged from their office on sudden frequent walks throughout the factory. Very observant and long enough in the game, it became obvious that there was something they didn’t know and were trying to find out, but didn’t want to involve me. Keeping my eyes and ears attuned as the animals of Africa, it saw an earlier than usual complete stocktaking ordered, and the ceasing of the bonus system rang the alarm bells. It soon became very obvious that because of their advertising promotion on television and radio they had expected an inundation of orders, but due to having gone to an extreme extra expense of building up stocks of water bladders, bafflers, bed linen, bedroom suites and Huon pine by the truck load, the financier because of not receiving his promised returns had pulled out. They had really stuffed up that time and a Receiver Accountant was appointed. The downhill spiral went from retrenchments, shops closed, franchises lost, factory sale of excess goods and the owners on a weekly wage. They hung onto me almost to the end thinking that maybe I could pull one more rabbit out of the hat, but it was time for me to go.

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Pretty basic reference from the Administration Manager who just loved to see me go.

 

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Now this reference was from the Financial Controller after Don Juan Waterbeds was placed in the hands of a Receiver and Manager, and he really knew the score.

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Our son Chris toffed up and the life of the party as usual.

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Jose Gonsalves and Joan shaking their booty with me sporting my Surfers Paradise tropical shirt.

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Chris chatting up the back-yard over the fence neighbours with Joan, Greg in a blond wig and the rest of the gang encouraging him.

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Joan with some of our back-yard neighbours partying on.

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Hey! Hey! The gangs all here dancing up a storm with Joan, Chris, Gina, Debbie, Jose jnr and Toni.

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