Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Barklays Badly Managed,Damn Near Bancrupt Bank Blues.

Poor Barklays Bank. By 1990 this formerly thriving financial institution was now drowning in a sea of red ink. In fact, the only place you would find more red ink is at your local Office Max. But the reason for this dilemma was clearly Barlays fault.

In the 1980's, Barlays Bank specialized in providing credit cards for clothing,stereo and department stores. The sales staff,always poised and positioned to earn the much desired commission,pushed through credit cards,giving them to people who never should have received cards in the first place. These cards were issued to the type of consumer who had neither the financial resources nor the desire to make good on their incurred debut. One department store actually issued a credit card to a self employed mime artist! I'm not kidding.

Now, Barklays overpaid executive managers should have seen these red flags from the jump and quickly nipped the problem in the bud, instead of letting years go by,letting bad credit card debt mount and doing nothing until it was too late. Which is exactly what they did. Either these executives were asleep at the switch or they naively hoped the problem would somehow iron itself out eventually. Yeah, and pigs fly!

By early 1990, Barklays Bank had one foot into chapter eleven and the other foot on a roller skate, so a solution needed to be found. It was decided that selling off their white elephant was the best way out of a terribly bad situation. But first, they needed to alleviate the overwhelming amount of delinquent accounts in order to make the bank appear to be more profitable to the potential buyer . To achieve this agenda , an aggressive campaign was mounted: Barklays Bank would use their existing staff of collectors and add to that fifty temp workers. With this method, they hoped to eliminate enough of the bad credit card debt making their failing thrift appear to be financially solvent. It was crunch time at Barclays Bank;the heat was on!

Now, here's where I come into the picture.It was December 1990;the recession was getting worse. The DuPont Company and Hercules Chemicals were laying people in Delaware off in alarming numbers. The jobless rate was so high that on the average there were fifty people applying for one job. Former high ranking executives were now scrambling around for whatever jobs they could latch onto.Temp agencies were packed with unemployed people looking for gainful(if temporary) employment.

One day, I noticed in the help wanted section of the paper an ad for credit card collectors through a temp agency. To be honest, at first I wasn't interested in working in collections.I considered debt collectors to be mean,heartless,relentless bastards hounding those who through no fault of their own were unable to pay the credit card company. But,unemployment doesn't pay all that much and since my job prospects seemed slim to none,working in collections suddenly didn't appear to be the monstrous profession I had previously thought it to be. The things we'll do to keep the wolf away from our door.

Anyway, the temp agency procured the position for me, so bright and early Monday morning there I was(along with ten others)being trained as a collector. We were informed the bank expected us to go on the phones after our training and collect ten thousand dollars a week. The trainer made this feat seem as easy as falling off the proverbial log. Following four days of training,we got cracking on Barklays delinquent accounts,attempting to meet the ten thousand dollar a week quota.

On my first week, I collected about twenty five hundred dollars. Not bad for just staring out of the gate,if I must say so. The second week, I pulled in five thousand dollars from the default accounts in my files. I thought, for someone who'd never done collections before, my performance was picking up momentum and that in a week or two I'd reach(and maybe exceed)the ten thousand dollar mark . But there were dark clouds on the horizon.

During one lunch break, a fellow employee came into the break room and told everyone he'd overheard a meeting where the head manager stated,in a voice bordering on hysteria,that the head honchos at Barkleys demanded that efforts to collect on past due accounts be stepped up. It seems they were on the verge of selling their crumbling financial institution and the delinquent accounts had to be purged even further to make their portfolio appear more attractive to the interested buyer. This was to be achieved by any means necessary or people were going to be fired.

At first, I thought this guy was gilding the lily,so to speak ,by making the situation more dramatic than it really was. Suddenly,as if on cue, everyone in the break room saw the board room door open and the managers filed out one by one; each of them scowling and ashen faced. There's nothing more foreboding that a group of scowling,ashen faced managers,let me tell you.

About an hour before quitting time, one of those managers asked all of us to log off of the phones because we were going to have a meeting. It was actually more of a lecture than a meeting. He shouted that we all had to step up our productivity,but wouldn't tell us the reason why. The lengthy harangue ended with," Everyone in here better start pulling in more money and it better start today!If not, we'll start cleaning house!" With that he slammed his fist against the wall,calmed down a bit and then left the room.

At the end of the third week, I'd collected seven thousand in past due debts. I was supremely confident that next week the ten thousand dollar goal was well within my grasp. Then, the hammer was dropped on me. That night, the temp service called me to say my assignment had been ended,that my performance was not up to par. Not up to par? I had never done collections in my life and here I was raking in seven grand in past due accounts.But they were going on a firing jag, getting rid of temps and even their full time employees with ruthless abandon, the coldblooded bastards. The managers were also on the chopping block as well;no one was being spared. The worst part of this was, I got fired two days before Christmas. Merry Christmas to me!

I never found out if Barklays Bank ever unloaded their unwanted white elephant on another bank or if they simply sank into the morass of delinquent credit card debt and were flushed down the sewer with all of the other mismanaged business's; a fate those creeps more than deserved. And frankly, I could've cared less. But on a plus note:while I worked there I did meet a delightful woman named Peg with whom I had a wonderful year long relationship. See? Every cloud does have a silver lining.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Moral Dilemma: Doing What's Right.

During the summer of 1990, I began working for a now non existent company called Stewart Sandwiches as a route driver. The money and the benefits were substantial enough to make the decision to leave the other McJob I was at(a well known storage company) a particularly easy one. As I said, the money was good and having tangible medical benefits(as opposed to being constantly promised them)was a definite improvement. Plus I enjoyed the job. Except for having to put up with the owners, Dick and his wife Shelley,two people who should have put an end to their wretched excuse of a marriage a long ,long time ago.

Not a day went by during the four months I worked there that myself and the other three people who worked at Stewart Sandwiches weren't subjected to their petty bickering and naked animosity. One time, Dick was so infuriated by an insult hurled at him by his shrewish wife that he gave her the finger in front of everyone. Their rancor extended to Dick arriving at work driving his beloved black Mustang while Shelley drove her white Lincoln Continental.

Whenever she deigned to stay home during one of her moods,Dick would be in high spirits. No wonder, he didn't have to argue for eight hours incessantly with Shelley. And since the wife was away, Dick felt free to regale us with stories about the twenty five year old mistress he was screwing on the side. One time he was bold enough to bring her by and show her off to us! Dick was always going on and on about how young and pretty she was,unlike Shelley. And we were treated to blow by blow descriptions of their sex life,while Dick nudged whoever was closest to him in the ribs all the while winking and giving a thumbs up.

Now,I will confess that Shelley was not the nicest person that God ever let draw breath. She was bellicose and rather short with people. I imagine that being married to her was no slice of heaven;more like a long,torturous tour through Dante's Inferno. But Dick once told us point blank that he was staying married to Shelly because it was "Cheaper to keep her"; that a divorce would put a serious crimp in his finances. So,while he remained unhappily married to his wife, Dick would sneak off to get some loving with his girlfriend, whom he kept in a nice apartment and provided living expenses for.

Whenever she would broach the subject of Dick leaving Shelley and marrying her, he would paint a false picture of financial ruin incurred should divorce become a reality. Naturally, his girlfriend not wanting to kill the goose laying her golden eggs agreed that their current arrangement was indeed mutually beneficial. The matter,at least for the moment, was dropped. Dick was successfully juggling a sham marriage and a torrid love affair at the same time,while myself and the other three employees heard endlessly about his double life . Dick was quite proud of himself. Behind Shelley's back, Dick would refer to her as " Shelley Stank Vein" and" Mama Ugly Vein" because of a rather predominate vein which ran the entire length of her leg, incurred during the birth of their only child,a son named Bob.

Out of curiosity, I asked why he didn't take her to a plastic surgeon to get the supposedly disfiguring vein fixed. Dick replied he felt this was throwing good money after bad and why waste money on that middle aged shrew when it could be better spend on his younger, prettier honey? I may not have liked Shelley in the slightest, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Her husband,in my estimation, was a slimy,ball-less weasel.

By September of that year, the recession was upon America and Stewart Sandwiches was feeling the effects of it. Sales became sluggish at certain stores, so the routes were trimmed as the accounts who weren't doing sufficient business were eliminated. Unfortunately, someone at Stewart Sandwiches was going to be laid off. Three guess's and the first two don't count as to who the unlucky person was. If you guessed me, then put a little gold star next to your name. You know the rule, last hired/first fired.

As Dick told me the bad news, he assured me that I would get an excellent reference from him. He then shook my hand and wished me good luck. This was during a very bad recession however,so jobs were hard to come by. I lucked out and procured a posit on as a collector at Barklays Bank,a financial institution attempting to rid itself of millions of dollars of delinquent accounts while trying to find a buyer for their white elephant(I 'll go into detail about this story at a later date). The upshot was, this failing bank expected each collector to rake in no less than ten thousand a week or they were shown the door. I was shown the door after a month, so it was back to pounding the pavement in search of gainful employment.

Around Christmas time of that year, I received a call from Dick at twelve midnight. He was in quite a predicament, one of his own making. It seems that his wife Shelly suspected he was cheating on her and she in turn threatened divorce in which she stood to take him for half of everything. Dick wanted me to verify his story of spending time at a local tavern and lie to her that he and I spent evening in this establishment knocking back beers and playing pool. I felt this was simply asking too much of me and that I shouldn't get involved in a situation which was not any of my business. Never the less, I asked Dick if I could take a day or two to think it over and then give him an answer. He unexpectedly roared at me," Tell me now, Goddamn you! Shelley'll put my ass into a sling if you don't come through for

Now, I felt bad for Dick, but I was at a moral crossroad: do I lie for him when I know this is the wrong thing to do? I mean,was it my job to help Dick maintain he and Shelly's cardboard cutout of a marriage? Or do I tell Dick no and risk offending him? He didn't allow me the time to think things through, but I knew in my heart what the answer was. The right answer, that is. I said I wouldn't lie for him and that my conscience was more important than his double life. Dick shouted at me before hanging up," I'll fix you, sonofabitch! I'll fix you!" I thought to myself," What can he do to me? I don't work for him anymore." Talk about famous last words!

For the next month or two, I must have applied to fifty to sixty places for a job and noticed I was getting nowhere. Then, during a second interview for the position of liquor store manager, the owner informed me that when he called Dick for a reference,he was told," No comment at this time." No comment at this time? Whatever happened to my excellent reference? Needless to say, I didn't get the position. Yes, this is how Dick, that miserable,gutless, cheating pile of crap got even with me for not lying on his behalf. If it weren't for the fact that I would have gotten arrested for assault, I would've kicked his candy ass up and down the street where his business was located. Instead, I took it on the chin. But from that day forward Dick and I were enemies.

A few years later, I heard rumors he and Shelley moved to Florida in order to save their comedy routine they called a marriage and opened up another business. Other rumors surfaced that Dick snuck his girlfriend down there as well and was still carrying one with his double life. Whatever the truth is,all I know is that I stuck to my guns and did the right thing,despite the consequences. In the end, that's all that actually matters.