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The Knack Of Managing Part 14

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The president casts one last lingering glance at the 1/2 doz. of something or other ordered by a famous name--and, secure in the knowledge that Fifth Avenue shoppers are still clamoring for his product, hands the sheaf to his office manager who has been pretty fidgety for the past hour and a half because he knows the stock department is going to have a heck of a time making the afternoon express.

Ho, hum! It's a busy life, this being the president of a successful concern doing over a million a year. Why, when grandfather started in, he didn't have a----

But that's another story, and there's that third pile.

A slim little pile scarcely demanding a president's attention--or a sales manager's. A few complaints. A retailer out in Butte. That San Antonio jobber Winchester had such a hard time landing. What's this?

Didn't get the buttons he ordered? Stuff and nonsense--well, Henry will write nice, consoling letters and those will be those.



Now Henry is a good kid. Just out of school. Learning the business.

Writes a bang-up letter.

But the San Antonio jobber doesn't want nice, consoling letters. He wants to know how come his pants came without the special buttons he ordered. And those special buttons are so important in his life that he has written to the head of the firm--whom he'd met at the Atlantic City convention--and he expects the head of the firm to tell him what he wants to know.

"Come, come," the president would have said to him, had he walked into the inner sanctum, "you know I can't give my time to such petty details--I've got department heads who attend to such matters. When you want an extra thirty days--or want to talk over handling our goods exclusively in the Southwest--why, those are the things for you and me to spend our time on."

But the San Antonio jobber, had he been there, and had he been asked, would have rejoined:

"I, too, have my department heads. I, too, leave many of the trivial details to them. But if a customer came to me with a complaint, I wouldn't care a rap what it was about. It wouldn't be that particular complaint which would interest me. It would be the mere fact that he had a complaint at all. A dissatisfied customer is a dissatisfied customer, and there isn't anything in my business that would get quicker and more personal attention from me."

Well, well, businesses come and businesses go. Our imaginary conversation will never take place between the president and the San Antonio jobber. The San Antonio jobber took his business elsewhere some five years ago. The president still comes in at nine and opens the mail.

He never drops a check in the wastebasket. There are still three piles in front of him. Three slim piles. Even the pile of complaints is slim.

There isn't enough business left to produce many complaints.

Henry? Oh, he got to writing letters to an heiress who was wintering on the Riviera. And when her daddy died, he wrote such a nice, consoling letter----

But we wander far afield. We're out in the rough somewhere, and it's going to take a real recovery to get us back on the fairway if we don't watch out.

For one thing and for instance: _Is_ the customer always right?

A one-time shoe salesman reports the following incident in a Chicago department store. He was talking with the head buyer in the middle of the sales floor when up marched a thoroughly angry woman with the shoe adjuster tagging on behind.

"These shoes," she pointed to a pair of satin pumps in the adjuster's hands, "are too small."

"And she wants a new pair after having worn them half a dozen times,"

added the adjuster.

"Who sold them?" asked the buyer.

"Jones."

"Go get him."

Came Jones. "But, madam," he protested, "don't you remember I warned you that you needed a 5-1/2? And don't you remember that I also suggested an A instead of a double A? And when you felt certain you wanted the 5AA, didn't I suggest that you try them again at home before having the cut-steel buckles sewn on?"

Well, yes, that was all quite true. But it didn't offset the fact that the shoes were too small and she couldn't wear them.

Two guesses as to what she got. And if each guess is a satin pump you may step quickly and quietly to the head of the class. She got a new pair of shoes.

"Well," sighed the buyer, when peace and quiet had been once more restored, "they tell me upstairs the customer is always right. Certainly it's true that one dissatisfied woman has more effect on our business than four or five satisfied customers. Oh, no, she won't go and tell her friends about the fair treatment she got here, but oh, man, if we'd let her get away! What a story that would have been--in spite of admitting she was wrong!"

Innumerable examples of that sort of thing might be introduced. There is the story of the North Shore matron who had an expensive rug sent out, kept it three months and then decided she didn't like the color. In its place she wanted a certain oriental, but oh, dear, it was just a bit too big for her purpose.

Of course the rug was cut to fit. And when she decided a week later that it, too, wouldn't do and went and bought another rug somewhere else, the management thanked her kindly and credited her account with the full amount. It knew that the life of the business had to be protected, and every now and then found it distinctly worth while to take time out to LOOK AFTER THE WELFARE OF THE ENTERPRISE.

And here we face another question: "Must the manager occupy his time with every minor complaint, just because it happens to be one which comes from a good customer?"

To answer it, we must go back to our New York State manufacturer and strip the scenery from his particular enterprise.

His is a business of few customers. Except for a half-dozen famous retailers whose accounts cost more than they earn, but to whose stores he may point the finger of gesticulating pride as being among his outlets (it would be better for him if they were among his souvenirs), his business is handled through thirty or forty jobbers. Naturally each of his customers is a very important unit in the business.

The loss of one account is serious.

So a customer to him is an outlet for business greater than the trade a big department store gets from a hundred good customers. One customer to him is as a score of customers to the manufacturer who sells to the retail trade.

To him, then, a complaint from a San Antonio jobber that the buttons on his pants aren't right has all the importance that the same complaint, echoed by a hundred different customers, would have to the retail merchant. Looked at in this light, is it not logical that any complaint--no matter how trifling its nature--should have his prompt, personal attention? Had he but known it, the letters he turned over to Henry were danger signals. They warned of the need for GUARDING THE WELFARE OF THE BUSINESS--LOOKING AFTER ITS GENERAL GOOD HEALTH.

And that task, as we have said, overshadows in importance every other task which the successful manager, in his daily business of managing, may have to perform.

The maintenance foreman in a New England mill walked into the agent's office one day--why the manager of a mill is called an agent is just one of those things--and said:

"Something's got to be done about that freight elevator over in Building C, Mr. Dearle. I've monkeyed with it and monkeyed with it. It's just worn out, and one of these fine days, it's going to drop a couple of floors and pile up in the basement."

And one fine day it did. You see, the manager was all tied up in a labor controversy. Labor squabbles aren't any fun. And presumably their speedy settlement is far more important to the business than the matter of what to do about a tired freight elevator which has seen far better days.

So Frank the maintenance man had to run along and sell his papers. And the elevator kept on working.

The day it quit, Henry Fitts was aboard. And when the elevator man picked himself up off the cellar floor, Henry couldn't.

But why go into that? Henry's broken leg and Henry's lost time cost the company more than a new elevator. And Henry was one of the company's best technical men. Lots of bum sheets and pillow cases got made and shipped and returned while Henry was laid up. The damage done by that falling elevator could hardly be measured in dollars.

Now, then, settling the differences of capital and labor was a big job to the mill agent. Saying "No" to Frank was merely postponing a trifling detail. Yet what a heap of difference a "Yes" would have made. That defective elevator, because it endangered lives, overshadowed all else in importance, had the agent viewed his job from the standpoint of CARING FOR THE BUSINESS. THE KNACK OF SAFEGUARDING ITS WELFARE lies not merely in doing tasks that preserve the safety of the business or job, but also in the ability to discern when such tasks are really mere trifles, and when, because of their potential effect, they are details vital to the life of the business.

How is a manager to know when he shall devote his entire attention to settling wage rates, and when listen to the maintenance man's song? How can the president of a million-dollar concern tell when it is good business to drop a tremendously important managerial task and listen to a customer's tale of woe about pants buttons--and personally set the complaint right?

How, on the other hand, are you to know when to lay off such tasks?

Some few men--seventh sons of seventh sons--may be born with that instinct or knowledge. The rest of us must cultivate a true knack of conserving the business--a knack which carries with it the finest sense of discrimination and the best of business judgment.

And not until we have acquired this important knack and added to it all the other knacks we've been talking about, can we consider ourselves successful managers. Not until then shall we have acquired THE TRUE KNACK OF MANAGING.

"I've learned how to pick out the tasks that are vital to the business and make them my own special responsibilities," a successful newspaper publisher once said, "by setting up a sort of yardstick to judge every job that comes along.

"My paper was in the 'red' when I bought it. It was a weak sister. It carried the least advertising, had the least circulation and exercised the least influence. Today its lineage is nearly one-third more than its nearest competitor's--and circulation has more than doubled in four years, so now it tops all the rest.

"I analyzed my job something like this: I bought the paper because I thought I could make money with it. To make money, I must carry a large volume of advertising. To get advertising, I must show results to advertisers. To show results, I must make my paper a real "home"

paper--a paper really read and appreciated--not merely a paper with which people are only satisfied. To get that kind of circulation, I must put into the paper what people who read a paper at home wouldn't 'miss for anything.'

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