The Definition of Success

As Chief Financial Officer for the National Motorcar Company, or NMC for short, it was Tim Robart’s job to make sure that the company gets the most bang for its buck out of each and every one of its twelve North American plants.  Expenses needed to be kept under control, recalls were to be avoided, engineering and marketing people had to be brilliant everyday, and those on the line were required to pull their weight.

A little over a year ago, Tim found himself puzzled by the company’s Bedford plant.  He couldn’t figure out why productivity was down so much.  For years, Bedford had been the company’s most profitable operation, but not anymore.  Cars were coming off the line slower than usual, recalls were happening left and right, and equipment was always breaking down.  Every time he went to visit the plant, everyone acted like their old enthusiastic selves, so what was going on?

“Maybe hidden cameras might show me what I’m missing,” he mused.  Within hours of watching the first day of filming, Tim had his answer.  While he had been busy contemplating company profits, those on the line were busy contemplating other issues.

“So Wade, tell me who you think is more successful,” Carl said to his workmate of ten years.  “A guy who plays in the majors for fifteen years or a guy who only plays for five years?”

“That’s easy,” Wade replied.  “The guy who plays for fifteen years.”

“But what if the guy who played for fifteen years was just a bench player who only made the league’s minimum salary while the guy who played for five years was a superstar the entire time and earned just as much in the five years he played before blowing out his knee than the guy who played fifteen years?”

“Oh, that’s deep.  I’m going to need a minute to think about that.”

Only Wade took much longer than a minute to think about it, way longer.  So long in fact, that at least a dozen parts slid past him on the conveyor belt without being inspected.

“Now I know why things are being recalled so much,” Tim said to those back at head office.  Shortly thereafter, it was decided that the plant would be relocated to Mexico, where operating costs were lower and management felt that the people there would be more grateful for steady work.

The downfall of NMC’s Bedford plant didn’t rest entirely on Wade and Carl’s shoulders.  Conversations similar to theirs had been held throughout the plant.  Who was hotter – Jennifer Lopez or Jennifer Lawrence?  Which would be worse – losing an arm or losing a leg?  Is it better to go with a gas mower or an electric one?

Wade and Carl never did find another job that paid as well as their job at the plant, nor did they ever decide who was the more successful athlete – five year guy or fifteen year guy.  What they did come to conclude, however, was that they didn’t know what they had until it was gone.

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