Dangerous, Combustible Bob

He could throw the fear of God into you, that’s for sure. And it wasn’t that he was an imposing figure– any one of us could have pulverized him mano-a-mano, he being soft, puffy, even a bit girlish. But with his name way up the org chart and his nose way up the old man’s keester, he could pretty much have his way with us.

Bob grew the company through intimidation and force of will, was absolutely ensconced in his position, and had a jones for power which he wielded in the most astonishing fashion.

My compadres and I had kids, dreams, mortgages, responsibilities and a common will to hang in there until our resumes could circulate throughout the industry and carry us through the Valley of Death to safe havens and verdant pastures.

When Bob– Dangerous, Combustible Bob– wasn’t happy, heads rolled. You never knew when exactly he’d pop, but you knew it wouldn’t take much to set him off– a bad cup of coffee in the break room, a rude motorist on the parkway… maybe a hinky prostate. Whatever the reason, the explosion would be loud, violent and final.

One of the most effective weapons in his arsenal of pain was the sneak attack. He’d turn suddenly to an unsuspecting district manager, excoriate him in full view of his peers, call for a security guard and have the poor guy escorted from the office and placed– singed and smoking– into a yellow cab for the airport.

“I credit his nasty demeanor to brain damage,” Tiny Boudreaux once volunteered, “the result of a bungled vacuum extraction at birth, and I fully expect to receive a telephone call some foul winter evening with news that his remains have been discovered amid the rancid pizza boxes and discarded unmentionables in a trash hopper behind a Ramada Inn somewhere.”

Corporate legend had it that years ago a ravishing beauty had inspired Bob to cross four continents in search of adventure, art, beauty and truth– and had left him just before their wedding with a four-bedroom split level, two leased Volvos and a deranged cockatoo.

The engagement ring, a gigantic diamond set in a delicate base of golden rose petals, was said to have arrived a week later via Fed-Ex second day air, rattling around inside a band aid tin.

Which we thought was a pretty cool legend.

Anyway, however horribly he treated his employees, he was that much worse with vendors. One guy, fed up with Bob’s confrontational attitude and insulting behavior, stopped in the middle of his presentation, looked at us sitting in stony silence around the giant conference table, shook his head sadly, said “you poor bastards” and scooped up his presentation and waltzed out the door.

We all looked forward to resigning, and we’d hold going away parties at a little pub down the street. Bob had a policy of booting you out the door the minute you gave notice, so we’d encourage anyone who was going to quit to do so around four o’clock on a Friday… and let the games begin. It was fun at first, depressing after a while.

Well, we drifted away, one at a time, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes via yellow cab. We were big boys and girls and could tolerate our fair share of abuse, but this guy was way over the line and we simply wanted to live sans Bob.

Life’s too short, you know?

When I look back at my time there, I must say I enjoyed the industry and my coworkers, and it’s too bad a guy like Bob was in charge.

My theory is that with all the talented, hardworking people in the world, why put up with someone like DC Bob? Yes, he made the company successful to the degree to which it succeeded; but how much more successful would the company be if it were run by someone just as tough but not so mean?

I guess we’ll never know until Bob retires, combusts spontaneously or drops dead of rage. But I do know this: Bob developed within each of us a very low level of tolerance for bad behavior. I’ll bet every single one of us who worked for him will never again accept such treatment from anybody …or ever treat others as he treated us.

And for that, I say, Thanks, Bob.

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