Laugh in the Fast Lane
The Webmaster Disaster
By Roger Yohem
When the Internet revolutionized the business world, it caught many executives by surprise. They were not prepared for the pending evolution, and some blew it off as a trendy marketing gimmick.
At the time, it was easy to see why. New college grads were job hunting with a menu of innovative yet unproven job skills. Their generation had grown up in a web of bits and bytes, servers, and search engines.
Many students that I talked to aspired to be Dot.Com Prima Donnas. But sadly, their personal communications skills were weak.
At the time, the CEO I worked for saw the Internet’s potential as a powerful sales tool. His “vision” was to use it to grow his small company, to give us a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace.
What I didn’t know at the time put me at a huge disadvantage. I didn’t know the company was littered with his college friends and family members. I also didn’t know that three other Marketing directors had predeceased me.
Although building the Staff was my call, I did inherit a talented but moody graphic designer. Moving fast, I hired a marketing specialist, PR director, writer, and student intern from the UA.
For my last opening, I wanted a savvy Webmaster. But when I approached the CEO, his “vision” went blind. He already had lined up his daughter’s boyfriend.
From Day One, the boyfriend was as productive as an Internet worm. He lived three time zones away, was still in college and available only on his schedule. He talked a good game, but couldn’t walk the walk.
And as for details, the only accuracy that mattered were the hours on his time sheet.
At my Friday Staff meetings, I invited officers in from other departments. They had 10 minutes to share their responsibilities and projects with us.
After several frustrating weeks with the boyfriend, I invited the CEO to our meeting to critique our website. Within minutes, he was fuming. The website was a disaster.
“What the hell is going on here?” was his challenge to me.
I told him the problem was the boyfriend. Phone calls were not returned. Emails unanswered. And the work he did do was so sloppy, it had to be corrected four or five times over.
The CEO was in disbelief, so I called the Webmaster wannabe and put him on the speakerphone. He told the CEO my directions were never clear.
As the boyfriend babbled on, I opened my files. When the boyfriend said, “I never got that,” I handed the CEO his original memo. When he said, “That’s not what Roger asked for,” I handed the CEO the copy of the checklist.
Some of the Work Orders were even marked boldly: “3rd Request, fix TODAY!” As my Staff listened in, the worm continued his squirmy defense.
The CEO took over my computer, asking about specific assignments. On one page, they began to argue. The boyfriend insisted he had made an important data change. It wasn’t there. As I handed the memo to the CEO, I took a giant red Magic Marker and wrote the corrections right onto my PC monitor.
I circled the error on the glass screen and underlined it twice.
“Hey! You can’t do that!” the CEO popped. To which I replied, “Well, neither can your Webmaster.”
The next Tuesday, the CEO came to my office. As we discussed the situation, he kept looking at my monitor. I knew exactly what was bothering him-- I had left the Magic Marker edits on my screen.
Eventually, he agreed a change was needed. He would deal with the boyfriend. (He was taken off the website but kept on the payroll).
By Friday, I had a few candidates lined up for interviews the next week. Things were back on track until the CEO came into my office. He shut the door.
Quietly, he told me he had “taken the liberty” of finding a new Webmaster. He had hired a “really sharp” college student who had taken “some” Internet classes.
Warily, I hung on his every word: “My son starts work for you on Monday.”
This is a true story, drawn from Yohem’s 25-year communications career with Tucson Electric Power, Southwest Gas, and the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association. The names are changed to protect the guilty. Yohem’s column looks at the lighter side of “challenges” in the business world.
March 28, 2007