10 Sep

Grass and the Miser


While out today, I spotted someone mowing a small patch of grass adjacent to a strip mall. It gave me a laugh as I thought of an incident involving a former employer and a similar small patch of grass. Perhaps the story will give you a laugh as well.

Before I begin, though I won’t name the employer, the owner is deceased and the company has long since gone out of business.
The fact that the company is no longer in business likely will not come as much of a surprise after you read this story. This is but one in a long series of comparable tales involving this foolhardy owner. He was skilled in his craft, but he was often left wanting as a businessman. As I look back, it was remarkable that the company stayed afloat for as long as it did.
This company had owned a two-storey building and it housed all of their staff comfortably for many years. A steady increase in business, however, had seen more and more staff come on board.
It got to the point that the building was literally bursting at the seams. A friend and I had jokingly suggested bunk desks as a solution. Like bunk beds, employees could work over top of each other. Perhaps the most senior employee would get dibs on the top bunk.
The company looked for more practical alternatives.
Across the street was a strip mall with a vacant office. A solution was readily at hand.
The owner and the property manager came to an agreement on the rent, though I’m sure that the negotiations were not easy. The owner was a notorious miser who would carefully track each penny that left the office.
As an example, there was a time during one winter that I had to wear a parka in the office because he had turned the heat down so much. It had caused such resentment that another staff member went as far as to call Workplace Safety and Health to no avail.
Everything looked to be on track with the nearby unit until the owner had found out that part of the monthly maintenance fee had included the cost of mowing a small patch of grass on the opposite side of the strip mall.
There was no grass next to his unit, so why should he have to pay for mowing grass, he said.
The property manager refused to lower the rent and the owner backed out of the deal.
Unfortunately, there was no other vacant office nearby. After much searching, he eventually found an empty building in an industrial park several miles away. He took out a second mortgage on his existing building to buy it and about a quarter of the staff made the move out there.
This arrangement soon resulted in many problems.
Staff were often shuttling between the two offices, resulting in an incalculable number of wasted person-hours. From my perspective, I began to spend so many extra hours on the phone trying to diagnose problems in the remote office that most often could have been easily solved with a five-minute trip downstairs.
This was in an era long before electronic communication became commonplace. The only network available to us was “sneaker net,” physically moving paper files from one desk to another.
Since so many items needed to be couriered between the two sites, the company had to hire an employee whose sole function was to act as a mailman. In addition, they also had to pay him a mileage allowance, since he was using his own vehicle.
In short, though those of us in the existing building appreciated having the space, the splitting of offices proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Bunk desks may have proved to be a better option after all.
Up until his dying day, however, I have no doubt that the owner was enormously proud of having stuck to his guns by refusing to pay for mowing that grass.
As they say, penny wise, pound foolish.
And that is why I will always chuckle when I see someone mowing a small patch of grass near a strip mall.