JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

The Fast Track Management Trainee

In case any of my former co-workers from Channel Home Center in Harrisburg should ever find their way to this blog, I’d like to point out that in the previous post one of the details I changed was where the events occurred. So don’t waste your time trying to figure out which employee I was talking about.

This is not the Harrisburg Channel store, but it looks similar

But while we’re on the subject, I just want to point out that Channel Home Center, once it was acquired by W.R. Grace and Company, was an extremely badly managed business. How it lasted as long as it did is something I’ll never understand.

I worked there for about two and a half years from late 1977 to mid 1980, and although I got off to a rocky start (about a week after I began, I was in a car crash that kept me out of work for about three weeks), it didn’t take me long to move from a sales clerk to a group manager in charge of one department of merchandise.

The Harrisburg store was plagued early on by a manager who was having an extra-marital affair with the secretary in the front office. This affected the business as the two of them (manager and secretary) were often screaming at each other, and folks learned to steer clear of the front office. Happily, he didn’t last too long, three or four months, I think, before he was canned. I believe he left his wife behind and took the secretary with him.

My memory is cloudy on his replacement, because I seem to recall that the assistant manager Bob Hughes, who was a decent guy and a good manager, remained the assistant. I was sorry when he got promoted and sent to another store. Eventually, however, we got a pretty good manager named Cort.

At some point, probably in 1979 during the Three Mile Island crisis, Cort told me that we’d be getting a temporary employee. This guy (I don’t recall his name, so I’ll call him John) would be with us for two weeks and would circulate through all the departments to get experience in each one. He was part of a new fast track management trainee program that Channel was starting. Cort told me to keep him apprised as to how John was working out.

Well, John arrived, and he had a somewhat dour personality, not at all what I would expect in a management trainee. The few days that he spent with me, he didn’t seem to want to do anything that I told him to do. If anything, all he wanted to do was hang out in the break room as much as possible.

So when Cort asked me for a report, I began, “They say if you can’t say anything good about a person, you shouldn’t say anything at all…”

“Is he really that bad?” asked Cort, visibly surprised.

I nodded.

As the two week period went on, I was hearing the same thing from the group managers of the other departments. John just didn’t seem to want to work.

On what would have been his last day, he didn’t even show up.

Cort told me that the day before John had come up to him and said that he was feeling a lot of resentment from the other employees because he was on a fast track to management. But Cort thought something else was going on.

A couple months earlier one of the top employees at the Pottstown, PA Channel store had tried to organize the other employees into forming a union. He failed, and according to Cort, he had also tanked whatever future he might have had with Channel, which was staunchly anti-union.

“I think John may have been sent to feel out the employees here to see if there is any interest in unionizing,” said Cort.

In any case, we never heard from John again. Nor did we ever hear anything more about a fast track management trainee program.