When a good customer requests a meeting at his place, I go.
That happened recently, when our shop’s account manager accompanied me on a 20-minute trek to a customer’s new corporate headquarters for a meeting to review our contract and extend it a few years. The customer happens to be a large corporation, and our shop has a contract to exclusively manufacture certain products.
While there, I made some interesting observations about the company and its culture, making it clear why I prefer the confines of a family business over a corporate gig. The comparison between work environments was striking.
Upon arrival at a new office park in a tranquil suburb, everything was impeccably clean and meticulously maintained. With three beautiful glass towers situated by a lake, the high quality of the place was evident.
We walked into the main entrance to discover an understandably elaborate check-in process. Check-in consisted of filling out a form, providing identification and getting bar-coded magnetic cards with our photos on them. No magnetic card, no entry.
The lobby was full of expensive furniture and large monitors. It was very business-focused; there were no casual conversations.
Next, our host, one of our main contacts, escorted us to the elevator and took us to the fifth floor. Along the way, he explained that at this palatial corporate headquarters, the protocol was very formal, so avoid speaking to others and stick with him. OK, sounds good to me. Us shop guys can behave professionally.
He reserved an empty office for our meeting, and we finally conversed in a more relaxed manner. He made it clear that he prefers his satellite warehouse, which is where we ship most of the company's products.
After ironing out the details of our contract, he gave us a quick tour around the floor, full of smartly dressed employees who stared at monitors in total silence.
The views of the grounds outside were spectacular, and the inside environment oozed of tight control. But, in spite of the hyperprofessionalism, awesome technology and beautiful scenery, the quietness and lack of anything personal was awkward. Our host explained that company policy forbids any personal items, casual talking and less-than-dressy wardrobes.
The visit was successful, and we thanked our host for working with us. We have a great relationship with certain people at the company and, thankfully, they’re down to earth and easy to work with. They’re the ones actually getting things done.
While driving home, I commented that I had not visited such a formal, policy-driven company in quite a while and was reminded how difficult it would be to work in that situation. We have a professional staff and well-maintained offices and a large shop with cows and horses as neighbors. We actually interface and speak with each other throughout the work day. We occasionally grill food for the employees and share life experiences. Employees have access to owners, when needed. And sometimes we even laugh at ourselves.
Is there anything wrong with the fancy, new complex? No, but I’ll take a family-owned machine shop anytime.