I could never be like him because I have problems just understanding the toolbar on Microsoft Outlook, and my bank account speaks for itself, with its annual interest rate of approximately .001 percent compounded quarterly.
As a testament to his greatness, Bill Gates’ Wikipedia entry takes several days to read, and his story is sort of a digital era “David Copperfield” tale, full of twists and turns. And you certainly have to applaud a guy who, with his wife, has handed out $28 billion to charity and is committed to giving away 95 percent of his wealth.
But for all his genius and philanthropy, I got some really weird vibes when I read comments he made recently on BBC Radio about his management style during the early days at Microsoft.
“I had to be a little careful not to try and apply my standards to how hard others worked,” he said. “I knew everybody’s license plate, so I could look out the parking lot and see, you know, when people came in. Eventually, I had to loosen up as the company got to a reasonable size.”
Back then, they probably had no human resources or legal department, and as we all know, you can’t do anything sinister with those departments breathing down your neck, unless you’re the CIA director or the President.
It makes you wonder why a CEO would memorize license plates in the first place. The CFO should be doing that because he’s better equipped for covert operations that could lead to pay cuts and all those other good things. That way, Gates could have put his time to better use at golf outings and employee barbecues or playing Donkey Kong.
Let me theorize about what happened when Gates was busy memorizing license plates:
“Mr. Gates, there’s a call from Steve Jobs on line one about a possible partnership that —”
“DON’T bother me, Alice! I’m memorizing license plates. Tell him to call back on Sunday.”
OR, “Bill, there’s a fire in the computer room! We have to evacuate —”
“@%!#$ you, Scotty! I’m busy memorizing! BACK OFF!”
Truth be told, America needs more managers, executives, editors and prison wardens like that because there’s no accountability in the mailroom, the C-suite or the jailhouse.
Malingerers are the curse of the American workplace, and my years as a manager were troubled by poor performers who arrived late and left early, which meant I spent a lot of time trying to catch people who were stiffing the system and not working a full day.
However, with the invention of new technology, the world is changing — and this is something Bill Gates understands. Now, we can use computer chips to track employees — or we can invest in surveillance drones, which are cheaper, less invasive and more fun to use.
Let’s face it, even though computer chips would be effective, you’d need a Supreme Court decision for permission to insert a chip into your secretary’s fleshy body parts. On the other hand, a drone could hover around his or her workstation and apartment building and send reports about comings and goings back to the central office, which could be easily compiled by a monitoring program developed by Microsoft.
Perhaps the cheapest option would be for companies to hire retirees to keep track of license plates in the parking lot. This would give aging Baby Boomers a second career so they could contribute to the Social Security fund a little longer and ensure that the Millennial Generation gets a piece of the pie someday.
We need to do something fast because this is a developing crisis. Consider a very troubling case in Spain that got worldwide attention, where a supervisor at a water treatment plant didn’t show up for work for six years even though he was still on the payroll. Who knew? Who cared? His bosses got wise to him only after he was given an award for 20 years of loyal service — despite the fact his office had been vacant for years. Everyone thought he had retired or died or skipped town with the boss’s wife. His attorney said he didn’t show up for six years because he was afraid of being bullied and there wasn’t enough work to do. What a creative defense. I’ve heard it many times.
This is a classic case where Gates’ license plate memorization program could have saved the day, not to mention thousands of dollars.
Contact Joe Pisani at email@example.com.