Woody Woodpecker Steals the Show!

Woody Woodpecker Steals the Show!

My first assignment within IBM was working in customer support for mainframe software out of a branch office in Cherry Hill, NJ. We covered the bottom 7-8 counties of NJ and had several large customers that ensured that we would have enough naw (a calculation of the hours needed to support the machines sold in our Branch's coverage area - NAW represented the amount of dollars charged for service divided by the cost of the personnel - this number needed to be higher than 1.0!) to remain in business as a branch. 

The employees of the branch (B087 - in IBM terms) were mostly South Jersey residents and so the office had a very local air about it. Many of us knew others even before coming to IBM, but we all knew people in most of the towns represented. In fact, one of my friend's brother worked there as did a neighbor of mine in Quinton where Geri and I lived at the time.

When I had started, the Branch Manager was the first female ever to be assigned as a BM of a service branch, which was notorious for being a white male dominated enclave. (As an aside, at that time, IBM had been a white male company for many years and the changes could be seen in other divisions such as Sales already). She had hired me and had moved on after several years.

So it was that Joe Donahue had been assigned as her replacement. Joe was a pretty good Branch Manager but it was obvious that this was just a stopping off point for him on his way up the ladder. Having said that, he didn't like for anything to reflect badly on the office, so it was expected that we would manage our customers professionally and keep problems from escalating to his desk. That actually was part of our job anyway, but he made sure we understood it. 

Joe also wanted to impress regional managers (since that was his next goal - either that or education manager) and thus ends the setting for our tale. It will appear that I am completely switching gears at this point, but I'll tie it all together, trust me. {Which by the way was my first line manager's favorite saying when we were looking for promotion or raises - "Trust me").

As a perquisite of the job, each year that a branch qualified, it would have an outing of some sort to congratulate the group on doing a good job. The outing would be held at some nice location and would consist of a morning breakfast meeting (so it could be an official work day - tax purposes!) during which a summary of the year would be given. There would be promotion announcements, awards and a discussion of the direction for the division and the branch for the coming year. After the meeting, we would then be treated to some fun activity. One year we went to the racetrack outside of Philadelphia and another year we went to a country club for golfing or tennis.

It was important to show that you were a team player and opportunities would be given to employees that might be considered for promotion and such. So it was that I was asked to serve on the FITS (Fun in The Sun) committee to plan the outing in 1979. Our task was to come up with the activity and venue. This would be presented to management for approval with Joe having the last say. We thought that it would be fun to charter a fishing boat and go deep sea fishing, management liked the idea and we were off designing the day's events. I was given various tasks, finding a hotel in Wildwood (someone else had found the charter boat in that city) that would cater breakfast and have a large enough conference room for our meeting. I also helped pick out prizes for the winners of the fishing contest that we set up. Finally, Joe asked me to do a special task. Since he knew I had been a teacher and knew how to run A/V equipment, I was to find a film from the library to show.

I brought Joe three or four films and we reviewed them together (I think he wanted to assure I could set up the equipment). They were all on how to successfully manage business responsibilities and they were all boring. But, Joe liked the most boring of the bunch and told me to check it out of the library for the meeting. Joe watched it several times so he could add comments, etc all in an effort to impress the Region Manager who would also be attending our meeting. Remember, Joe's goal is not to stay in Cherry Hill as a Branch Manager but to move to the next level.

Well, I did as he asked, but I borrowed a second film that I thought might be a better introduction to the meeting.

One the day of the FITS outing, everything went very well. The committee was there early and Joe oversaw my installation of the movie and we watched the beginning to assure that it worked as planned. He made the mistake of leaving the room to attend to the arrival of our Regional guest and I switched films. The breakfast went off with no hitches, and once breakfast was over, Joe began the meeting. He introduced the film in detail noting that we should pay attention since there were many good ideas and points in it.


"Okay John, start the film"; he directed. Well, by now you have probably guessed that the opening was the famous Woody Woodpecker cackle and the cartoon began. The room erupted in laughter, not the least of which was that of the Region Manager. Joe, of course, looked stunned and I think betrayed, but the cartoon persisted. 

After about 5 minutes (approx. half the cartoon), Joe said to me; "Okay, John, you've had your fun, now let's put on the real film!" I would have complied even though the branch employees were saying not to, but, the Region Manager said; "No, let it run, I want to see the ending!"

The rest of the day went well, I even caught an Atlantic Sea Trout (which, in South Jersey we call a "weakie"), though it wasn't big enough for one of the prizes. Joe forgave me, telling me that he appreciated the joke, but wasn't sure he would ever trust me again. The Region Manager told me he admired how I had pulled one over on the management staff and applauded my creativity.

A year and a half later, Joe called me at my main account and in a very serious voice told me he had to see me and to meet him at a tavern near the office. I was worried since I had recently been head to head with the manager of the sales team for my account. I hadn't been in the wrong, but could have managed the problem better. Anyway, all the way to the meeting, I kept running possible scenarios though my head. I decided I wasn't being fired since Joe wouldn't meet me in a tavern for that. Joe told me to sit down and order a glass of wine or a beer, he wanted to have a serious talk with me. He couldn't keep up the charade any longer though, and finally admitted that if I wanted it, I had a promotion in Raleigh, NC waiting for me. After a half hour discussing the next steps to assure the job, we parted, but before we did Joe said, "It took over a year to get you back, but I could tell by the look on your face that I had you!"

Davdan @ 2008-2018