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When 50 people are better than 350

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

A 350-employee aerospace company in the foothills of southern California made oxygen masks and other life-support gear for aviators.

While competing for federal contracts, the company hit the shoals, due mostly to a business-as-usual climate. Everybody muddled along.

Finally, the company ran out of cash. Management froze. The president committed suicide and the firm filed for Chapter 11 protection.

After a tough search for somebody who’d accept minimal pay, exude confidence and take the steps to succeed, the bank chose Aaron Bloom, who had left the firm a few years earlier as vice president of engineering.

Bloom gathered the 50 or so remaining employees and said: “From 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, we will all perform our regular duties. If you are a secretary, you’ll do secretarial work. If you’re a manager, you’ll manage. If you are a design engineer, you’ll design.

“After 5 o’clock, everyone — from secretaries to me — will help the production line put the product together. You and I will take orders from the production supervisors. There will be no pay for this, but there will be sandwiches for supper.”

Bloom answered questions. Then, he said: “We are going to return this company to its rightful place of saving lives by supplying a quality product at a good price. We are also going to save our jobs. I know we can do this. If I thought we couldn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

Two years later — fully staffed and profitable — the company exceeded its former peak. It came back because one man believed in its mission, himself and his employees. For that, they were willing to work hard without extra pay.

How could 50 people accomplish more than 350? The 350 didn’t believe they could make a difference. It took a leader to show the survivors they could. Bloom led them to do the impossible.

—Adapted from The Art of the Leader, William A. Cohen, Prentice Hall.

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