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Management Side
Taking out the trash

Ladies and gentlemen, it's safe to say that it's much easier being a manager when times are great.

When the profits are rolling in, the company's stock is going through the roof and you have a "dream team" assembled at your place of business, life is good and the ship almost steers itself.

Yes, if you're blessed to find yourself in that type of situation, managing could be categorized as a piece of cake. And that cake is often so rich, you could schedule an afternoon tee time multiple times a week and probably wouldn't be missed.

But if you're behind the wheel of a ship long enough, there's a good chance that the calm waters and bright, sunny skies won't last in perpetuity - no matter how great of a manager you are. Almost always, at some point in time, storm clouds will form, the waters get rough, and the storm comes rolling in.

I've been in the industry nearly two decades now, and I've seen all sorts of "weather" - the good, the bad and the ugly. You probably have, too.

And over the years, I've been blessed to have worked alongside some very good managers ... and have been "blessed" with rather bad ones, as well (and that's putting it mildly). Of course, the latter group certainly didn't seem like any type of blessing at the time, but I've come to find that they're often blessings in disguise, or at the very least they drive home a powerful lesson on how not to manage or act in general.

But we'll talk about antics and practices of those folks another time. Perhaps.

After I graduated from college, I took my first job as a sports editor of a local newspaper. This was back in the 1990s, the economy was good and the Internet was still in its infancy - there was no Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, iPads and so forth, and many, many people still relied heavily on their local newspaper.

And, of course, newspapers relied heavily on mills that produced newsprint.

However, about 10 years later, things were changing - then a major recession hit.

In the mid-2000s, the small newspaper I worked for (I was a managing editor now, and the managing editor who hired me was now the publisher) made the company more than $1 million bucks in a year, but that apparently wasn't enough for the corporate fat cats. Some other divisions weren't faring so well, and the corporate suits decided to buy up a bunch of publications during a time (in hindsight, of course) when it was rather foolish to buy up a bunch of struggling publications.

So the suits ordered (more) cuts. Then when the Great Recession of 2007 hit in full force, they ordered even more cuts - and forced the entire staff (well, except for the sales folks) to take mandatory, unpaid furlough days.

When the skies were sunny back in the 1990s, the publication that I worked for had more than 70 employees. By 2007, that number had shrunk to around 15 or so. (It's even less today.)

Occasionally, I'll sit back and think about how my publisher handled that trying situation. Trying his best to keep from letting more hardworking folks go, he got as creative as he could to cut costs.

One day when I was on deadline, I noticed him toting a trash can back toward the Dumpster. I didn't think much about it. Then I watched him carry another, and another, and another. (You get the picture...)

As he passed by my office another time with another trash can, I picked up my trash can and walked toward the back of the building with him. As we emptied the cans into the trash bin, I asked why he was dumping all the trash, and he told me that he decided to cut out the cleaning service due to budget constraints and would start cleaning the building himself.

And he did. I'd come in on weekends to do some work when the building was dark and quiet and I'd find him sweeping and mopping floors and cleaning sinks and toilets. Sometimes, he had his kids with him to help him out.

Honestly, it made a major impression on me - one I won't forget as long as I live. Here was the publisher of a newspaper, the top guy in the building, sweeping and mopping floors, cleaning toilets and taking out the trash. A guy who probably worked 70- to 80-hour workweeks - and that's before the cleaning detail.

I started making sure my trash can was empty so there was one less can he had to empty. Several times, my wife, Helen, and I would stop by the office during the weekends to help clean. Sometimes, he was there, a couple of times, we got there first and were able to do the honors.

It's been years, but I remember cleaning the toilets (and recall that the women's restroom was often in worse condition than the men's ... just an observation), mopping and sweeping floors, and taking out the trash. I noted that, even though by that time every employee knew who was cleaning the office, some trash cans were empty and some work areas were neat and tidy, while other work areas were messy and the trash cans were full or even overflowing.

When winter hit, I found out he had eliminated the snow removal service, too.

Now, am I saying that managers should clean entire mills and that company brass should scrub commodes and scoop snow with shovels when times get tough? No.

However, when one rolls up their sleeves, goes to bat for their workers and shows they're willing to go above and beyond and go an extra mile or 10 when the storms hit, it makes an impression. (And on the other hand, when you're the one cleaning and taking out the trash, you learn a lot more about the folks you work with, too.)

To put a bow on this week's offering, and just in case you were wondering, the publisher eventually got tired of the corporate headaches, resigned and bought a competing newspaper (not long before the aforementioned company filed bankruptcy) - and some of the hardworking folks went to work for him and are working for him today.

For them, the storm has passed, and life is once again good. At the other place, in the same market, mind you, the storm continues. As do the cuts.

Steve Roush is Vice President, Content Channels and in charge of the International Desk at Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at steve.roush@taii.com.

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