My relationship with Mellodramatik Murkathon South Africa (MMSA) started in April of 2003. The then incumbent Zerbert Jester wanted to retire at age 60 and he had to find a suitable successor in a relatively short space of time. I replied to an advertisement for a General Manager and having had previous executive experience with a major plastics company for about 14 years, I applied for and was appointed to the position, effectively starting work on the 15th of April 2003.
My initial impressions of the company were not very positive, due to the evidence of neglect everywhere in the company. It became apparent that Jester was holding on for the day he could hand the mess over, take his pension and run, never to be seen again. The offices had been occupied in about 1988, and up until the date of my commencement, it is my belief that the same paint was still on the walls, as were the same carpets on the floor. Another shocking discovery from a technical viewpoint was that the accounting software in use at the time, was purchased in 1988, and had never been updated, or upgraded! In essence the software was being used a large expensive outdated invoice writing machine. To make matters worse, the software was so old that is still used the outdated command prompt line type of input system. More about that issue at a later point in the narrative.
Evidence of the neglect was everywhere in the company, the delivery vehicle used to deliver parts to customers was at least 10 to 12 years old, required regular repairs and looked decrepit, with differing color rear canopy to the body. After several months of repairs and expenses with the vehicle, I decided to replace with a newer model, and sold the old vehicle for a small amount. The new vehicle was considerably newer than the old, had better fuel efficiency, and was far more reliable. It had been in daily use as my personal vehicle for about a year, consequently it was in pristine condition, a fact much appreciated by the regular delivery driver. This vehicle was supplied to the company at cost, and no obligation, other than to maintain and service the vehicle. This continued for the next three years, until the vehicle reached the end of its rental period.
The upper floors of the office block resembled an electronic scrap yard, with discarded and non-functioning electronic components scattered across every available working surface. Such was the influence of the previous so called managing director. It also became clear from the technicians interaction with him, that he was in no way in control of the company as far as the technicians were concerned, as they appeared to not take any note of his instructions or requests. He tried to hide his frustration with the technicians but grudgingly commented that “they were buggers, and you must watch them”. Wise words indeed, as they prompted me to scrutinize the actions of the technicians more closely, with alarming results. More regarding these results later as there were more immediate and urgent matters to attend to.
The accounts department, and department is used in its loosest form here, comprised of one unqualified, untrained debtors and creditors clerk, who had very little or no training on the outdated accounting package, which at that point ran on an archaic dedicated computer, suspected to be a 486 machine running windows 95 or 98 with a hopelessly underrated memory and no performance to speak of at all. The clerk preferred rather to enter all transactions in manual journals and these were then transferred to the “system” by the then accountant, a Mr. Taccountovic, who kept the books using Excel 97, and a hybridization of manual and electronic entries. This system made the required monthly reporting to the parent company in Germany, virtually impossible. The consequence of the non-standard, and multiple source reporting was to make the reporting extremely unreliable, and in most cases inaccurate. Reporting was a hit and miss affair, with numerous queries and constant adjustments required by the parent company, who had an accounts department that was accurate and efficient.
Reception was manned by one person who had little or no latitude in the execution of her duties, that person reported informally to the debtors and creditors clerk, who referred to herself as the office manager. The receptionist, Ruth however had more potential to increase her performance than the debtors and creditors clerk, because through experience, and having been coerced to carry most of the workload for debtors and creditors, she was reasonably up to date on the status of most of the accounts.
Spare parts sales and the stores were under the supervision of the same person, one Losly Clown, whose office and stores were in a similar state of disarray. The kindest description of the parts sales office would be pigsty. Losly suffered from a compulsion to hoard old parts, for as he put it: “we never know when we might need them”, this resulted in his office resembling a mechanical parts scrap yard, vaguely redolent of the electronic parts graveyard next door to him, in the technicians area. The greatest shock was in fact in the stores, where old parts were mixed with new parts on the shelves, and no system of storage actually existed. So there was parts master list with corresponding bays and shelf locations, or quantities in stock for that matter. When I enquired how many days a stock take actually took, I was informed that it was done once a year, and took anything up to 3 months. Alarmingly, it appeared from the annual financial statements, that an annual net loss of parts to the value of some R40,000.00 had been reported, for that year, and a few years prior to that. Alarming because those reported losses could not be verified, and I was told that they reported thus, as it was accepted by the parent company and in the interest of consistent reporting, the amount was left at that level from one year to the next.
From April to September 2003 I discerned that the field service technicians were stealing parts, and doing work for customers off the books in company time. One of the technicians in fact had a cheque for payment delivered to him at MMSA for work he had done at a customer. On further analysis of the existing statistics, I determined that each technician was billing 50% of the hours they worked, for the company, and the other 50% for themselves. When confronted with this information, two of the technicians promptly left to continue in their own business, which they had built up while working for MMSA. This action effectively crippled the field service offering from MMSA to its customers. More details and facts about this event and its consequences will be explained later on in the narrative. Customer complaints regarding technicians were commonplace, with Slander Silimon, receiving the most complaints, principally for insulting customers. The most common complaint being reported was that he had called the customers idiots.
The general state of the offices may have been grubby, but the general state of the warehouse and stores was FILTHY, it is difficult to explain the extent of the dirt and disorder that existed in the warehouse, from empty boxes piled haphazardly on the top floor of the store, to non-functioning machine parts piled on free standing racks in the warehouse, there was evidence of neglect and incompetence in maintaining the area. I also found that the lower floors of the building were given over to storage of obsolete and scrap parts as well. Over the next few months and years, a total of 20 000 Kg of scrap metal would be removed from the premises.
Most of the rest of 2003 was spent in training at the factory and in meeting current customers and getting to be familiar with the systems, as they were, in place in the company, and coming to grips with internal discipline, which at first impressions, seemed to comprise of fear of Jester, and his self-appointed office manager Tweela Clown. In September of 2003, Jester left the company abruptly citing his 60th birthday and his intention to retire as the reason for his departure. This was only partially true, but the fact remained, that he effectively left the company.