Thursday, December 24, 2009

New Year's Resolution Suggestion to Corporate America

After spending 26 years working for the car rental giant - Enterprise Rent-a-Car - I became all too familiar with the way big corporations run

As we all know, the vast majority of big companies in corporate America are run by humorless bureaucracies that don't really understand what it takes to operate in a manner conducsive to achieving maximum productivity.  They may think they do, but they don't have a clue. 

If you work for a big company, chances are you agree with that assessment; unless of course, you happen to be the CEO.  If you're the CEO of a major corporation, you probably don't understand why most of the employees working under you don't seem to like their jobs.  You don't understand why just about everyone you oversee has an "attitude problem"; after all, they have jobs, so they should be grateful; they should work harder.  What's wrong with them?

The problem  is you, pal.  Maybe you're not a pompous, self-absorbed tyrant; maybe you're actually a nice enough person; but you're clueless when it comes to running your...enterprise. 

Let me fill you in on what I observed during my 26 years of faithful service to Enterprise.  It's a scenario that plays out repeatedly in big business; especially when a relatively small company achieves some measure of success; that's ususally when the trouble begins; they get too big for their own good and start changing their operational structure, and worse; they lose focus on how they should deal with employees.  Sound familiar?

When I began my Enterprise career (1974) they were just a little regional company that had a knack for providing great customer service; just as important, they provided a great working environment for their employees, gave them fantastic career opportunities, and turned 'em loose.

It was simple formula for success, and it worked quite well; the company grew like crazy, and guys like me became upper level managers, making tons of money in the process.  By the mid '90s, Enterprise had grown to become the largest and most profitable car rental company in North America; all seemed well in paradise.

But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming Number One; they moved their corporate office to a big, new, fancy facility and started adding layer upon layer of additional corporate management.  It seemed logical; after all, Enterprise was now a corporate giant, and corporate giants are supposed to have gigantic corporate headquarters, staffed with all sorts of important people running around trying to look like they're doing something; sound familiar?

Welcome to Corporate America; an overstaffed and inefficient bureaucracy; where micromanagement, finger pointing, and backstabbing reign supreme.  In this hostile environment, is it any wonder things are in such a mess?

It doesn't have to be this way; the solution to much of Corporate America's woes requires a pardigm shift in the way most hierarchial operations conduct business.  This requires a tremendous leap of faith from the CEOs, themselves; they've got to place more trust in their management teams in the field; a successful organization gives the maximum level of autonomy to its high level managers; let them do their jobs!  Cut the red tape, the useless reports, and the fruitless meetings; focus on the things that really matter in running the business.  By concentrating on providing better service for the customers and creating a positive work environment for the employees, everybody wins.

That's the way any good business should operate; unfortunately, that's not the way many businesses are operating nowadays; I witnessed the corporate bureaucracy first hand; especially during the last four or five years of my career.

Being subjected to unreasonable scrutiny - living under the corporate microscope - was a very stressful time for me; but at least it made for a pretty good book; and I know I was doing a good job for the company.

That's good enough for me.

Larry Underwood wrote Life Under the Corporate Microscope - A Maverick's Irreverent Perspective

To order directly on Amazon:

Or check out the author's webpage:

Friday, December 4, 2009


I don't care how think your skin is, if you get whacked from your job, it's going to hurt.  It's been almost nine years since my last day with Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and I don't really think I ever really admitted it (even to myself), but getting forced out of my job really hurt my ego.  Sure, I knew I was still doing a worthy job, and the decision to gas me was driven by economics (although the company never admitted it), but it never feels good to be told you're no longer welcome with the company you spent over a quarter of a century toiling with.

But, shit happens.  I got whacked, and I had to move on.  I suppose I could've landed another job, but the prospect of going back to work for another slice of corporate America didn't really appeal to me; so I stayed retired, licking my wounds; trying to heal my bruised ego.  Whatever.

It's been nearly a year since I published my iconoclastic masterpiece, Life Under the Corporate Microscope---A Maverick's Irreverent Perspective; and I must say, I think it's even better than I originally thought.  Wow.

You see, when I first wrote it, I thought it was merely a little historical perspective about the company that grew to dominate the car rental industry---Enterprise.  Sure, it was irreverent as hell, and packed with more LOLs than just about any "business" book ever written; but, is that really saying much?  Come on.

What I've recently come to realize is, this book is much more than some humorous recollection of the car rental industry from some talented, fun-loving executive.  The fact of the matter is, this book represents "the truth" about corporate America, and how it's morphed into a humorless, fear-based micro-managing bureaucracy, that is really only good at draining the life out of its employees.  Enterprise is really no better or worse than the vast majority of corporate America; it merely represents a typical slice of that stifling, oppressive work environment which everyone loves to hate.  The culture of fear permeates the entire organization, because that's what corporate America does best---intimidate and alienate its employees.  It's no wonder employee engagment is so fragmented everywhere you look; it all starts at the top of any organization, and works its magic down through the disillusioned front-line employees.

Nobody's having fun at work anymore; hell, I used to have a blast every day, toiling in the trenches, making close to nothing, while working my ass off for 60 or 70 hours a week.  To me, work was recreation; a chance to mingle with my friends while we were in the process of creating something very special.  We didn't really know for sure that this company would grow to dominate a very competitive industry; but that's what happened.  We were a vibrant, fun-loving enterprise and most importantly, we knew ownership really cared about us.

At that time, "ownership" was not some faceless corporate hierarchy; it was the man himself---Jack Taylor---probably the greatest entrepreneur to ever walk the face of the earth; and I mean that with all my heart.  When the inevitable process of age put Jack Taylor on the sidelines, the company started acting like a big corporation; certainly, they have long since become a huge corporation, but as long as Jack was in charge, they refused to act like one.

Jack was a truly humble man; self efacing and good hearted; a man who really cared about people---customers and employees alike; it was the magic formula for incredible success.  Unfortunately, when companies grow too big for their own good, they often lose that sense of loyalty towards people; short term profit rules the roost.  Senior managers, who were paid handsomely for their efforts---based on performance---were now considered expendable; that of course, includes me.

Less skilled replacements were brought in; sure, they were paid less, but they were also performing at a lower level of competency.  Very few upper level managers from my last year on the job are still around; one by one, they've been getting whacked; business as usual in corporate America.

What a mess.  Interestingly enough, there have been many fine books that have been published over the last few years which identify the problems in corporate America, and offer very real solutions to fix the disaster.  Will anyone ever listen though?  With the enormous egos of the majority of the CEOs running amok out there, the future doesn't bode well.

One thing I have realized however, is I'm a goddamned smart fellah; if I were in charge of some big corporation, I'd listen.  You better believe it, baby; I'd listen.

Yeah, check out my website so you can order my masterpiece: