I worked at a gym called Philadelphia Sports Clubs (PSC) after returning to the Stated from playing in Mexico and realizing that at age 24, I needed to, um, move out of my parent’s home.
PSC was under the corporate umbrella of Town Sports International (TSI), who also owned and operated New Jersey Sport Clubs, Boston Sports Clubs and New York Sports Clubs.
Before my job at PSC, I’d never given much thought to whether a business was “corporate” or not; the products and services and prices (and paychecks, if it was a job) were all that mattered to me.
I learned some things about corporations, though, in my time at PSC.
One: Hierarchy is everything. Perhaps you’ve heard of “flat” organizations, where nobody, regardless of salary or seniority, is “above” anybody else, and everyone is treated equally. All opinions are respected and considered, and a lower-status (newer to the job, making less money) person’s idea had just as much chance of gaining acceptance as an idea coming from the company’s founders.
Well, in my brief corporate experience, things were the opposite.
When two people of not-equal status would communicate, there was often an unspoken conversation coming from the higher-status person. The higher-status person knew that, no matter what, the lower-status person would have to bend to the higher-status holder’s wishes, even if he/she disagreed with the reasons behind them.
And while everyone at PSC was nice and cordial enough, I never enjoyed the fact that some people felt they were more important than me just because of their job title or time served at TSI.
I’ll tell you something funny that happened.
My company email account had been acting up one day, so I called the TSI Information Technology Help Desk for assistance.
The snooty IT asshole who answered my call was quite condescending in “helping” me, so I hung up on him, figuring I would call back in a few minutes and talk to someone else.
Before I made my second call, though, my boss Gary came quick-walking into my office with a pale, worried look on his face.
“Dre. What happened with IT???”
I didn’t know how Gary even knew I’d been in touch with IT; I’d literally just hung up on the IT dick about 45 seconds prior. I chuckled and told Gary in a casual, matter-of-fact way that IT had been not-helpful, so I hung up on him.
Gary’s face changed to a mix of worry, concern, and a hint of fear.
“IT — they’re corporate office, Dre. You can’t hang up on them. Whatever they do or say, just don’t hang up on them; that could get us in serious trouble, OK?”
Bewildered by Gary’s seriousness, I told him I wouldn’t hang up on IT anymore. Just then, my office phone rang.
It was the same IT Dick from a few minutes ago.
“Hi, is this Dre? I think we got disconnected a moment ago.”
IT Dick had called Gary and told on me. I guess Gary was scared that word would have gotten back to his boss the District Manager, another corporate dick named Brian Chunglo, and Gary would be all the worse for it, even though it was me who’d hung up on IT Dick.
This is how Corporate America works. Shit flows downhill.
Brian, the District Manager, would come to our location every six weeks or so, set up shop in Gary’s office and loom over all of us for an entire day.
I wasn’t affected by Brian’s presence; in my mind PSC was nothing more than a pit stop in my basketball career. Gary, on the other hand, along with a couple fellow salespeople who didn’t appear to have much post-PSC vision for their lives, treated Brian’s special guest appearances like the fucking President was coming to the gym.
Gary would badger the sales staff to either book a bunch of prospect appointments, or to be outside prospecting for appointments — anything other than sitting at our desks appearing to be doing nothing, which would reflect badly on Gary if Brian saw it.
Brian once kicked me out of a regional sales meeting for falling asleep — twice — while Brian was giving a long, boring presentation about nothing (but which he had to pretend was important, because, corporate). I tried to deny my drowsiness, to no avail. Gary was in the room when I got called out and subsequently kicked out; as I gathered my things to leave the room, Gary looked as if he was going to soil himself.
I googled Brian while writing this. He’s now Senior Director of Facilities for a company called Harbor Freight Tools. I googled Gary too; I found his Instagram but it doesn’t give any hints as to what he does for work these days.
Gary was always a good guy to me, so I hope he’s doing well.
Two: Corporate is dependable and reliable — and slow to change.
I’m a professional speaker. Corporate gigs are hard to sell yourself to, simply because they rarely entertain sales pitches.
Don’t call us — we’ll call you. <— that’s Corporate America.
While corporate is (mostly) dependable and predictable (which are good things in many ways, for consumers and employees), it’s also slow, stuck in its ways, and often way behind the curve when change happens.
The publishing company that’s putting out the very book I’m currently promoting is corporate (keep reading my posts for some funny stuff that I went through with them). Most of their ideas are safe, outdated, and plainly useless (I’ve had conversations telling them as much). Everything that will happen, consumer-side, with and from Work On Your Game will be because of me — not the corporation.
Three: Corporate is designed to chew you up and spit you out.
The assistant sales manager / operations manager at PSC was a tall, thin Black guy named Will.
Will was a funny dude who liked to joke around in moderation. I, conversely, in my PSC days, liked to joke around in excess. You have to at boring jobs.
Will had a video camera on his phone back when most people didn’t; he once used the camera to film me dozing off at my desk and then dry-snitched (when you tell on someone in an indirect way) to Gary about it, disguising his snitching as if he were just sharing a funny story with a friend.
Gary came into my office with that same worried-scared look from the IT incident and told me that he’d have to send me home for the day if he caught me sleeping again.
Will had a common saying about anyone working an entry-level job at PSC.
I done seen ‘em come, and watched them go!
This referred to maintenance people, personal trainers, and salespeople.
Will would say this proudly, as if his longevity at PSC was a badge of honor to him, and as if the rest of us were transient, disposable employees.
I believed him.
A job like mine was easy to get, and easy to quit. Most employees didn’t last a year (I didn’t). Which makes sense — I don’t think there are any eight-year-olds telling Mom and Dad that they want to sell gym memberships or clean locker rooms for a living when they grow up.
That’s the beauty of the corporation: it was designed to be plug-and-play; you didn’t need much specialized skill to work in the machine — thus, if when you left, they’d replace your ass within a week.
Will was from New York and had once shared that his passion had been art (Gary once told me that he ended up in corporate because “all the stuff I actually like doing doesn’t make money”). I don’t remember Will’s last name, so I couldn’t google him. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’s still corporate.
Four: Many people whose position is above entry-level live in constant fear.
Gary was my direct boss. He was a good guy; he had interviewed and hired me, and later asked me to stay on for a few extra weeks when I told him I had a move to Miami in the works at the start of the summer (a busy sales period at PSC).
Gary was also a sales manager working in a corporation, which meant that fear had some control over him.
Gary wore his emotions on his sleeve. He’d turn bright red when embarrassed, and didn’t disguise how much he needed to put on a good show in front of District Manager Brian (which is why Gary was so concerned when I fell asleep during Brian’s regional meeting presentation; I guess Gary thought Brian would take it out on him. Brian probably did).
Assistant manager Will was more guarded with his feelings, but he played things safe. His jokes were always PC, and everything he saw was sure to be reported to Gary. Will was a guy you didn’t share secrets with.
Brian’s fear manifested itself in a hard, aggressive, corporate-bossy exterior.
You ever see a movie where the good guy is afraid of his mean, demanding and uncompromising boss, the asshole dictator who seems to not possess a human soul? Brian was the real-life manifestation of that boss.
All three of these men were in fear.
Fear of what?
- Of their boss (in Corporate America, everybody has a boss, even the CEO) and what the boss can do to them, like…
- Of losing their jobs — which means losing their paycheck, and the lifestyle that that paycheck affords them. Cars, homes, vacations, school for the kids. Which could mean…
- Of losing their identity. I’d say this one applied only to people at Brian’s level and above, those who actually spend time in the corporate office as opposed to just talking to corporate by phone once a month. Which could lead to…
- Of being exposed as just another person who was being propped up by a job. Again — Brian’s level and above.
All this background, and I didn’t even tell the story that I wanted to tell yet. I’ll tell it in the next one.
This happened in the brackets of the career and business I started that led to the brand I have today. I’ll share all of that in my book, Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life, coming February 22. See all the preorder bonuses here.