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Hugo, The Bad Boss

Years ago, I worked for a large Home Health Care company that delivered oxygen and other medical equipment for home use. I was a branch office secretary in one of the larger locations in Southern California, close to Disneyland and beach. My manager was great, my co-workers were great, and I loved my job. I was the only woman in an office of delivery personnel and respiratory therapists, and I worked very hard to maintain our medical records. I loved working with medical staff and patients to help make their life easier dealing with illness. My branch had a very good reputation and I was usually ‘fired up’ to start the day.

My current manager accepted a promotion to Corporate HQ (located only a short distance from my branch office), and a new manager was hired. I had a bad feeling when I first met my new branch manager, I’ll call him Hugo. I was in my early 20’s, however, and didn’t have enough life experience to trust my instincts (or how to properly act on them). Hugo was introduced to me as a respiratory therapist (a plus in that industry) with management experience. He was from Washington and new to California.

Hugo was pleasant enough the first day, but spent most of his time in his office with the door closed, rather than circulating to get to know his new staff and the office layout. I was puzzled, but thought he must be “in conference calls” with Corporate. The next day, he arrived a few hours late- and no one knew where he was or if he was even coming in. When he walked in, I smiled and said “Good morning; we were wondering if you were coming in and thought maybe you were at Corporate today.” Hugo response was a curt, “I’m the boss, I don’t need to let you know where I’m at.” He then walked into his office and closed the door. A few minutes later, he called me and asked where his coffee was. I never had to fetch coffee for my previous manager, but thought “OK, new boss- new rules. I can do coffee.” I quickly brought him a steaming mug, and as he didn’t acknowledge my presence, I felt a bit subdued and left his office, quietly closing the door. About an hour later, he walked out of the office- again, without telling me when or if he would be back. I knew better than to ask. Late that afternoon (around 3:00) Hugo returned and closed his office door, again — without acknowledging anyone.

I had been watching over the management reports during the interim period we were waiting for Hugo to start, and was eager to turn this duty over to Hugo and help him with anything I could to get him settled into his new job so my routine could return to normal. I timidly knocked on his door, and was summoned into his office. Hugo said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you”, and proceeded to tell me that I’d be getting some phone calls for his wife and that I was to schedule her job interviews. I was shocked… and while I don’t remember exactly what I said, I’m sure it was something to the effect of, “Why isn’t your wife scheduling her own job interviews?” I was again told, “I’m the boss, you’re the secretary. I tell YOU what to do, you don’t question me. Is that a problem?” I couldn’t even look at him at this point, and likely mumbled something to effect of, “No, that’s fine.” Hugo then asked me why I wanted to see him, and I told him that I’d be happy to give him an overview of the management reports at his convenience. He told me to continue doing them myself, and that he wanted a summary from me prepared weekly prior to his Friday A.M. meeting with Corporate. I left his office with a sinking feeling, thinking to myself, “What exactly is he going to do all day if he isn’t even interested in his own reports?” I left work that day feeling very troubled, but also berating myself for not giving the new boss a chance. I told myself to give it time and everything would work out.

The next morning, Hugo came in with a armful of clothes on hangers. I gave him a puzzled look through my smile (I was on the phone taking orders- mornings and late afternoons were BUSY!), and Hugo dropped the clothes on a chair and told me to take them to the dry-cleaner during lunch. He didn’t even wait for me to hang up from my call, he talked right over my conversation with a patient and walked into his office. When that morning’s phone activity quieted down, I knocked on his door and was again summoned into Hugo’s office. I told him I needed to confirm that he wanted me to drop off his dry-cleaning during my lunch…? I rarely went out for lunch. He looked at me with a…speculative… look on his face and said, “You heard me. And don’t forget the receipt as I’ll need it for my expense report.” This was stated quietly, but I certainly heard a “challenge” in his voice. I asked him how payment should be handled, and was told I would be reimbursed when Corporate paid his expense report. I left his office without saying another word, and closed his door. I was seething the remainder of the day. Not only had my previous manager never expensed his dry-cleaning, I had noted that there were female garments in the pile. Unless, that is, my new boss was partial to wearing pink dresses and sequined blouses.

This was the third day, and I again left the office with a really bad feeling, newly bolstered by an indignant kind of rage. My new manager was asking ME to pay for his dry-cleaning and WAIT for Corporate to pay his expense report? My new manager was expensing his WIFE’s dry-cleaning? Nuh-uh. I don’t think so. I thought about this and seethed during the drive home, but also recognized that I was a bit afraid of this man, although I wasn’t quite sure why. I really didn’t know what to do, but had this firm conviction that charging my company for his wife’s cleaning bill was wrong, no matter how you sliced it. Telling me to pay for his dry-cleaning bill and wait to be expensed was also wrong- that huge pile of clothes looked like a week’s salary to me. I was also upset at having to maintain his management reports AND prepare a weekly summary for him. Not to mention, scheduling his wife’s job interviews? What next? He hadn’t taken any time at that point to familiarize himself with branch operations, and likely had no idea how busy I was. My unease had quadrupled over the drive home, throw in a healthy dose of ‘angry’…and I had no idea what to do about it.

Well, my attitude must have shown the next day. While I was cooly calm and professional in conversation with Hugo, I know I had this “look” on my face that displayed my disgust and disdain for him. And I was young (i.e. stupid) enough that I wasn’t the least bit interested in hiding it. He called me into his office late that afternoon, and things did not go well. At the end of that conversation, my only clear memory is that he stated; “It’s you or me. And it’s not gonna be me.”

The next morning, Hugo was again a few hours late to arrive at the office. I took that opportunity to call my previous manager Steve and requested a meeting. I told him why, sparing any detail. I simply said; “Hugo isn’t going to work out. I need to talk to you and tell you what’s happening.” I drove over to Corporate HQ during my lunch hour, and was surprised to see both Steve and the company President waiting for me. I calmly told them about the management reports, the dry-cleaning, scheduling the wife’s job interviews, and was given a, “Thank you for this information, we’ll think about it”, response. I left feeling like they didn’t quite believe me and that I was being an irrational or emotional young woman who didn’t take to her new boss (Pat her on the head to calm her down). Driving home that afternoon, I thought everything over and Hugo’s, “It’s you or me- and it’s not gonna be me”, statement finally clicked into place. I can work for and with someone I don’t like, but I can’t work for someone I don’t respect. And I forced this ultimatum because I didn’t maintain my professionalism. So now what? Can I really ‘win’ this battle? I did a lot of thinking that night.

The next morning, I quietly tendered my two-week resignation. Hugo told me, “This is for the best”, and expressed no surprise. I left his office feeling like he was, in fact, very satisfied. I wasn’t looking forward to the next two weeks, but I had resolved to myself that I was NOT going to teach him how to use the management reports and I was NOT going to pick-up his dry-cleaning. Oh, yeah. And I wasn’t going to schedule any of his wife’s job interviews. I was simply going to transfer the call to his office. If he wasn’t there, I’d take a message. Meanwhile, I’d do my job and leave the office with a clean conscience, still worthy of a good recommendation to future employers.

I’d been with the company for approximately 6 years (it was my first job) and while I was heartbroken, I told myself I’d find a job with a competitor and was confident enough in my skills and knowledge that I’d be OK. (I hoped!) When word started to spread that I had resigned, my old boss Steve called and asked me to stop by Corporate HQ. I did, and the President and Steve were again there to speak with me. They both expressed their regrets that I was leaving the company, and asked if I was sure about my decision. I told them; “Yes, I just have a bad feeling. I can’t tell you anything other than what I’ve already said…I just have a really bad feeling about Hugo.” The President told me that they had tried to find me a position in HQ, but nothing was currently open. This was the same President that told Steve to take me out for a nice lunch the previous year because of my good work and spotless aged-receivables. I was feeling a bit resentful at that statement, kind of like; “Sure, you’re the President but you can’t effect a transfer for me. OK. Sure.” I left Corporate feeling so incredibly sad, and questioning my ‘hasty’ decision. But the die was cast, and there was no going back. Hugo won.

Well, I was very lucky and found employment with a competitor within the month. It reduced my hour long commute to 15 minutes! Whoo-hoo! No more gray freeway scenery for 2 hours a day! I settled into my new job, missing my old co-workers but happily convinced I had made the best decision for me.

A few months later, I received a call from a friend who worked at my old company, in HQ. She told me that “Hugo” was gone! I laughed out loud, and said “NO! Tell me! What happened?” Apparently Hugo never did learn about those management reports. And since a replacement for me wasn’t hired by the time I left, those stellar aged-receivables started dropping down into the 120-day overdue category because prescriptions weren’t getting renewed. No renewals- no billing. New patients weren’t getting the proper qualification for oxygen therapy. Other employees were complaining as Hugo wasn’t responding to every day problems, and things at the branch office were simply falling apart.

One day, Hugo simply didn’t show up. Or the next. Or next. By the time someone at the Branch Office called Corporate to ask where he was, he was long gone and the police were involved in looking for him. Eventually, they uncovered some interesting stuff! Seems that Hugo was NOT a respiratory therapist. He hadn’t worked at the medical institutions stated on his resume. He was in big trouble in the State of Washington with a warrant for his arrest… and had fled to California using a newly acquired ID to start a new life. A short-lived life since his new job in California didn’t go so well. Hmmm, seriously? LOL! I was flabbergasted, but feeling pretty darn vindicated in my opinion of this jerk. I think I did a little happy dance involving a lot of stomping on the floor at this news. I wonder to this day what happened to him. I used to wonder if the company President and my previous boss Steve ever regretted that they didn’t take my statements more seriously. I guess it doesn’t matter. Things worked out the way they were supposed to!

Here’s what does matter: That experience was a valuable lesson in many ways. A) I trust my instincts! I never would have guessed that Hugo was such a fraud, but I knew enough about him based on fact and personal experience. B) No matter how good your performance, you are dispensable. A sad realization, but helps one to understand ‘business is business’. Keep the heavy emotions out the workplace. And C), if you can’t be OK with certain work conditions, and I mean really OK, as in “adjust your attitude and don’t let it be something you bring home every night”– get out! Making a move to take care of yourself is empowering.

I had several very happy years with my new employer, and several promotions along the way. Opportunities (and many adventures in traveling) I probably would have never enjoyed at my previous company. So… thanks, Hugo! You forced my hand and started the downward trend in the branch office resulting in your own demise! Muuaaa ha ha! Looking back on my experience, Hugo didn’t win — I did.    0329-12


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  • manybellsdown April 19, 2012, 11:02 am

    Another thing; I’ve BEEN a personal assistant. Never once did my boss expect me to pay for any errand out of my own pocket. I was always provided with either a credit card or an adequate amount of cash for the errand I was to run. Being told to handle the dry cleaning without a payment arrangement being made would have made me put my foot down right fast.

  • Bernadette April 19, 2012, 12:14 pm

    GREAT ending to this story. Good thing you didn’t pay for his dry cleaning, huh? Your advice at the end is invaluable – because business is business and we’re all expendable. It’s too bad you werent taken more seriously when you explained what was going on with ‘Hugo’, but it turned out to be an excellent opportunity to better your position in life. Good for you!

  • OP Here! April 19, 2012, 2:09 pm

    First, thanks to everyone for the comments! I spent many years thinking about how I handled that situation before I came to the conclusion that I “won” that battle. A few comments to address a few things said…

    1. This event happened about 25 years ago! LOL! I think about some of the younger people reading this post and think about how things have changed, and yet some things remain the same. (Sigh) Likely, because of the timeline, no background check was run on Hugo.

    2. @Cat Whisperer I SO agree with your remarks, and have largely followed them throughout my working career. Good advice! My only addition(s): Always help co-workers whenever possible, as long as it doesn’t interfere with you getting YOUR work done. Also, the art of getting along with various people in the workplace is SO important- especially today when we’re often working with 3-4 generations of workers in today’s economy. If you find that you’re not seeing eye-to-eye with someone, try to figure out their communication style. What makes them tick? Strengths/weaknesses? Head to the library to pick up a few books on the subject! I guarantee if you can master how to work with everyone, it gives you a strong advantage in ANY workplace, and it’s a life enhancing skill. Sometimes, the people you don’t like initially turn out to be the ones you like the most. Really.

    3. @Striving for Sense, I agree! I’ve never used the phrase “It’s not my job”. It goes against my firmly ingrained behavior of helping others whenever I can. I also believe (again, especially in today’s economy) that an employee who can do many jobs and/or tasks is more valuable to an employer. I can see where in some jobs, i.e. Union employees, for example, that would be appropriate, as the rules in Union positions can be strict and often consider safety on the job. In other workplaces, using that phrase makes one seem rather rigid and inflexible. Inflexibility in today’s workplace is not a valued trait.

    4. @Annie Thanks for the remark about Steve likely supporting me as much as he could. I never thought about it that way… excellent insight!

    I would have loved a computer back in those days… The things I could have done and ‘documented’ with e-mail would have certainly helped. I have changed a bit from the girl I was back in those days, but would likely handle a similar situation in much the same fashion today. Having boundries that govern both personal and professional life have given me strength.

    Since so many you profered some great advice, I have one more tidbit I learned from a older (and very wise) co-worker: If you’re thinking about doing something, consider whether you might regret it in the future. Is it something you would regret 1 year from now? 5 years? For example, going off on a rant at work might be something that would follow you for years when that employer is called for a reference. The bottom line is that behaving with “class” is something you will NEVER regret.

    Best wishes to all!

  • Roslyn April 19, 2012, 6:22 pm

    “B) No matter how good your performance, you are dispensable. A sad realization, but helps one to understand ‘business is business’.”

    Amen. This can be a heartbreaking lesson to learn.

  • NocturnalSilence April 19, 2012, 8:46 pm

    Not all companies do a background check much less do anything further then that for potiental and current employees. Out of the six jobs I’ve had in the last seventeen years, only one bothered to do a background check — and it showed what kind of co-workers I had verses the ones I have now. Although, looking back, I don’t know if it would have been legal to do a background check on a sixteen year old minor.

    I guess if the company had bothered to do a background search on Hugo, they would have seen the red flags well before the OP begain to see them. I doubt that if Hugo did have some kind of warrant out on him, he would have used the real ways of properly ID’ing him.

  • Enna April 20, 2012, 3:49 pm

    Wow. This Hugo sounds like a right character. You’d have thought the company would have done proper checks. It also shows how bad your old boss was for not taking your concernes seriously to begin with.

    Glad the OP found another and better job. Bet your old company was kicking themselves!

  • MLT April 22, 2012, 2:07 pm

    The phrase “that’s not my job” can get you fired. My grandmother works at a small doctor’s office in a shrinking town and told me this story. Inevitably they had to lay off one of their two front office workers. The one that had worked there longest (at least 30 years) was told that if she could learn how to do X task in addition to her current tasks she would keep the job. The other person already knew how to do X task (along with all the others) but had only worked there for 10 years. The one with seniority refused to learn the new task and was unfortunately let go.

    While I have had some truly terrifying job experiences (a small abduction incident), few were because of bad bosses. My biggest issue with a manager was at a smoothie cafe. She would leave me to take the blame for her messes and it almost got me in a lot of trouble (I was also new there and didn’t know better yet). Thank goodness I have a reputation for being extremely honest at work, it has saved me from taking the blame more than once. And on the rare occasions where they didn’t believe me, the security cameras backed me up nicely.

  • Fung April 29, 2012, 8:06 am

    Great story! I too was worried at first to read a story about a girl being pushed and bullied around for a long time but to my happy surprise it only lasted a short time :D.

    Have you ever considered that if you haven’t choose for yourself (with resigning) you might be actually helping Hugo out a lot? With it I mean that because you indeed left the job without anyone was hired to replace your work there, Hugo’s fraud was discovered sooner then when you would have stayed. You were the glue that held the whole thing up while he’s in charge, keeping the branch running smoothly but when you left, everything fell apart and he was proving that he wasn’t the one responsible of the good work and results of the branch. He would have been receiving the kudoos of your hard work and while he received it, you would have been a baskett case. With resigning not only had you done a favor to yourself but also for your former colleagues who were suffering under his mismanagement.
    I agree that Steve was indeed doing what he could for you but since the CEO couldn’t be forthcoming to help you out, not much was there left for him to do.

    I have a few rules and principles of my own that I follow, only because I know that it serves my best interest.
    1 I always treat others like I want to be treated.
    2 I’m allowed to always work for my pleasure and not for money. How could I do my job the best I can if I’m not feeling happy with it, no matter how high the salary is it can never beat a great and joyful day at work without irritations and more.
    3 I’m dispendable but I’ll make sure my boss is most willing and happy to have me.
    I can go on and on but these are my top 3.

    I too had my fair share of being bullied and pushed around on the workfloor, but I’ve learned that the more I stand up for myself, the more I’m being respected, by meself!

    Nowadays I work as a temp and all my bosses are more than happy and content with me and have even asked for my return when they need someone, all my temp jobs results into a longer term than originally agreed upon. That all is due to my self respect, my selfworth and my principles.

    I do have a tip: when found in a situation with a new boss asking things to do what you never had to before, ask seniors (higher up in management) or hrm “innocently” whether it is in your jobdescription or company policy because you never had to do it before and whether you should since you’re a bit troubled by it. “Innocently” you’re giving a signal (a red flag) to those in charge that someone might be acting inapropiately with the workers and it also takes the heat away from you when asked by the new boss why you haven’t done it, you can then “innocently” tell the boss that you’ve been told by the seniors or hrm that you don’t have to because it’s not company policy or in your jobdescription. That should put things in perspective with your new boss that he can’t mess with you.