Saturday, October 9, 2010

Two wasted years

Nothing beats a self-explanatory title. This website is a memoir of the worst place I’ve ever worked. As you can see, this is no masterclass in web design. No hyperlinks, no pictures, no bells, no whistles. It’s all about the content.

My name is Steve. I’m a Brit, I live in Brussels and work in B2B publishing.

Life here is good. It’s a relaxed, civilised place, I can navigate it all on foot, and I rent a nice apartment for chump change. When I apply my personal points system to each place I’ve lived, and there’ve been many, Brussels always comes out on top. Without wanting to run with the pack, it is nonetheless gratifying to read the results of the annual Worldwide Quality of Living Survey:

http://www.mercer.com/qualityoflivingpr#City_Ranking_Tables

Disregard for a moment the irritation that Mercer finds it necessary to base its survey on New York, and behold the results.

New York 49th, London 39th, Brussels 15th.

One has to wonder where that good ole monument to unenlightened self-interest will rank in next year’s survey. The trillion hungry bedbugs of summer 2010 will be a trillion stronger. I always found New York to be crawling with parasites. And now it really is.

Let’s go 34 places up the Mercer pop chart. I lived in Brussels before. I was dragged away by a job promotion in 2002, but I always wanted to return. And so I did, in 2009, when I received an offer to work here again. But this website is not about promoting the delights of Brussels. It’s about the events that led to my return.

It wouldn’t be true to say the job offer came from out of the blue. I knew I was the company’s first choice for any vacancy in my line of work. I had dug the escape tunnel during vacation days in my previous job. The only question was when the call would come.

My previous job is what inspired this website. It was a job that I hated, based in Canary Wharf, that uniquely fetid, joyless, yet shiny corner of London.

I’d been wanting to leave that job for a long time, and there was no question that I would quit it as soon as I could. Getting the rent paid would not have been a problem, so I could have just walked out any time. But not if I wanted to get meaningful work elsewhere. Having a challenging job that I like is very important to me, and no employer takes a risk on a known quitter.

So the timing of the Brussels call, on the surface, was perfect. Because when it came, I had just been laid off by my London employer. The decision of exactly when to quit had been made for me. It was a weight off my mind, and I would be escaping that snakepit with an unblemished record and a payoff. Now I’m back in a city I love, the old adage “living well is the best revenge” springs to mind.

But when I look closer, the timing could, in fact, have been better. I would actually rather the Brussels call had pre-empted my layoff. That way, I would have felt entirely in control of the situation. Like I had made the move happen, rather than there be but the slightest feeling that it happened to me. Or if you’ll pardon the swearage, like being the fuck-er, not the fuck-ee.

For sure, being the fuck-ee on this occasion netted me a sum of money that never would have come my way if I had been the fuck-er. When you know you’re good at what you do, you have a killer resume to back up the claim, and plenty of cash already in the bank, it’s not about money. It’s about dignity. And being the sole redundancy, in a team of three dozen, is an attack on one’s dignity. An insult.

I sometimes reflect on the timing of the Brussels invitation. Had I left my London job voluntarily, then perhaps my boss would have said to me, with undisguised glee: “Haha, your saying it first has just saved us this payoff with your name on it.”

But no, that’s not what he said, and no, that scenario did not occur. All the same, I do like to reflect on the hypothetical. There’s more: if the Brussels invitation had pre-empted my layoff, I would soon enough have learned that my position went unfilled; that my duties were handed off to a colleague in New York. I would then have wanted to know: Was there no new London hire because they decided to take advantage of a cost-saving windfall? Or, was there no new London hire because they were about to scrap my position anyway?

In this scenario, the end of blissful ignorance would have made me angry that I missed out on a likely payoff. It would have changed the angle of this website, if not the general purpose of it. Conclusion: a man predisposed to anger will get angry, no matter what happens to him.

A shrink would have a field day with a guy who dwells on the loss of something he hated. I recognise that, so don’t waste your time telling me.

Working that job reminded me of this appalling girlfriend I had in the 1990s. Most of the time I was with her, I wondered what the fuck I was doing. After she’d caused me a certain amount of aggravation, I began looking around to replace her. I regarded the whole thing as clinically as replacing a faulty part in a machine. Simple riddance would not keep the machine running; the faulty part had to be replaced first. At least that’s how I saw things at the time.

So I began a casual recruitment drive to replace her. Note that I label this situation a ‘recruitment drive,’ not a ‘job hunt.’ Shamelessly proprietorial, I know. For the purpose of this analogy, let’s pretend it was a job hunt. Just as my campaign to find a nicer girlfriend was getting started, this girl dumped me.

So I got riddance, of sorts. What made me angry was that the riddance was on her terms, not mine. And that the machine would have to function with a missing part for a while.

In a general sense, being dumped by a girlfriend you want conditional riddance of, inspires the same feelings as being dismissed from a hated job. You’ve got your eyes on the door, and are actively job-hunting. But you want to walk through that door, not be kicked through it.

Now I’m dancing around the details, which need filling in. I was working as a copy editor for Leveraged Commentary & Data (LCD), a division of Standard & Poor’s, which is a division of McGraw-Hill. Point your browser to www.lcdcomps.com and get yourself a trial subscription, you know you want to.

Standard & Poor’s. Could there be a more onomatopoeic name for the most boring place I’ve ever worked? A place mostly populated by folks whose joie de vivre died before they were born?

How would you like to be exceptional & rich?”

I wouldn’t. I’d rather be standard & poor. Now go away, I have papers to shuffle.”

The one irony is that nobody who works in that place is financially poor. But the spiritual poverty there is overwhelming. It’s the visible burden borne by people paid above the market rate, on condition they wear a wire brush up their arse all day, and rotate the brush every five minutes. They are slaves to the paycheque, fearing they will never get the same standard of living anywhere else. Blind to the fact that what they are doing every day is not really living.

The moral dereliction of S&P made it into public consciousness in spring 2010. In the wake of the Greek economic crisis, S&P and its fellow credit-rating agencies – “supposedly impartial custodians of the global capital markets” – were exposed as something beyond incompetent. This piece in The Independent is gold:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-credit-where-it-isnt-due-1970022.html

For too many in the financial markets, the rulings of agencies have become a substitute for independent thought.” The people who set those ratings wield a lot of unearned power. But they’re not even aware they haven’t earned it. The mere fact they wield the power explains why they think they’re something special.

So, on to my little S&P division. Leveraged Commentary & Data. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Something bothering me about that name – as a man whose business is finessing sentence structure – is the implication that the Commentary and the Data are what’s being Leveraged. No they aren’t. The thing being leveraged is a missing pair of words: Loan Markets.

You still awake at the back? Leveraged loan markets mean a great deal to those who work in them, and nothing at all to those who don’t. The satirist Hugh Dennis once riffed on the general pointlessness of business news (cue dramatic percussive music):

United Amalgamated today put in a hostile bid for Consolidated Incorporated. Financial pundits around the globe are asking… ‘Who gives a toss?’ ”

Now, subscription-based business news has been my bread and butter for years, and I know not to bite the hand that feeds. But I also know when to switch off, and to always remember that subscription-based business news will never heal the sick or bring world peace.

Business-news providers are just people with specialised knowledge. In many cases, they are people with knowledge of the world that is two miles deep, but one inch wide. Never more so than at LCD. I have worked in a lot of places, and nowhere else have I found institutionalised self-delusion like I found at LCD.

Of course, not everybody there fits that mould, and those with any self-awareness are the people I had any kind of affinity with. They know who they are, and they are not named anywhere on this site, whose purpose is to shine a spotlight on the resident fuckwits. But some of the resident fuckwits WILL escape the spotlight, even though they really should not. More about that later.

LCD hired me in August 2007, to fill a newly created position for a London-based copy editor. My position was to augment the two copy editors in New York, in response to an explosion in European market activity.

I accepted their offer, because it’s hard to say no to a 26% pay-raise. The place I worked before was fun and friendly, and I knew I would risk losing that if I joined LCD. The funereal atmosphere of the place was apparent at my interview, and I realised right after joining that I should have paid more attention to the atmosphere than the money.

Something else faulty about LCD did not occur to me until some time after joining. Of the entire staff, in both London and New York, I was the only British male. Something hard to believe, in a UK-based job. If I wanted to talk to anybody with a sense of humour even remotely in tune with my own, I had to look outside the division.

I had two male co-workers at LCD London. One was a spoonfed Indian-American, with a mask of hauteur superglued to his face. The other was a young US fratboy, whose cheerful, inquiring demeanour evaporated soon after he joined. Not hard to see why: Little Lord Supercilious was the fratboy’s boss. I watched those two with a mix of fascination and disgust. The fratboy went through a personality transformation, very like the underling in the movie Swimming With Sharks. Last I saw of him, he was using all the pathetic catchphrases his boss taught him.

Both my male co-workers were metrosexual types, with personal-grooming regimens that would shame Patrick Bateman. This made me the only regular bloke in what was otherwise a matriarchy. A state of affairs which definitely had its moments.

LCD is bound by a laughably draconian code of political correctness that McGraw-Hill enforces. They call it the traffic-light system, but really there’s only one colour: Red. If you say anything that might cause the slightest offence to anybody in earshot, and somebody utters the magic word Red, then the original speaker has two options: a) shut the fuck up forthwith, or b) challenge the Red and face a disciplinary hearing.

In two years of constant lip-biting – in a torturous atmosphere of hair-trigger petulance, where folks rarely smiled or appeared to even like each other – I consider myself lucky to have received only one Red.

I was forever keeping my mouth shut about the way those people comport themselves, which made me want to either scream out loud, or laugh in their faces. I always felt it was only a matter of time before I would do something really antisocial. You might say the creation of this website is my giving in to that urge.

There are other things about McGraw-Hill I find laughable. For example, in the men’s bog on the 12th floor in London, you don’t need a badge to get in, but you do need one to get out. Imagine some poor guy goes in there, forgetting his badge, and a fire starts. His dying wish would be that he’d never joined McGraw-Hill. Physical entrapment on MH premises: who’da thunk it?

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/04/21/080421fa_fact_paumgarten

http://overlawyered.com/2008/04/lawyers-making-clients-worse-off-department-nicholas-whites-elevator-ride/

The bog doors on the other floors are not booby-trapped, which is nice of them. But on the wall by the sinks, there hang laminated instructions, illustrated with line drawings, to teach grown men how to wash their hands. And each laminate has a little McGraw-Hill logo on it.

So the premises are immaculately maintained, and the location very shiny. Theoretically, no breeding ground for emotional squalor. Theoretically.

I’ve drifted off topic. Loan-market activity collapsed right after I joined LCD. I could easily have been dropped in 2007. There wasn’t much work to do, and I was never in the mood to make tasks for myself. Nor was I ever in the mood to actually learn about what I was editing, to the rightful dismay of the reporters.

LCD was the closest thing to a non-job I’ve ever had. The stories came to me written by one expert on loan markets, and checked by a second expert. In many cases, all I had to do before posting the fuckers online was to correct commas and hyphens – sometimes not even that. It was two years of rubber-stamping, more or less. My days were less about getting some great work done, more about relaxing in an air-conditioned daycare centre with free internet but lousy coffee.

One time, I got a spot on BBC live national radio, with broadcasting legends Radcliffe & Maconie. I joked about the underemployment and the general dullness, but stopped short of naming the company. Maconie said, “best gloss over any more details, in case they’re on to you!” I sent the clip around at work. As expected, among the humourless ones this went down like a disgruntled hooker.

I had other duties to fill out the time. There was a daily PDF to produce, as well as a weekly, which made Thursdays and Fridays quite busy days. Before my hire, the Europe PDFs were made by editors in New York with a trifling knowledge of the principles of page-design or edition-management. This is not gratuitous unkindness, merely an observation based on their finished work. True information on a shit-looking page is still true information, which obeys the first rule of subscription-based business news.

I brought to the role tremendous – but barely valued – expertise in page-design and edition-management. Pearls before swine.

As a gesture of kindness to the other editors, and to protect my own ass as best I could, I almost never took Thursdays or Fridays off. This meant that in the course of a year, I would get eight or nine short vacations. McGraw-Hill, for all its laughably parochial and PC way of doing business, does have a generous benefits package. The company gives each employee a cutesy “anniversary day” on top of their vacation allowance, and in the LCD micro-climate you also get paid time off in August and December, when loan markets are dead.

For a London-based LCD grunt, the whole package adds up to an obligation to work only around 220 days a year, in a country where most employees have to work 227. And I almost sympathise with those poor schmucks Stateside, who have to do something like 235. But the measly vacation allowance is the least of those people’s problems.

An obligation to work only 220 days a year is sweet for the employee, but unsustainable for the employer. If I ran that place, I would make everybody take their vacations in dead-market time. Whaddaya reckon, Miller?

So I was one of three copy editors, until January 09, when a fourth was added in New York. How odd. Loan market activity had not come back to life enough to justify a fourth editor. More about that in a moment.

By summer 09, LCD was employing seven people in London, and about thirty in New York. I could be wrong on the latter number – another manifestation of how little interest I ever had in the place.

In August, my New York-based manager summoned me to a particular meeting room of my building in London. Hmmm, this must be serious, methought. Why couldn’t we just use the phone on my desk? And how was he so familiar with the meeting rooms of a building he didn’t work in?

I got to the meeting room, to find my manager on the speaker phone, and the HR woman sitting there with a long face. This being McGraw-Hill, there was also a jug of fresh coffee, some fancy cups and saucers, and a plate of cookies. Those motherfuckers think of everything.

Both my manager and the HR woman were profusely apologetic. I think they expected me to burst into tears. I didn’t do that. Not then, not ever. I had no questions other than “how big is the payoff?” Most people who get summoned for THAT meeting don’t have an escape tunnel already dug.

The HR woman explained that I was not the sole cut in the greater corporation’s London office. But I was the sole cut from LCD, in either London or New York. My tasks would be handed off to a guy in New York, who would be made to start work at 0500 in order to match most of the European trading day. His pay-raise for such a glittering promotion would be zero percent.

The “why me?” question did not occur to me until later. It turned out not to be a matter of me, but rather a matter of my position. Of the four copy editors, everybody knew I was among the three most useful, even when I never gave a rat’s ass about the subject matter. I gave plenty more than a rat’s ass about discrepancy-spotting, sentence structure, and making beautiful PDFs. The core responsibilities of a guy in my line of work.

The fourth guy – the January hire in New York – was reportedly a sack of potatoes, dumped on LCD’s doorstep when his union stepped in to protect him from redundancy elsewhere in McGraw-Hill.

Now even without unions, when you’ve got four guys, the one to cut will always be the one who joined the corporation last. The one who might get you that precious year-end saving, that you won’t get if you choose any of the others. The boils festering for longer will always be messier, and costlier, to lance.

As a London hire, I was not permitted to even join a union. This put flashing lights on the target I was already wearing by dint of being last in. I was always gonna be a sitting duck, until LCD made another external hire. But readers, please don’t think I’m getting self-piteous. I’m only outlining the facts.

In a place the size of McGraw-Hill, cuts are made for no reason other than to get a division back in the black in the short-term. Regardless of merit, and always to the detriment of newcomers. In the case of LCD’s copy-editing team, there is no question that its three-man lineup now is weaker than the three-man lineup it had before.

And as a kick to the balls of justice of the world outside my own, the guy who now works the bum hours is the most competent and likeable of the three. Of course he won’t be named on this site, which I reiterate, will shine a spotlight only on the resident fuckwits.

My McGraw-Hill severance letter contains the following clause: “You agree not to make or publish, or cause to be made or published, any adverse, disparaging, untrue or misleading statements or comments about the Company, or any of their officers or employees.”

Oops.

Yes this memoir is very disparaging. It is also 100% true. What are memoirs for anyway? They’re all about self-justification, and settling scores. They rarely elicit sympathy for the author. This author seeks none.

I won’t be bothered if some humourless arsehole goes squealing to the web-host to get this site removed. By then, everybody that I want to read it, will have. And it will take me about ten seconds to reinstate.

It’s time to welcome the resident fuckwits onto stage. Well, most of ’em anyway. I am naming only men, no women. But that’s not because all the women in that place are exemplars of competence and decorum. Although some of ’em most definitely are, and it’s always a delight to work with people like that, of either gender.

The reason I am naming no women is: they are women. I am letting female offenders off the hook for the same reason a High Court judge does.

Men of LCD, if you wonder why you are not named, it’s for one of two reasons. Either a) you are an exemplar of competence and decorum, or b) I never got to know you well enough to form an opinion.

I only launch written attacks on those I would also use my fists on. So fellas, if you don’t like what I’ve written about you, I’m easy enough to find.


* * *

Sucheet Gupte

Born: 1977 approx
Last known occupation: Research director, LCD, London

When a white-skinned man writes a scathing review of a brown-skinned man, to the uninformed it must be a racist incident. This is not that. Sucheet Gupte is simply an obnoxious, narcissistic little prick. His skin colour is irrelevant.

I contend that Gupte uses his skin colour as a shield; a licence to be an obnoxious, narcissistic little prick without fear of challenge. In a kindergarten like McGraw-Hill, any would-be challenger knows they run the risk of his squealing racism to HR. Readers, if you want to really piss him off, then make a point of mispronouncing that “haitch-R” – a subject he once mouthed off about for several minutes.

Gupte would only talk to the rest of LCD to whine about something. He was otherwise immersed in his pointless little world of loan-market stats. He would switch his calls to the wireless headset, walk to the nearby meeting room, shut the door, then visibly ponce around like an estate agent trying to flog a house. And by “walk,” I’m referring to his slovenly gait, never picking up his feet.

The person at the other end of the phone would usually be an LCD subscriber, wondering what gave this little prick the right to talk down. One time, a subscriber lodged a complaint about his attitude with the sales director. And Gupte’s meeting-room-hogging was a daily grievance for anyone else in the building who needed that room for, like, a meeting or something.

I remember one early Friday evening in the summer, the Canary Wharf authorities were staging a funfair on the green near the MH building. We were almost finished for the day, and could just about hear the distant sound of a DJ, pulsing beats, whoops, hollers. It was the sound of a thousand people who hate their jobs kicking out the jams while they could. Fair play to them.

Gupte phoned MH Facilities, to demand that they do something to stop the noise. He may even have tried the “don’t you know who I am?” line. Nothing was done to stop the noise, quite rightly. With any luck, the Facilities operator also told Gupte to go fuck himself.

One other thing sticks in my craw about this guy, illustrating a disease of the modern age. The BlackBerry. Everybody at LCD is issued with one, and most would, at one time or another, check the damn thing during social events. Showing more interest in a shiny little screen than in the real-life conversation around them. Most people would excuse themselves from the conversation for a moment. Gupte wouldn’t. He would carry on talking – usually about himself – with chin on chest, eyes and thumbs on BlackBerry.

I invite all readers to make Gupte spend even more time on his BlackBerry. (44) 7770 331923.


Brian Manning

Born: 1978 approx
Last known occupation: Copy manager, LCD, New York

A comprehensive appraisal of Brian Manning would take a while. I’ll try to keep this brief.

When you’ve got a resume like mine, you tend to get choosy about from whom you’ll take peremptory orders. My credo is to take them only from my line manager, or from somebody with vast expertise or experience who’s got a business interest in telling me what to do.

This wheelie-bin of mediocrity, this parvenu, was never my line manager. That’s how you insult a monoglot American: with abstract imagery and words he’ll have to look up.

Take a look at LinkedIn, get a load of Manning’s parochial, unspectacular career. To illustrate the point: the year before he joined LCD, I made my third international move in the service of B2B publishing. In the process, I turned my back on the place where Manning was born and has never left. The place that forms the sum total of his life experience is but a back page in mine.

So you get the idea: Manning is predisposed to talk down to his elders and betters. More than that, he is regarded an arrogant prick by everybody who’s ever shared office space with him. Everybody. Additionally, his initial and surname yield no end of mirth to British onlookers.

He never learned the words please or thankyou. He never learned to receive a piece of paper without snatching it. Manning is basically a walking porn installation, managing simultaneously to be a tit, a cunt, a dick and an arsehole. But he thinks he’s the dog’s bollocks.

I was fortunate enough to only ever spend ten days in the company of this oik, during my induction in New York. But even with an ocean in the way, he was an ever-present spectre of gloom on instant messaging. My eyes rolled whenever his IM box popped up. Any pertinent instruction he ever imparted about the minutiae of the editing system is forgotten. I only remember his tone. Everything he said was like a telling-off.

One time, Manning overstepped his pay-grade by attempting to change my way of doing something. I told him that any edicts concerning my working methods could only come from my manager. Which is not how you get on in a place like that. But I wasn’t gonna take any shit from a nonentity like him. I was marked for deletion after that, but I didn’t care. I’ve had Manning marked for something unpleasant since the day I met him.

What’s not on LinkedIn, is the one engaging thing about Manning. He has also played bass for a string of underground punk bands, a subject in which I have great interest. I sometimes wish Manning’s music career had taken off, so I never could have run afoul of him in my industry. I might even have become a fan of his music, in blissful ignorance of his personality. It’s a mystery to me how a guy like that could survive in a band, unless he was the singer or lead guitarist. He’s the bass player, for fuck’s sake, playing the notes he’s told to play.

In September 09, Manning’s band of the time was booked to play some dates in Spain, then two in London. He was kind enough – or conceited enough – to invite LCD. I planned to go to one of the gigs, at Ryan’s in Stoke Newington. No-one else from the office could be persuaded.

Note the date. In September 09 I was working my notice in a job I was told to leave. Now, somebody with a suspected involvement, whom I could never stand at the best of times, was coming to me on a plate. I would be at Ryan’s on the pretext of checking out another underground band. Anything that happened tonight would be off company premises, and without material witnesses.

But the London shows did not go ahead. Manning called the bureau chief to say his band was detained at Heathrow on a work-permit rap, and that it looked unlikely they would clear immigration.

I went to Ryan’s anyway, where they confirmed the cancellation. Manning and his band were already headed back to the US.

Lucky for Manning the Spanish dates came first, otherwise his Heathrow ordeal would have followed a redeye flight, rather than just a daytime hop. That put a splinter in my schadenfreude. And, I would have much preferred that he cleared immigration, to give me the opportunity to send him to hospital with his bass guitar shoved up his arse.

It’s time to scrawl Brian Manning’s cell number on this electronic toilet wall. (1) 917 407 3379.


Bob Matthes

Born: 1960 approx
Last known occupation: Copy editor, LCD, New York

I do feel bad about picking on a guy I’ve never met, whose picture I’ve never seen, whose voice I’ve never heard. You see, in the game of my dismissal from LCD, Bob Matthes is an interchangeable part. A man without a face. The poor schmuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. His role in the game is relevant; his identity is not.

Bob is the sack of potatoes I alluded to in the main section. The fourth copy editor, before all of a sudden there were only three again. He was but a pawn in someone else’s chess game. So was I. But I was the one sacrificed.

My only communication with Bob was a handful of emails and IMs. During my notice period, I tried to goad him into saying what he really thought of LCD. But Bob wouldn’t take the bait, clearly terrified of leaving a permanent electronic trail. Look what happens when a guy has to take any port in a storm, desperate not to do anything to put him back on skid row.

What a state to be in at that time of life.


Steve Miller

Born: 1965 approx
Last known occupation: Founder, LCD, New York


Exposition by limerick:

Even the lofty Tim Cross
Has a man that he has to call boss
Resembling Ben Stiller
And known as Steve Miller
Who about me gave nary a toss.


I had little direct contact with Steve Miller over the two years, which I was neither pleased nor displeased by. He was just a name in the background, the guy pulling the strings.

Miller pulled strings to get rid of me. He didn’t say one word to me on the subject; he left all the dirty work to Tim Cross.

In fairness to Miller’s position as company founder: in his shoes I too would not wanna retain an employee who was busy only two-fifths of the time; who had to report for duty only 220 days a year, out of a possible 235. But also in his shoes, I would be fully attentive to such a malaise brewing in a faraway office. I definitely would not let the joke drag out for two years.

Another joke came round to bite Miller on the ass. He failed to prepare for two key reporters – who could never be on vacation at the same time – ending up on maternity leave at the same time.

What preparations Miller could possibly have made are not what this website is about. Suffice it to say that in this case, the great unmentionable failsafe will safely fail. McGraw-Hill would have you believe every role in the corporation is gender-neutral. But the LCD reporting role is gender-neutral in the same way that waiting tables in Hooters is gender-neutral.

The reporters’ primary task is to coax useful market chat out of jockish City boys. Guys who give tips to reporters for the same reason they give tips to waitresses. Guys to whom their journalistic skills, even their identities, are irrelevant. To fight this battle, General Miller can only send in young female soldiers.


Robert Polenberg

Born: 1965 approx
Last known occupation: Research director, LCD, New York

This mini-listing is more a diatribe against LCD Research, each of whom is a barely literate buffoon. It was always a chore to edit their slack and repetitive copy. I won’t permit myself to slag off Polenberg’s female underling on the Europe beat, so he will have to take this one for the team. Sucheet Gupte of course merits his own listing.

Polenberg is certainly not a bad guy, based on the few hours I ever spent in his company. He’s the American everyman, living for ersatz beer and baseball.

My feigned interest in Polenberg’s baseball stories became feignable no more, when I heard him say “it is what it is.”



Chris Fordyce

Born: 1965 approx
Last known occupation: something big and clever in S&P Ratings, London

Fordyce is not part of LCD; he works for the parent company. He is one of the few non-LCD people I ever dealt with the whole time I was there, out of several hundred in that building, and several thousand in the global corporation. Fordyce deserves a mention on this site, because of his attitude and his actions, or should I say his inactions.

When McGraw-Hill HR told me my LCD job was soon to disappear, they said they would do what they could to re-deploy me. I didn’t want to be re-deployed. I had spent most of the previous two years trying to get away from the unfriendliest environment I’d ever worked in. I was glad to be leaving that snakepit with an unblemished record and a payoff.

But I was sure to keep my mouth shut until I’d found another job. In fact, activating this website, a year after the end of the unpleasantness, marks the first time that I’ve told anybody in that corporation what I think of them. You might call the record blemished now, if I thought there was the remotest possibility I will ever need a reference from any of those people.

But really, there isn’t the remotest possibility. I had a meaningful resume before joining McGraw-Hill, and I am doing very nicely afterwards too. It’s a simple game of numbers. Anybody working their first job is carrying an invisible “100%” tattoo on their forehead, from their first day to their last. The number signifies what proportion of your career has been spent where you are now, and therefore, how important it is to your resume. Once you start your second job, your tattoo inches upwards from 0%, but of course it can never again touch a hundred.

I detected “100%” tattoos on various people at McGraw-Hill, which helped to explain their worldview, or lack thereof. People who’d never worked anywhere else in their lives. Brainwashed by the corporation, like as not.

After my two years at McGraw-Hill, my personal invisible tattoo was just nudging ten percent. That’s how meaningful MH is to my resume. And that figure is dropping by the day.

Readers, I implore you all to calculate your own tattoo. If you work for McGraw-Hill, look at your wasted life in cold hard numbers.

Back on subject. In September 09, HR sent me to two other McGraw-Hill divisions that were hiring copy editors. I sat interviews and tests for both. I won’t even name the other division, because the guy in charge of that one offered timely and helpful feedback. You might just say that the guy in the other division handled things the way he was supposed to, according to the written code of his job description, and the unwritten code of how people should deal with each other. Fordyce did not do that, so that’s my grievance with him. He was asked politely and repeatedly to give feedback – or even just a yes or a no.

The eventual confirmation – that a job I never even wanted was not gonna be mine – came in the form of seeing that position advertised externally. Seeing that ad also told me that every other London-based editor named for redundancy that summer – who was made to jump through the same hoops – also did not get the job.

What about Fordyce himself then? He came across during the interview as a tough motherfucker, not to be messed with. And employing the best person for the job was, quite rightly, more important to him than lending a helping hand to the good guy sat before him. At least that’s what I inferred.

You can infer an awful lot when feedback is non-existent. So it’s a pleasure to mess with him now.

There is a possible explanation why Fordyce didn’t want me on his team. To wit, my lack of knowledge of what S&P actually does, or the true purpose of a credit rating. Yes, I’d been taking S&P paycheques for two years, never caring what the company does, and yes, Fordyce had to correct the answer I gave to the credit-rating question. Though it still does not excuse his non-existent feedback.

So, Fordyce, you ill-mannered oaf: give all of your interviewees the feedback to which they are entitled. Else they might give you feedback even less pleasant than this public character appraisal.


Roy Holder

Born: 1955 approx
Last known occupation: something big and clever in S&P Ratings, London. The monkey to Fordyce’s organ grinder

I feel almost bad about listing Roy Holder on this site. I spent only one hour in his company, when he hobbled into the interview room to take over from Fordyce.

Holder seemed a pleasant enough guy. But more than that, he is about the most boring person I’ve ever met. He spoke in slow, deliberate tones, usually with his chin on his chest. A bit like a history tutor I had, but that fellow did have a natural charisma. Holder has none. It doesn’t take an hour to suss that out. He is also cursed with being named Roy. I’ve never met a guy named Roy who isn’t also hopelessly moronic.

I was baffled how a man like Holder could function in a high-pressure, deadline-driven environment. He looked like he’d be more at home in an accountancy practice in Eastbourne in 1971. After a hard day’s filing, he would drive his beige Austin 1100 home, observing all speed limits, where his wife would have his dinner on the table at 6:00pm sharp.

With my mind very much elsewhere during that interview, and the dull monotones droning out of Holder’s face, it was hard to keep from laughing, or even to stay awake. He asked a bunch of stock questions that I suppose all candidates get asked, to which I had no answers that might secure me a comfortable dotage in S&P Ratings.

After the interview and the handshake and the false statement of how nice it was to meet him, Holder emailed me an editing test, which I completed and returned in good time. Was there any feedback on the test, or on the interview? No.

In fairness to Holder, I did not ask him directly for feedback, believing that to be the organ grinder’s job, not the monkey’s. And I didn’t even want the S&P job. The point is, I was entitled to feedback, but didn’t get any. So here’s your feedback Roy, you joyless old twat.