Jobs, Part 12: The Garden City Group

Claims Control Clerk/Senior Claims Control Clerk/Senior Supervisor/Project Manager, The Garden City Group:

Where do I even start? At the beginning, I suppose.

After being laid off from Cheryl & Co. in March of 2002, I spent time looking for a job on my own before applying through a temp agency (I don’t remember which one). My first assignment was The Garden City Group, which started on August 17th, located near the Columbus Airport. The job was fairly simple, some basic paperwork, filing, printing, shredding, nothing too complex. The office was small, only about eight or nine people. After a few months, more responsibility came my way in the form of helping print claims and address envelopes that would receive payment from a local class action that was about to distribute. I guess my organizational skills shined through, because by December I was offered the opportunity to join GCG as a full-time employee, which I happily took.

As I was full-steam ahead with the band, a steady weekly paycheck was essential, especially when we spent money out of our own pockets to record. In early 2003, the office moved to New Albany, which was fortunate for me as it was much closer to where I lived at the time. After a short stint on the main floor, which included a horrific attempt at being a call center agent, as well as a terrifying trip to Fremont, Ohio for a community meeting that nearly got everyone involved beaten to death (a story for another time), I eventually migrated to the mailroom/server room and took on the responsibility of picking up, sorting, prepping and scanning the mail each day.

Now, most people would probably have found this tedious, but at the time I loved it. Everyday, after being at work for an hour, I would hop in my (then) van and drive to two different post offices picking up our mail. The first post office was down by the airport, near our old office, and next to a McDonald’s, which meant nearly every day I stopped for some sort of breakfast sandwich. The next stop was to the post office near the new office, and all totaled this ate up a good hour to hour and a half of my day, which was fine by me.

Slowly the office grew, and eventually we moved out of the New Albany location, even after taking over another office within the building, in order move to a much large facility. This ending up being in Dublin, though there was talk at the time about Grove City being a possible destination as well. Of course, since I hate driving far to work, soon after we moved to Dublin, I started looking for places to live, and a year later ended up buying a condo in the area.

The new building was huge, with a loading dock and (at the time unfinished) mail processing area, a dozen offices and massive floor for claims processing and calls. When we moved in, we weren’t evening using half the building, and I ended up in the main floor again as the mailroom was under construction. For the time being, the mailroom ended up being a small storage office overstuffed with boxes and equipment.
Around 2007, after having moved into the condo the year before, two things happened: I started dating my future wife, and the band dissolved. I had to either get a new job, or take this one serious. I decided to take the one I had serious, not that I hadn’t done a good job, but I didn’t consider it a long-term plan. In lieu of getting new job, I started making an effort to get noticed. Within a year, I was promoted from Claims Control Clerk to Senior Claims Control Clerk, which basically just meant I was the go-to person on difficult or time-sensitive tasks.

It also meant that, aside from a few other people, I was the lone consistent member of the mailroom. Besides the fact that we utilized temporary workers almost exclusively, every one of my managers was fired within a year of starting from 2006 to 2010. Not a lot of morale boosting going on, but I was determined to stick it out, not make mistakes and make it to a supervisor or manager level. That chance came in the summer of 2010 when GCG took on the Gulf Cost Claims Administration of for Hurricane Katrina.
What had been an office of 200-300 people, at times peaking to 500 when large cases started or ended, exploded to a round-the-clock operation of 1,200+. The original plan was to house the incoming mail operation for the Katrina claims in a newly expanded section of the building, which was quickly overwhelmed with the volume. What actually ended up happening was I, along with a brand new group of 30 or so temp agency workers, got stuffed into the new room to handle every project that wasn’t Katrina, while that project took over the entirety of the office. At the time, that meant 250 or so active cases, with about 100 receiving mail on a weekly basis, and 50-60 on a daily basis. The phrase “trial by fire” comes to mind. After surviving this, I ended up being promoted to Senior Supervisor.

Over the two years, the office grew in square feet while the Katrina project steadied and then slowly declined. The mailroom was combined into one space for incoming, and a second for outgoing. Around this time, the call center aspect of the facility expanded, taking over multiple areas that had previously been used for processing, mail handling, etc. The proverbial writing was on the wall – my experience as a mailroom supervisor wasn’t going to be a useful in the future, so in 2012 I looked into a formal Project Management education to gain certification and either move up inside or outside the company.

That Spring, it was announced the company was holding a contest for all employees – pitch us an idea, a new business idea, something that works within the basic framework of what the company does, and the best ideas will be collected for a future presentation to the top four bigwigs in the company, with the winner getting their idea into contention, and taking home a sizeable cash prize. At the end of the summer, five ideas selected, and mine was one. I had about a month or so to put together a presentation in preparation of flying to the Long Island home office and pitching my idea.
Being an overly analytical, hyper intense individual for such things, I went in nervous, but detailed and rehearsed, and found out a few weeks later I had beaten out the other presentations for the grand prize. The world changed for me work and home, but most importantly I was able to parlay the good will built up, along with my in-progress PM education, into a new position: Project Manager of the Command Center.

The Command Center was a relatively new concept at the office, only a few years old at the time, but typical to most established call centers. Basically, one office manages schedules, monitors incoming call volume for coverage, and generally works in an umbrella position over the call center. Well, that’s how real call centers did it. That’s not how GCG handled it; turning the Command Center into more of a dumping ground for whatever individual managers didn’t want to bother doing. It was my job, as a detail-oriented analyst with fresh eyes, to streamline operations, reduce errors and improve relations with other departments. This was handed over with the understanding that my boss at the time didn’t like the department and would re-evaluate in six months to decide whether or not to blow it up completely. I had a mission.

The other tricky part is that I would not be replacing the current manager, just stepping in above him. Although he was cordial and welcoming up front, it was clear there were major personality issues between him and the staff he oversaw. Everyone had their own quirks, but the manager was on another level. After taking over in February, by the summer of 2013, it was clear he had to go, and I had to pull the trigger. Although he deserved it (lying to upper management cannot be tolerated), I was still sickened by the act. We soon replaced him with a veteran employee, and while I had met and even exceeded the expectations I had dictated to me, cracks started to appear with the loss of another veteran employee soon after. Blood was in the water, and while I tried adding more veteran help, cracks started to appear.

It became clear that not only was the department still in the crosshairs, but the office in general. The mailroom had slowed to a trickle, the call center experienced more valleys than peaks, and morale was at an all time low. Despite childish “team building” activities (Wii in the break room! Pajama day!), it was hard to muster a smile or engage in a positive conversation with anyone, knowing that the next mistake or error was about to cause an eruption from upper management. By the time the Fall of 2013 rolled around, I was actively seeking other positions. I knew there was no future for me, and eleven years was more than enough.

For some reason, when I turned in my two-week notice, I was nervous. I expected some sort of backlash – that I was quitting when it got tough, or something along those lines. Instead, it was a brief “good luck” and not much else. Of course, soon after I left, the Command Center would be dismantled, so I know I made the right decision. I left behind friends and acquaintances who had been a part of my life for years, some almost a decade, but when I look back on the time, it occurs I stayed mostly out of fear. Fear of taking a chance with something new that might have been less secure, fear of change, fear of the unknown. It was easy for a long time, but when responsibilities like marriage, and a mortgage, and a child all started to weigh on me, it became depressing. To spend so much time on something that mattered so little to me, to think of so many hours, days, weeks and years wasted, I can’t help but think of what had been if I had quit after a year or two and pursued something I actually cared about, or didn’t hate.

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