Saturday, April 12, 2008

An Even Strain

I was trying to make a subtle point to my two employees. As too often happens, Hop was angry about a perceived slight, probably imaginary, from one of my customers. Hop is what I consider a high-maintenance employee. So I had to take a minute to talk him down. I assured him that he knew more about his job than the customer; that he, Hop, was my most relied upon man when it came to his specialty, and he calmed down. Charlie just looked out the window, his mind wandering. He was used to it.

"The bits fail in one of two ways. Either the teeth wear out, or the bearings wear so bad the wobble starts making the drill string jump. The driller oughta feel it, and pull it before he loses a cone." Now Hop's looking bored and impatient. "The thing is, most of these guys think you can sell 'em a better bit. If the teeth are gone, they want to go in with a bit with a cheaper bearing and teeth that last longer. If the bearings go and the teeth are still good, they want a bit with a bigger bearing and cheaper teeth. I've seen both you guys give in to this idea, and it's a misconception. You have got to talk to these people about cost-per-foot. Just keep pounding away: 'Cost per foot is the only criterion that counts.' It does not matter if the teeth wear out first, or the bearing wears out first, or if they both wear out at the exact same moment, what matters is how much did it cost me to drill x number of feet with this bit?" Now Charlie is getting sort of wild-eyed like he always does when I forget to use only one- and two-syllable words; and he's afraid I'm going to ask him to do the math again, which I am. "Sometimes the best bit for the customer just wears unevenly, and that's still the best cost-per-foot bit for drilling that particular rock, and for him. You ought to -you got to - show him the numbers."

Charlie is a joke-teller, a card player, and our customers love him. He is not a technical guy by nature, but he's helped me build my business and he's a good man. Hop is different; more than once he's actually thrown a punch at me, and once he cussed out a customer. Who was, granted, acting like a supercilious son-of-a-bitch. I had to warn him, then, and almost fired him. But I didn't. And he is sharp as a razor.

Neither of them is exactly well-rounded. You know what I think? Well-rounded doesn't count for squat.


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