John & Phillip – A story of cultural unawareness

Phillip Smith (English/Welsh heritage) was an innovative engineer, he came up with a fabulous idea that would help strengthen bridges and buildings using specially treated cement and newly designed steel stability gadgets he had created himself. He pitched these products to investors and secured the funds to build his business initially employing ten people to work in his factory. At least five of these people would be experienced engineers.

He had strong values regarding people so made sure he contracted in an independant HR consultant (Australian/Scot) to help him design robust ‘people friendly’ HR processes. Managing engineers at times can be a tough job.

John Rangiata (Mum – Ngati Toa, Ngati Awanui and Dad – Samoan) was employed as a young apprentice 22 years old along with four other talented young people to be trained as apprentices across all the business lines.

For John one of the great things about working for this business was the fact he would be taught all the jobs within the factory. This had been an idea Phillip had come up with and insisted his HR consultant implemented, the goal being to ensure loyalty and help people feel more secure working for him.

With a good product and a great team the business thrived, the concrete mix and gadgets became popular and demand started to grow. Within three years Phillip realised he would need to concentrate on sales and growing the business and upon advice from his HR consultant decided to advertise for a Manager to look after the factory. After a shortlisting process run by his HR consultant he appointed a very bright MBA qualified, experienced engineer to run the production facility.

After a further two years things were still growing quickly and going well, John loved his work he was now fully competent with all the tasks required within the factory. He was well liked by his colleagues, due to his fabulous sense of humour, humbleness and that he was always willing to help others perfect their jobs.

Five years on and three Managers later, Phillip was back in the market advertising for a leader for his production factory, he now owned a business that employed over 200 people and was still growing steadily. He was now exporting more and having to consider how he could grow the business staffing levels to keep up with demand. He explained to Bill (the latest new Manager recruited into the business) that John was a dependable and reliable go to guy who new the business inside out and would be able to help him.

John now had kids and was enjoying spending his weekends with them, although whenever needed he would go into work and make sure things that needed to happen, happened.

Forty years later, fifteen Managers on and a week before his retirement, Phillip decided to go and personally thank John for all the years of loyalty and hard work. Phillip was thanking John and while explaining to him how valuable he was, and the fact he new all the jobs so well, he was the most respected person in the factory, sharing his knowledge and helping others grow he needed to ask him one question.

“John after all these years why did you never apply for the Managers job?”

John looked Phillip straight in the eyes and simply replied “you never asked me to”.

Note: Although this story is fictional it is however based on factual events and discussions happening all the time.

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