A Christmas Turkey Story

It was a gray November’s day thirty years ago. It was a week or so before Thanksgiving. I was Director of Materials Manager (Logistics in 2009 terms) for a 75-year old large industrial manufacturing company. We had 800 employees and a large old plant near Chicago. This company had an antiquated and quite large employee cafeteria, and offered many other employee-based benefits commonly seen in companies at that time.

One of those benefits was to give each and every employee a frozen Christmas turkey each year. It was personally presented by the company President the day before the Christmas plant shutdown (another long-gone practice).

To be able to secure 800 twelve-pound frozen turkeys a contract was signed with a local turkey farmer & distributor in April of each year. They were called “turkey futures”. It was an unnoticed and mundane task left to my Purchasing Agent (let’s call him Other Bob). For two years, I did not even know how he did it until that fateful November. I thought they just magically appeared each year.

At about 9:30 AM Other Bob came into my office. It looked like he had seen a ghost. He said he had just been grilled by our President (Hank) regarding the turkey purchase for that year. Apparently, Hank had read the local newspaper’s pre-Thanksgiving ads and noticed that the local food stores were advertising turkeys for sale that week for about 30¢ a pound less than we had paid for our turkeys back in April. As I recall we bought them for 59¢ per pound in April and Hank saw them advertised for 29¢ per pound. A bit of research convinced me that Other Bob had signed a pretty-reasonable contract in April.

Now you see, Hank was not married and he did not have a wife to wisely explain that the turkey price he saw was a loss leader to get shoppers into the store for Thanksgiving. Be that as it may, we had an angry President on our hands that morning.

I turned Other Bob around and took him back into Hank’s office shortly after his secretary came over to tell me that my presence was also requested.

We sat at one end of Hank’s large palatial office and calmly explained to him the concept of retail loss-leader pricing (I also thought it was best not to mention which of our company’s products could also benefit from such a pricing strategy at that moment), and how there was a major difference between a shopper buying a single turkey a few days before Thanksgiving and someone buying 800 frozen birds for December delivery six months earlier. Logically and economically we were on solid ground here—but Hank was not buying any of it, as he looked down at that morning’s food section (of the newspaper).

Just as it looked like there was no escape, I smiled at Other Bob and told Hank that we had already forged a solution. I went on to tell him that his intrepid Purchasing team had called our turkey supplier moments before and renegotiated a potential change in the deal at a large savings to the company. Other Bob nearly wrenched his neck as he turned to look at me in horror.

I continued that we could secure our 800 Christmas turkeys, as planned, for the new price of 29¢ per pound. Hank was elated. However, I went on to inform Hank there would be a change in the contract terms. The turkeys would now be delivered by the vendor to our manufacturing plant live, and Security would then herd and release the flock en mass into the employee cafeteria. We would then send employees into the cafeteria individually where they could select their very own bird. And while Hank could not now technically give each employee their own turkey, he could greet each employee at the door of the cafeteria—preferably while they were going in for the turkey.

Hank looked up from his newspaper with a broad smile as he slowly shook his head. He dismissed me and Other Bob with a wave of his hand. As we left his office, the door closed behind us with a thud by way of Hank’s new electric door closer actuated by a button under his desk. I swear I heard him break out in laughter as the door closed. Upon exiting, I turned to wink at Hank’s secretary. She apparently had overheard the entire episode and gave me one of her “you did it again” looks and a grin.

Well, 800 twelve-pound frozen turkeys were delivered and given to employees the day before Christmas shutdown, as planned. Some people mentioned that Hank seemed to be smiling more than usual that day—I would agree. He never mentioned turkeys to me again and we were all promoted shortly thereafter—to positions where turkey futures were forever below our pay grades. I also learned that day that a boss who could laugh at himself was a good boss to have.

The moral of the story: A frozen turkey in hand is worth two live ones in the cafeteria.

And yes, it really happened.

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