What do you get him for Boss’s Day?

Via Cal, I saw this collection of memos sent from a boss to his employees at an oil company in Houston in 1977 and 1978. The memos paint a pretty, shall we say, surreal picture of what it must have been like to work for Edward Mike Davis.

Here are a couple of quotes, but it’s worth reading them all, especially at the site linked above, because he has scans of the typewritten originals:

This is a business office. All correspondence and other things pertaining to this office will be typewritten.

Handwriting takes much longer than a typewriter — you’re wasting your time, but more importantly, you’re wasting my time. If you don’t know how to type, you’d better learn.

Remember, this was the era of typewriters, not e-mail and texting. You had to load a piece of paper into your typewriter, type your thing, make sure you had no errors, and then take the paper out and do whatever it was you did in that particular office to get the piece of paper you’ve just typed to the person who needs to see it. This requirement would seem to put a damper on intra-office communication.

Idle conversation and gossip in this office among employees will result in immediate termination.

Don’t talk about other people and other things in this office.

I can see wanting to discourage gossip, but I wonder what Davis meant by “idle conversation” — is he actually going to fire Jones in Accounting if he overhears Jones telling Smith that his kid made the honor roll?

I swear, but since I am the owner of this company, that is my privilege, and this privilege is not to be interpreted as the same for any employee. That differentiates me from you, and I want to keep it that way. There will be absolutely no swearing, by any employee, male or female, in this office, ever.

Had I received this memo, I almost certainly would have loudly exclaimed upon reading it, “Well, f*** me!”

We do not pay starvation wages, and there are some people left in this world who want to work. I am not fond of hippies, long-hairs, dope fiends or alcoholics. I suggest each and every person in a supervisory category (from driller up to me) eliminate these people.

Anyone who lets their hair grow below their ears to where I can’t see their ears means they don’t wash. If they don’t wash, they stink, and if they stink, I don’t want the son-of-a-bitch around me.

Well, I guess I wouldn’t have received the “No swearing” memo, because this guy would have fired me on sight. Oh well.

These are my favorites:

This memorandum is intended as an addendum to a memo I wrote on January 12, 1978 about people speaking to me. Any supervisor who has anything to say to me, day or night, the fastest way he can say it to me is too slow. The terms about not talking to me meant I do not have time to stop and talk to everyone — saying hello, goodbye, goodnight, etc. — that is what I was talking about. If you have business with me, the fastest way is too slow — day or night.


I do not appreciate people coming into my office and helping themselves to my candy, cigars, medicine, and other personal items.

Unless you have my permission, you are not allowed to remove anything from my office, and particularly, do not remove anything from my desk drawers without my approval. I don’t mind giving, but I would like the privilege of knowing and giving it myself.

Now, these are interesting. To judge by this fellow’s personal history (what little of it is known — there are links at the site), he basically inherited a bunch of money from a very rich woman for whom he had worked as her personal driver. He then used that money to launch his very own oil business in the late 1970s, which to my understanding was not the best time to be launching one’s very own oil business in Texas. His company went belly-up just a few years after these memos were typed.

Davis seems to have been (or maybe still is, I have no idea if he’s alive) a man of some conflicting impulses. He clearly wants to have been a rich and prosperous businessman with his own company and bunch of employees, but he also seems to have a deep discomfort, bordering on distrust, of other people. This is almost never a recipe for business success, unless one is fortunate enough to have invented a product that everybody needs. Davis, however, was just another Houston oil man when all the wells were drying up.

Reading the memos, one forms an impression of a company dominated by Nazi-like terror of the man in the corner office, but I wonder if that’s the case. As I read through the memos, one after the next, I got an increasing sense that this guy was deeply insecure and worried about his image while being possibly without a way of really creating that image, short of mandating that nobody so much as talk to him and firing off one memo after another about some really idiotic stuff (“At lunch, don’t be in the kitchen! I hired a woman who will literally hand you your food!”).

Put it this way: Mr. Davis claims in one memo to be a “known son-of-a-bitch”. But really — if you actually worked for a genuine “known son-of-a-bitch”, do you really think that your SOB boss would have to resort to a memo to tell you not to help yourself to the candy in his office?

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One Response to What do you get him for Boss’s Day?

  1. Andy says:

    WOW!!!! He was a real 'peach' to work for. Kinda makes ya appreciate your boss, even though they have MANY flaws….

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