Climate and Bosses

Bobby Halton

“People do not quit jobs, they quit bosses.” (Author unknown) That profound comment reflects the tragic situation when a firefighter leaves a department disenfranchised, upset, and bitter. It does not reflect the happy retiree, the gal or guy whose spouse gets a new gig and they must move, or the ambitious firefighter who is looking for a new opportunity or challenge.

The way someone sees a place is complicated, but often it reflects climate—the climate of an organization, a company, a battalion, or a shift that is so abrasive or toxic for that person that he abandons his dream and leaves the greatest job in the world. In all cases, we can affect that climate for better or for worse.

The nuances of what makes someplace a torture palace for someone and Wally World for someone else is really complicated. We all have our own worldview; how we see things and how we interpret things are highly personal. Some folks don’t get that; they believe how they see the world is how it is.

The boss, the lieutenant, the captain on every piece of apparatus can make a difference. An empathetic and authentic officer can set a tone for a crew so that although the organization may be going through a goofy time, the rig is our rig, or the house is our house, regardless of everyone’s separate worldviews.

It was New York City in the Spring of 1885. An enraged Thomas Edison leaned across his desk and hollered, “$50,000? Are you mad?” “You promised me $50,000 if I resolved those engineering problems. The designs are complete,” responded one Nikola Tesla. A year earlier, Edison had hired Tesla to work on making direct current (DC) more accessible at greater distances and lower cost.

However, Tesla insisted that alternating the direction of electrical charges was better than constant flow; it used less copper and transmitted greater distances. Edison was furious; all his inventions, factories, and existing systems were DC based. This was no solution to him. Tesla didn’t care; he wanted his money.

Edison was a legend, a narcissist, and a brutal boss. Tesla was odd—he counted every step he took, worked only with objects and numbers divisible by three, seldom shook hands, and refused to ever touch another person’s hair. He was fastidious in his attire and spoke in precise English.

Tesla made $18 a week working for Edison. He felt he had solved Edison’s problem and wanted the money for other projects. Edison was having none of it. Edison refused to pay and told Tesla he should be grateful for the job. Tesla quit.

Tesla struggled for a while, then went to work for George Westinghouse. Westinghouse paid him $60,000 and helped him protect his patents. Westinghouse was different in every way from Edison. He was quiet, very fair with his employees, a gentleman, and not concerned with being famous. He and Tesla agreed about alternating current (AC), and Westinghouse Electric was all in on the advantages of AC power.

The differences between AC and DC were distance and cost. DC power needed to be generated within a half-mile of where it was used because of heat and energy loss. AC made it possible for power stations to be located close to their fuel source, far from where it was used.

The competition between Westinghouse and Edison was epic. Westinghouse needed less copper to transmit; his power was gaining advantage. Edison needed an advantage; it came as a strange request. The New York Commission on Humane Executions wrote him, asking if using this new electricity could be an effective way to kill people. Edison would use safety as his advantage. Edison published his response to the commission, explaining how Westinghouse’s AC current was a terrific way to kill people. He called it “Westinghousing” someone.

The war was on; it was Edison and DC vs. Westinghouse and AC. Edison went on a campaign, a road show, executing dogs, horses, cats, and even cows to show people just how dangerous AC was. One of Edison’s favorite road show acts was to administer 1,000 volts of DC electricity to a large dog, then shut it off with the dog still alive. He would follow that up by then administering 300 volts of AC electric, promptly killing the dog.

The battle between Edison and Westinghouse would be fought in legislatures, courtrooms, small towns, and big cities. Thousands of animals would be electrocuted. The pinnacle of the animal executions was Topsy, a three-ton female elephant. Edison himself supervised the execution by AC. The elephant was outfitted with special boots and wires, and 6,600 volts were sent through her. The animal suffered for 10 seconds, as smoke billowed from her and she violently convulsed.

The first unfortunate prisoner to be killed by AC electrocution was named Kemmler, and it didn’t go well. He was shocked for more than 17 seconds, only to be found alive and shocked again. The papers would say he was roasted and the room was filled with the stench of his burnt flesh and feces.

The final battle would be over the 1893 World’s Fair. Westinghouse was awarded the contract, and it was so successful the war was over. Westinghouse secured the Niagara Falls hydropower contract, making AC the current of the land. Westinghouse took the high road and was honest, fair, and gracious. Edison was a brute and a smear merchant.

Who would you want to have worked for? Tesla worked for both but stayed with Westinghouse. In an odd turn of events, much of what is being produced today by a company using the Tesla name is run by a big personality and is DC current based.

Everyone has bosses. We should try to be the one folks stay with until something better in life takes them away, hopefully with fond memories.

No posts to display