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How do electronics companies like this survive?

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This is a true story of An electronics company in UK, designing and making SMPS’s. It happened a few years back. Occurences similar to the below, but not quite as bad, are quite common, I have found. The company does not exist on my CV.

The big question that I am sure arises from the below… who pays for these kind of farce’s to go on?

…So, I was contracted to help a company that was developing SMPS….
The director had declared that the work was not getting done quick enough, and so re-inforcements, including myself, were called in.

It turned out that the company's three electronics engineers were “larking about” and not working, for at least 60% of every working day !!!

Nobody could see them larking about, because they were in an enclosed lab, away from the other staff and managers. The director could tell that the work was not getting done quickly enough, and so every month he would insist that the three engineers would work an entire weekend unpayed, every month, in order to try and catch up. The three engineers hated this unpayed overtime…but after every such unpayed weekend, they would simply return to work on the following Monday and just start off larking about all over again…and continue thus….until the next unpayed “punishment weekend”….and so it went on….

So, There was a chief engineer who had designed 2 SMPS’s, and there were the three electronics engineers who were “bringing them up”. These three engineers worked in the small lab, along with an assembly girl who did soldering etc for them. I was at first contracted into this enclosed lab for much of the time, and did some work for E1, to lighten his load.

From now on, I will use notation to refer to the staff as follows……..

The three electronics engineers are “E1”, “E2” and “fatty”
The chief engineer , the company ‘s SMPS designer , is “CE”
The Engineering Manager is “EM”
The Director is “DIR”
The Assembly Girl is “AG”
The Test Engineer is “TE”

On one Monday, following one of these “punishment weekends”, the DIR approached fatty in the lab and addressed him…..stood right next to him as fatty sat at his bench…but fatty just totally ignored the DIR, and the DIR then just shrugged, and walked off.

The larking about in the small lab involved fatty constantly distracting E1 and E2 from their work. He would constantly invite them into “banter sessions”, and make them feel anti-social if they tried to continue working. The engineers E1 and E2, were actually of the inclination to “get on with their work”, but they constantly felt inclined to enter into larking about with fatty. 60% of every working day was spent larking about.

One of the common ‘bantering modes’, was for fatty to swear foul at AG, in front of all of us in the lab……..he would refer unkindly to intimate parts of her body and would liberally use the “C” word and the “F” word at her. AG was 30 years old and never laughed or complained about this, but just kind of ignored it. Admittedly, the abuse was more in the vain of an obnoxious kid than a threatening man, but it was still pretty vile. I told AG’s friend (in the office) what was going on, and insisted I make a complaint to the DIR about the foul language directed at this woman …however, her friend told me that AG was taking a soldering exam in a few weeks time, and that after she achieved that qualification, AG was going to leave the company, and work elsewhere……I was told by AG’s friend not to make any complaint until after AG had passed the soldering exam.

I did notice that fatty had quite a close relationship with CE. They seemed to be pals. CE would often enter the lab and take fatty into the corner and they would appear to be having a quiet chat together. They seemed to be “as thick as thieves” with each other. On one occasion, a new electronics graduate was sent into the lab, and I overheard CE saying to fatty about the new graduate……”if he gets too keen, punch him one”.
I did wonder whether or not CE was actually encouraging fatty to engage E1 and E2 in larking about, so that they were thus not pestering CE to join in and be involved with his (probably lucrative) SMPS design work. E1 and E2 were actually, as I said, the type of people that normally, would want to “get on with their work”, and progress in their engineering careers….however, as discussed, fatty was constantly distracting them. The fact that fatty obviously had a close relationship with CE, gave fatty quite a bit of power and influence within the company. I presume this made E1 And E2 a little wary of upsetting fatty.

One day in the company, fatty was away on holiday for a week. On one of these days, E1 told me that the SMPS boards often had certain microcontrollers on them which needed very simple programs. Fatty used to write all of these simple programs…and if a smps board needed programming, fatty would do this. E1 told me that fatty would not allow E1 or E2 to have anything to do with programming or writing code for these microcontrollers. E1 told me that fatty had actually refused to even show E1 or E2 how to actually program the microcontrollers…ie how to blow code into them using pickit2. Fatty disallowed E1 and E2 from even touching the pickit2. Due to this, when fatty was on holiday, and an SMPS board needed programming, nobody could program the boards, and the work just had to stop until fatty got back from holiday.

However, with fatty being away for a week, E1 and E2 were frantically trying to use their lunch hours to learn how to program PIC microcontrollers. They ordered demo kits from farnell, and I actually helped them in writing simple programs for the PICs, and showed them how to program them in MPLAB and blow code into PICs using the pickit2. We did this whilst fatty was on holiday. When fatty was not on holiday, he would stop E1 and E2 from doing any such work in their lunch hours….and would insist that in the lunch hour they played cards with him, or play shove-haypenny. E1 and E2 reluctantly engaged with fatty in this…as I said, fatty was quite influential in the company , due to his obvious close relationship with CE.

When fatty was back from holiday, on one day, AG was taken upstairs by the company’s trainer to do an initial preparation session, ready for her soldering exam….some type of “IP” qualification. Anyway, fatty decided that AG should not be doing this, and insisted that she stop the prep, and come down and do some soldering for him instead. AG did as she was told. Shortly after this, myself , fatty and AG were in the lab together, and there was some kind of verbal exchange between fatty and AG…….the next second , AG had left her seat, was shouting at fatty, and aggressively walked towards him. She stood over him as he sat at his bench…she twice shouted the words…”are you going to hit me are you?”….and then stormed off out of the room. This was extremely uncharacteristic of AG, who was usually very mild mannered, and had never uttered a word in defence when she was previously sworn at by fatty, on numerous previous occasions.

After this outburst, AG was then sent to work in the main production area.
Whilst AG was out of the lab, I heard fatty saying to E1, “has AG cheered up yet?”. E1 replied ironically, “you’ve just made the mildest mannered girl in the company loose her temper”. Then on one day, AG was brought back into the lab and told to do some soldering when fatty was not there. CE then entered the lab and started speaking very oddly to AG……he was liberally using the “F” word as he spoke to her, in a kind of threatening kind of way…he was saying that “there was F….ing work that needed doing, and that it needed to be F…ing well done……and I need people to F….ing well get on with it….” Etc etc…ranting on and on like that at AG.

…It did seem strange that CE was talking to AG in this way…specially since AG was a very good worker, and always got on and did her work very diligently anyway. The CE didn’t seem to feel it was inappropriate to use the “F” word to a woman in this way. During this “chat”, AG had just looked very worried, and sat silently listening to the “F…ing”.

Some years later, E2 had left the company and worked at a different company , again with myself at this new place. I found E2 to be a real professional, not larking about at all…he was very competent.
Also, I learned that years later, fatty had left the company, and that E1 had actually become the company’s Engineering Manager.

Incidentally, during my time at the company, another contractor aswell as myself had been there, and he had been designing a low power flyback SMPS. I later heard that shortly after I had left the company, this contractor had been sacked for attacking the Engineering Manager……one day things had got heated between them and the contractor had grabbed the Engineering Manager by the collar. (I have no idea what this was about).

Also, a few years later, I spoke to a Director of a different company, who told me that he thought little work ever got done at the company I’ve spoken of here…..and that an engineer had told him that the engineers used to spend the days flying model aircraft about.

Another guy told me that when he used to work at this particular company, they used to spend the days blowing capacitors up, and playing football with rolled up pieces of paper.

Anyway, how do companys like this survive?, and who pays for it?
By the way, E1 and E2 are exonerated from any wrong doing whatsoever in this.........they were in fact, sympathetic to the AG being abused, and acted as good freinds to her when fatty was not in the room.
it's been my experience that eventually behavior like "fatty's" gets found out. if i had been DIR, fatty would have been fired on the spot.
sometimes companies like that survive because their existing product line does well, and not much else in the way of engineering other than improvements (board revisions to fix common failures, improve efficiency, incrementally adding functionality, etc...). one company i worked for, the engineers were actually required to actually go out on the production floor and observe or participate in all of the workstations on the production floor, including board stuffing and mechanical assembly. they had to know all the processes in the manufacturing of the products the company made. when they made revisions to any of the company's products, they knew what needed to be changed on the production line such as added/deleted components, changes in PCB layout, changes in mech assembly, test procedures, etc...

some companies used to put up with bad behavior from somebody who was an expert at whatever position they were in, because it would cost a lot of money, time, and effort to train somebody to replace them. it usually turned out to be worth the trouble to replace that person.
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