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At a cocktail party the other night, a man I'd just met turned to me and said, "So, what do you do?" Preparing to regale him with madcap stories of my current domestic life, I replied, "Right now, I'm home with our two toddlers." He looked at me blankly and mumbled, "Oh, excuse me - I need to refill my drink."

This sort of thing had happened to me more than once. I realized that, to hold my own on the adult social circuit, I needed a strategic plan to upgrade my identity. With no intention of changing my circumstances, I would have to get creative instead. Then it came to me: rather than being an at-home mom, I would put myself in charge of a thriving small business with high-growth potential.

The first item on my agenda was to adopt corporate nomenclature. "Mommy" and "Daddy" worked fine under the old paradigm, but in our reengineered company, I am the president (this is only fair, considering that I quit my former job to stay home), and my husband is the senior vice president. I'm fortunate to have recruited an extremely influential board of directors, formerly known as Grammy, Big Daddy, Nono, Papa, and Mima. Their thirty-five to fifty years of hands-on experience will be invaluable. I now have a staff of three - my husband and two sons, all white males. This means we definitely have some diversity issues to deal with. But the VP and I recently initiated a long-term hiring freeze, on the assumption that too much rapid growth can kill a thriving company. I'll have to get around the diversity problem by contracting with freelancers.

Two other issues facing my company are time management and work-force incentives; my staff, frankly, can be unruly and stubborn. For example, the most recent recruit, who joined the company a little over two years ago, won't take no for an answer. On the upside, he is a go-getter, volunteering for every task: "Me do it." My senior staff associate has become a relentless negotiator during his four years with the company. I see him eventually heading up our sales efforts - perhaps a sidewalk lemonade stand sometime in early Y2K. My management strategy will be to curb counterproductive staff behavior by initiating a "Pay for Performance" system (formerly known as an allowance).

Like so many other companies, we were recently downsized with little warning: our director of corporate day-care (a.k.a. our sixteen-year-old baby-sitter) got a boyfriend and stopped coming to work. Had I been paying attention to the economic indicators, I might have been better prepared for this fiasco. The signs were clear enough. One day, a fashion magazine replaced Nancy Drew; the next week, our sitter showed up wearing trendy clothes. Finally, I noticed from the phone's caller ID that a slew of calls were coming in while we were away from corporate headquarters.

Inventory control is also a struggle. Lacking warehouse space, our company relies on the JIT (Just In Time) restocking system. In such a chaotic work environment, JIT usually turns into NIT (Not In Time), which forces me to page the senior VP and ask him to purchase such urgently needed supplies as diapers and milk on his way home.

To stay as competitive as possible, I am undertaking benchmarking practices. I have noticed that Cecilia, a junior associate with the Brody Corporation next door, can write her name. My staff has shown little progress in this area, so I may have to increase our training budget to provide extra days at preschool. Without proper training, I fear my staff will continue to commit such glaring blunders as the recent Drawing-on-the-Dining-Room-Wall Initiative. This unfortunate incident put our current TQM efforts in jeopardy.

Finally, to create a clear corporate identity, I need a slogan. The Dayton-Hudson Company's is "Speed is Life." Here at Hale Inc., I envision requiring the work force to chant "Speed is Life, Speed is Life" as I hustle them out the door. Or perhaps I'll transform Nike's "Just Do It" into "Do it Right Now!" That's a corporate slogan I can live with. It will show everyone, once and for all, that as president of this company, I mean business.

Jocelyn Hale is an at-home mother and freelance writer in Minneapolis.





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