Big business exasperates with its ‘laws’

By Larry Simoneaux

I recently read an article regarding the problems a family had gaining access to their savings account at a large banking institution.

Their problems with their bank reminded me of an incident early in our marriage when my wife and I received a phone call from our bank telling us that our checking account was overdrawn to the tune of several thousand dollars.

They weren’t very happy and, like large organizations everywhere, whenever something like this occurs, they assume you’re wrong and proceed merrily from that assumption. Unfortunately, it was late in the day, the bank was closing, and the earliest that we could meet to get things squared away would be the next morning.

Being young, very conscious of our finances, and completely flummoxed, we did what any couple would do — we worried.

“Worry,” however, is sometimes a wonderful stimulant. It often makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do. In our case, we did what we thought was perfectly reasonable. We called the bank president’s mother.

We’d actually intended to call the president, but he was unavailable and his mother was listed as one of the bank’s founders and still active in its affairs. We figured, “What the heck.”

She turned out to be a very nice individual and, after hearing our story, told us that there must have been some mistake and that she’d talk with her son that evening.

I guess she did because, next morning, we received a call from her son telling us that, indeed, there’d been a mistake — on the bank’s part. There was a local construction company that had an account with them and the owner of that company was named “Simoneaux” (as you might guess, there are a lot of us in Louisiana). Said owner was also named “Larry.”

He’d written a large check for supplies and, somehow, that check had been routed to our account. No one at the bank had, apparently, thought to double check the check. However, all was now well and apologies were offered and accepted.

We were just glad that moms still counted for something.

For me, this experience sparked a lifelong interest in the (sometimes inexplicable) behavior of large organizations. Over time, I discovered that there are basic laws common to large organizations and, once such laws are understood, dealing with them becomes easier — though no less exasperating.

I wish I could claim authorship of the following, but I’ve simply collected them from books, articles read, Internet postings, and experiences others have mentioned. Therefore, to help you in dealing with large organizations, here are several “laws” to keep in mind:

•All correspondence from large organizations is written in four tenses: Present tense, Past tense, Future tense, and Pretense. “Pretense” is, by far, the most common.

A large organization, produced by expanding the size of a smaller one, never works as well as the smaller organization.

In any large organization, the purpose of automatic answering services is to keep you from ever reaching anyone who might be able to help you.

People in large organizations don’t do what the brochures introducing them say they do. The Assistant Vice President for Operations brings the paper, makes coffee, and fetches donuts.

As organizations grow, more and more time is spent reporting on the less and less being done. Stability — and ultimate size — is achieved when all available time is spent reporting on the nothing being done.

The effort expended by any organization in defending a mistake is directly proportional to the size of the mistake. If they lose five dollars of your money, they’ll admit their error. If they lose five thousand dollars of your money, you’re going to jail. Anything larger and they’ll have you shot.

In any large organization, the higher the level of the person assigned “to solve your problem,” the worse the problem will get. If you can get the janitor to type the change into a computer, however, the problem will be solved that day.

Large organizations measure time differently. “Now” is tomorrow. “Tomorrow” is next week. “Next week” is next year. “As soon as possible” is a measure of geologic time.

In any large organization, there will always be one person who knows what’s going on. That person will be the first fired in any staff reduction.

Finally, if you forget all else and can’t see any solution short of thermonuclear war, call the president’s mother. Sometimes, it works.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to