Looking Sideways – Rough job? Local workers love it.

Mark Luetke

Labor Day is coming up next week, so I thought it might be interesting to check on the status of the American workplace using the Wall Street Journal, newspaper of record for business and the economy. (I know: pretty ambitious for “Looking Sideways.”)

Among the labor-related stories was one headline that identified the roughest, most hard-to-fill job in the economy right now…assistant manager. “This job is seen particularly as thankless, overworked and underpaid—full stop,” said the story.

But wait! When we asked three actual assistant managers in Sylvania about their job satisfaction, the responses were nothing but positive.

“An assistant manager faces significant challenges, but also very significant rewards,” explained Dr. Andy Singer, business professor and MBA Director at Lourdes University. “If each of these people are happy and they feel good about the work they are doing, by definition they must feel appreciated.”

Consider Laura Hieber, assistant manager at Sylvania Hometown Hardware. She and manager Brian Yeager have been running the store together since it opened ten years ago. “I was a manager for 25 years at Toys “R” Us and for several years at Learning Express. Now, I’m in my 50s and…trust me…I am pretty much doing everything the managers do. But I am comfortable in my position,” Laura said. “I grew up in Sylvania, like where I work, and totally know the customers. My greatest skill is providing them with good service.”

Added manager Brian, “A business cannot succeed without its assistant mangers. I can’t always be here, so Laura becomes that lifeline to the store; she’s the glue that holds everything together. She not only follows-up on things that I give her but also jobs that she identifies herself that need to be done. You can’t find an assistant manager who cares more than she does.”

Down the street at Dave White Chevrolet, Jay Yoder has Laura beat for longevity; he’s worked as assistant used car sales manager for 29 years. “The job involves sales, and when the boss is busy or not here, I will do appraising and work deals with customers. I can work up or down, doing inventory control, book cars and send them out for recondition and repairs,” he said.

Jay has been through three different sales managers and says he’s been offered the top job a couple of times. “I never wanted to take the higher spot because that’s the person who gets the meetings and the beatings. I don’t want to do meetings, and really don’t need the responsibility to oversee everybody,” he said. Jay’s boss, pre-owned sales manager David Mills, doesn’t particularly enjoy meetings either, but he understands they have a broader purpose. “With Jay, I can come back after a meeting and tell him what I need, and he says okay and takes care of it. That way, I can focus on big picture things and don’t have to worry. It’s valuable to have someone like Jay with so much experience and so many contacts. He makes my life infinitely easier.”

Professor Singer points out a final aspect of being number two that is often overlooked, succession planning. “If the boss wants to retire some day or move on to another role, the best practice in business is to make sure they have trained a person to take over for them.”

That’s exactly the situation at the Seafood Restaurant on Alexis. Third-generation owner Candace Boardman has run the establishment for 18 years and brought in her nephew as assistant manager … grooming him to take over her job in the next few years.

Chris Boardman moved here from Cleveland 18 months ago after seven years as director of operations for a non-profit childcare center. Both he and Candy agree that managing during Covid and the current worker shortage has changed the job description from a person who oversees issues to one that solves every single problem in the business.

“As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think any other way of doing this would have prepared me better to become an owner,” observed Chris. “You can’t lead if you cannot do the jobs under you. And through this situation for the last year or so, I had to … because there was no choice.”

“He’s stepped in when we can’t fill a position or for employees who don’t show up. He’s picked up the slack … become a cook, server, bartender, as well as assistant manager,” said Candy. “I don’t know if we ever would have made it if it wasn’t for that.”

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