How were the salaries in the country during comunism? It was like a nation-wide matrix, each type of job and industry had a predefined salary, that increased with a certain value each year. The best performing individual in his job was rewarded the same salary with the worst performing one, no difference. Even worse, those performing well were asked to solve all problems, and the others were in line for promotion, after all, they had to do something.
I was one of the smart stupid guys that did my job the best I could, and with all the harassment, I kept on going. I had to travel around the country to solve problems for the electronic devices I knew (I will not describe here the misery of those places I had to go to, maybe in another blog). And that kind of stupidity was a rarity, my delegations were signed by the minister of my industry himself. I attached to the end of this blog one of those delegations, that I discovered in my old papers… It is in Romanian language, but at the bottom of it the reader might see the minister’s signature. Note: “Ministru” in Romanian means “Minister”. The delegation is dated 1982, when I was still a rookie engineer, I graduated University in 1980.
I will mention here that all that challenging work did not bring me a better salary…
The only way to have a better salary was to advance up in the hierarchy. Of course, the nepotism was the first chance, but there were some that found diverse ways, and the story today is about one of them, I’ll call him Nick.
One of the places that I often visited in my business trips was Turceni, the biggest coal power plant in Romania, were Nick was in charge with keeping track of the work done by all the engineers coming from factories in my ministry. He was an engineer too, but had no clue of any technology, all he knew was the installation names in the power plant and the expert on the Minister’s list that could repair it. Both Nick and myself participated sometimes in technical meetings where sometimes one, two, or even three ministers were present.
One day I was called to fix some equipment in Turceni, where 4 identical electronic devices were down. I could fix three of them, using pieces from the fourth device. You may imagine that that power plant was never functioning at full capacity. After all done, I did the usual procedure, writing a paper with all that was done, and signed by me and the technician on duty.
The biggest problem was not to solve the technical problem, but to have a director or the chief engineer signing that paper. And they refused for different reasons, mostly claiming they were too busy. And I could not return home without that signature. The real reason was that they wanted to keep me as long as possible around, just in case. Sometimes for a one-day trip I had to stay weeks until I had the signature. And sometimes, waiting, I did some fixings, I was silly enough to help, give them more reasons to keep me more.
So, that day, I fixed the devices, and looking for a director’s signature. The secretariat lady told me “it is impossible since all directors and the chief engineer are in the meeting with the minister from the Ministry of Energy”.
I will not stay shy this time, I thought, and I stepped toward the meeting room door. The secretary jumped to stop me, like she had a spring under her chair, but it was too late, I already opened the door. I looked around the table and there were no sits available, about 15-20 people inside. Nick spotted me and he waved his hand inviting me to step in… and we shared his chair (a very incommode position for both, but he knew I could be an opportunity for him, and I wanted my paper signed, and all those directors were in).
Not more than 5 minutes later the minister asked about the devices I just fixed. It was considered very important, and the question was addressed to the chief engineer. I wanted to intervene and answer, but Nick put firmly his hand on mine, kind of keep quiet.
The chief engineer was in the hot seat, he started to mumble “I know the expert came from Bucharest and is working on it.” The guy never wanted to sign my papers, so, because we never spoke, he did not remember me. Actually, except Nick, no one in the room knew who I was.
The minister raised the voice “Do you know at what stage is it? done or not?”.
The chief engineer seemed lost “I can enquire.”
“It was a simple question, for an important problem, can you answer my question? YES or NO.”
It was one or two more verbal exchanges, the chief engineer’s face with more and more color on it. At the right moment when the tension in the room was pretty high, Nick spoke. He knew the answer, he read my paper, but he wanted the chief engineer to go deeper into the mud.
With a voice of a lion, Nick started specking pressing hard every word. “Comrade Minister, the expert from Bucharest, here with me on this chair,” and he pointed toward me “fixed the problem this way.” And he read the paper I signed with the technician on duty.
Then, Nick bent over the table toward the chief engineer, my paper in his hand. “Please sign this.”
Humiliated, and obviously wanting the discussion go away, the chief engineer signed; I took it, I rose and left the room.
Well, this was Nick’s style. Few month latter Nick was named commercial director. I must give him credit, from that day on I never had a problem to have my papers signed by a director. Nick always signed it and offered me a coffee in his large office.