Do NOT beat around the bush. Lessons from “Tiger” Mike Davis

10 years ago someone showed me a set of memos from “Tiger Mike” Davis, owner of Tiger Oil Company. I loved them immediately. I share a lot of business philosophy with Mr. Davis. Recently I was reminded of these memos and looked them up on the interwebs and in doing I found that Mr. Davis died in 2010. In an obituary Huffington Post called him “The World’s Meanest Boss.”

I disagree. He’s particular and does not mince words. This is so foreign in the culture of false courtesy in business. We are now used to being entirely too courteous to the slob, the do-nothing, the troublemaker, the gossip, and other workplace scum. Tiger Mike would have none of that. In his intolerance for incompetence, he protected the good. Here’s some of what we can learn from him.

Edward “Tiger” Mike Davis

Work is for work. His delivery may seem harsh when he tells employees to “Do your job and keep your mouth shut!”, but most HR policies amount to this anyway. Why not say it the way it really is?

Be responsible. No one else will take care of your responsibilities for you. Any attempt to put them off on someone else will get you fired in Tiger Mike’s world.

In the 1970’s business world there were no “Stakeholders,” there were only owners, employees, vendors, and clients. Each group had to represent and comport themselves as such. In the tour d’force below, Mike lays down the law. Davis reminds everyone that he owns the company and that he has standards. Standards must be followed. No liquor on site. Keep the workplace clean. Hire good people. Pay them well. Take care of yourself. Take care of the equipment. We are here to work, not be friends. This is true in every business, why not just say so? Why keep up the charade to the contrary?

People who do their work and are proud of that are damaged when the incompetent and slovenly are coddled. The best thing an employer can do for the excellent is to be intolerant of the bad. Bad co-workers cost the company money, cause trouble, get in the way, make everyone else work more to fix their mistakes, and ultimately cause everyone to get an earful when the problem is the fault of the few. Time and again Tiger Mike acknowledges this when he points out in his scathing memos that essentially, “if you ain’t the problem, this memo ain’t for you.” I suspect the excellent employees at Tiger Oil Co. knew that Mike treasured and respected them. He showed that by his generosity with pay, freedom of action to do the right thing, and most of all, respecting the time and work of the good employees by crushing incompetence at every turn. RIP Mike.

The terms of employment are clear!
Communicate efficiently!
If you don’t like it here, be “true to yourself” and move to another job!
I’ve got friends, I need paying customers!
Intellectual Property Security
Again, don’t complain, move to a company that will allow you to make excuses.
Expectations set!
Generous leave, but you have to ask for it like a man!
If you aren’t here, you don’t get paid.
Lunch is on the company. Gertrude won’t let you make a goddam mess.
Don’t disturb these workers.
No one likes break room birthday parties.
Even the fastest way is too slow.
Don’t steal.
Do a days work.
Take care of the equipment.
Again, don’t make a mess.
Don’t waste time.

Rather that focus on Mike’s demeanor, focus on the direct language, the expectation setting, and the clarity of mission. I love it. Do not wrap your writing in cliche and false nicety. State your point. State the consequences. Respect everyone’s time. Expect that they are adults. If they are not adults, show them the exit.

7 thoughts on “Do NOT beat around the bush. Lessons from “Tiger” Mike Davis”

  1. These are great. I have bared witness to memos similar to, but not as good as these. Deep down, much I enjoy them, I can’t help but think Tiger Mike would have fired me.

  2. I admire Mike’s standards, and I LOVE the gems that are in these memos. With that said, Mike’s frigid forthrightness made it appear to me that he didn’t care an ounce for any of his people. It also appeared that he almost viewed them as disgusting, unintelligent, animals; things that he owned because he paid them well yet they were expendable and ready to be replaced by the next vile, willing thing. I love high standards that make people better and I’m not the type that needs to be told the obligatory horse-crap like, “good job” or “hello” – but sheesh, even to me this guy seemed cold! There are too many other successfully run businesses with high standards. Those businesses still hold employees accountable for their time and work output, but the human element is intact. Or, maybe it’s all a psychological façade and I fell for it! 🙂

    Awesome find, Scott!

  3. With Mike Davis you knew exactly what was expected and what the boundaries were, no hippie p.c. mumbo jumbo. It also came straight from the horses mouth, not second-hand from a coworker who heard it from another co-worker who happened to overhear what the expectation/policy change/procedural update, etc is currently going to be.

  4. Andy Jonathan Creech

    Is there a way to get a hold of these memos to make a book gift for a friend. These are true treasures of entertainment and a lesson in directness.

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