Over the past year I've frequently written about the daily challenges of existing in corporate America. The business world can oftentimes be a frustrating place, with the unyielding need for profit pressuring posh executives, middle managers and low-level workers alike into positions they do not necessarily relish. Customer service in particular has been an unintended victim of the past decade's economic volatility, with many companies outsourcing call centers to Asia, or just giving up on the idea completely.
Up until today, I had written off Baker and Taylor, Inc. as one of those companies that had completely given up. While many people use Baker and Taylor's services, few outside of the publishing industry know that B&T (as it is often called) even exists, for it is one of those murky middlemen that hides in America's vast supply chain, routing books to and from publishers, libraries, and retail bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble. Sadly, while most librarians will tell you that they love Baker and Taylor (for they are its customers, and the customer is always right), most publishers will tell you that they hate it. B&T has not been paying its bills for the past month and a half.
My company, unfortunately, became the latest in a long line of publishers to take issue with B&T shortly after establishing my distribution contract with them. Among other transgressions in the past twelve months, B&T pulled sly accounting tricks to avoid paying bills (such as making books repeatedly "disappear," only to re-appear when questioned about them, FedEx signature proof in hand), shipped returned books in Indiana back to California when copies were already on order in neighboring Illinois, damaged books with boxcutters and then billed my company for the trouble, and lied in its initial agreement about the type of inventory information B&T would provide. When I contacted the company time and again to rectify these and other problems, more often than not, my complaining fell upon deaf ears (or worse yet, hostile ones). I was not the first small publisher to be outraged by their flagrantly illegal and fraudulent practices, I would not be the last, and they knew it.
The one ray of sunshine in the dark landscape was a woman named Jean Srnecz. I spoke to Ms. Srnecz on the telephone in mid-September of 2008, and though she was stern about her company's policies, she was also fair, promptly refunding the $295.00 application fee that accompanied the erroneous contract I had signed. Her willingness to cooperate and listen took me completely by surprise after doing battle with so many other similarly empowered executives for months. After I cashed my refund check, the battles did continue on other fronts (and they still do), and we all moved on with our lives.
That is, until the twelfth of February. Ms. Srnecz was on Continental Flight 3407, and based on the reports that have emerged since, it was only a matter of twenty-six seconds between the time she was almost in Buffalo, New York, and the time she lost her life in the terrible crash that night.
In an upside-down world full of corruption, greed, malice, stupidity and fear, Jean Srnecz was helpful, smart and fair. My experience working with her suggests that the glowingly positive statements issued about her in light of her untimely death are all true. She was a good person, a good person in a time when it has been most difficult to be good, and I am sorry that I will not be able to work with her anymore. For even though her employer as a whole may have given up on doing business the right way, Ms. Srnecz never did.
Aaron Greenspan is the author of Authoritas: One Student's Harvard Admissions and the Founding of the Facebook Era.