Sunday, March 22, 2009

Interview with Vincent - Part 1

I’ ve known Vince Shaw for over ten years now. He has been
living in Turkey a few years longer than me and he seems to like it a lot. He has been an English teacher here but he never had the proper paperwork it was next to impossible for him to get legal working permission. This is not as uncommon a situation as you might imagine. More than half of all foreign English teachers in Turkey have, at one time or another, worked illegally. The Turkish bureaucracy takes so long processing paperwork that many teachers are well into the sixth month of their year contract before they receive any reply to their working permit application. The general rule is: Don’t make waves, don’t make enemies and keep a low profile and it should be ok.

Vince agreed to tell me about his experience only if I did not use his real name.

So, last year wasn’t your best year, I take it.

Yeah, you can say that.

Can you describe for our readers how you got into this mess?

The mess that was last year? Well, through a friend I met this doctor and his wife. Let’s call him Penguin and Cat woman. They operated a small CRO business with about 10 employees. They wanted to offer me a job with their company.


Clinical Research Organization. What they do is help arrange clinical drug trials with doctors. The doctors find patients and then they test the drugs and submit the results for analysis. The CRO is there to make sure the doctors are following the proper protocol.

Got it. So how much experience had you had with Clinical research?

About 0%. Still, what they wanted .. at least.. initially, was somebody to help their staff with their English, for writing emails and speaking on the phones and face to face interviews with the clients. I was onboard with that. No problem.

I see. But you said “initially"?

About a month into it, the owner, this doctor, Penguin, I mean, decided that he liked my presentation skills so much that he wanted me to train his staff on Clinical research as well.

So let me get this straight. You were asked to give training about a subject you knew nothing about to experienced staff? What did you say?

I said, hmmm.. ok. You have to understand Turkey. Anything is possible. Everything is learning by on the job training. I was no more unqualified than anybody else there. None of the employees had a background in medicine, at that time. But this company is not at all unique in this way.

Actually, I told them-repeatedly- that I could not do it. But I told them that I could prepare a program for them and supervise the re-training. I wanted the owner or the manager or the supervisor to do the actual training. I was fine with that.

But that didn’t happen?

No. That didn’t happen. The Penguin was so encouraging. Also, the person who should have been responsible for training was the supervisor. I think they called her a line chief or something like that. The supervisor-who was a bully, by the way, loved to shout orders at people but was secretly very self-conscious that she might not be doing her job according to the rules. She was like this Gorgon who behaved like some kind of top executive, coming an going whenever she liked. Also, she was very worried that, if the employees learned the rules they would see how she was doing things incorrectly.

Even when she trained new employees she would give them meaningless or petty tasks or give them tasks without explaining to them how it fit into some kind of overall structure. This was, in fact, her idea of training.

And I would imagine that following the rules is pretty important to this line of work?

Exactly. They have this thing called SOPs which means Standard Operating Procedures. And every single detail is laid out on how to do this and how to do that and what to do if this happens.

But then, shouldn’t this be pretty easy in terms of training?

Well, the owners didn’t want the employees to see the SOPs. I never could figure that out but I think it had something to do with where they came from. I think the set of SOPs were stolen from her previous employer and she was afraid of the legal ramifications if they ever found out. So she kept the only copy of the SOPs locked in a cabinet in the hallway.

Hmmm.. ok. So what did Penguin expect you to do exactly?

Training. He wanted me to train the staff and train new employees as well. Never mind that I wasn’t qualified. I told him over and over that I was an English teacher. But he kept saying he knew this but he was sure I could do a great job.

Why didn’t you simply decline the offer?

First of all, I suppose I was sick of teaching. I think I needed a break. I was looking for some different kind of challenge. Secondly, it looked interesting. It had a future and also, he offered me a lot of money to start. Money is NOT a problem in CROs. Last of all, I really honestly believed I could do it.

Our main – our only client, actually- also had a publishing company for Clinical Research. So my first step was to order training books through this company and study the materials intensively.

What about working permission? Was that going to be a problem?

Penguin told me that, I think, this was the first thing he said, that his company would hire me as a English teacher/advisor as a permanent position in the company. The lawyer said that this sort of thing was done all the time. It was just a formality.

Did you believe them?

Sure. Why not? I had no reason not to believe them. After all, I assumed that they needed me no more or less than I needed them. So what would have been point of lying?

If rules were not so important to them, I imagine you saw a lot of dubious things going on.

Practically every day. The first week, for example. There was going to be this auditor come in for a quick visit, I remember, and she spent the last 24 hours, faking all kinds of documents in case they asked. Fake trainings sessions, fake signatures. I thought that was pretty funny at the time. I never occurred to me how important it was to stick to the protocols and follow procedures. I had no clue really.

It didn’t matter anyway. The auditor- and this guy is like a mind-reading bloodless alien- he could zero in on a phony document or nonsensical excuse. He wouldn’t, like, start shouting or anything. He would ask for certain paperwork, spend about two or three hours studying every detail and then, make notes. In about a month, he would send a draft of his findings.

I see. So how long did it take to set up the training program?

I ordered this set of self-training books for Clinical Research- there were like 9 or 10 of them.. and began to outline each chapter. Then, using PowerPoint, I made presentations for each of the books. That took quite a bit of time and energy. After I finished the first 5 or 6 presentations along with comprehension tests on the materials in about 2 months, I told them I was ready. But then, Cat woman reviewed my training program and wanted to make adjustments. For example, she wanted me to pair up the employees so they could prepare their own presentations as well on the materials.

But.. why? Didn’t that make it overly complicated?

You’re telling me. But this is how everything falls apart in an organization in Turkey. Nobody wants to follow the rules but everybody wants to make adjustments. One person does all the work and everybody stands around and makes comments and criticizes and tinkers. Anyway, that is the way it worked in this case. The funniest part was, after the first presentation, the owners decided they did not want to participate. She wanted to go to get her hair done and he wanted to go shopping at IKEA.

So how did the first training session go?

The first presentation was really successful I thought. Lots of enthusiasm and people asked good questions. The more experienced members were discussing different points with the newer employees. And really in the end, after the test on the material in the book, the results were very interesting.

Such as?

The top level of management- the Gorgon, for example, had the worst scores on the tests. The newest employees had the highest. This probably meant that they didn’t even read the books because they thought they knew more about Clinical Research than the books did. The books came from the client so I felt I had a pretty strong argument.

And then?

Then we went on to the next book. That was when I started to have problems. We had this guy there- we was like a class clown in high school and totally incompetent. But Penguin needed to have a side-kick to go out drinking and “carousing” with him after hours, so this guy had permanent job security no matter how many times he screwed things up, which was, like, one or two times a week. Not just accidents or mistakes but purposeful and dishonest behavior.

Anyway, we had finished the presentations and on that Friday, when I gave the test, Penguin walked through the room and sniggered and left. Afterwards, he asked me if I had seen “The Joker” cheating on the test. He thought it was very amusing.

But you didn't?

No. I didn’t. I mean, this guy was like 30 years old and he was acting like a kid in junior high. After all, following the rules and NOT cheating is probably the most important point of the training anyway. More importantly, the owner’s attitude was, like, isn’t that cute?

So what did you do?

I told them that they would have to speak to him and warn him. It was not fair to the others who had studied the books.

Did they?

They said they would but they didn’t. It was like they were afraid to make this guy angry. They were intimidated by their own employees, especially popular ones. I waited for some kind of action. I mean, if they hadn’t wanted to make it a larger problem then they could have told the supervisor to speak to him. But instead, they simply laughed about it.

And what did you do?

I told them I was not there to teach children and suspended the training program. I waited and waited but nothing happened. During that time, so many other things were happening. In fact, Penguin hated one of the key principles of company organization and structure. Job Descriptions. He hated them. He thought they were unnecessary and restricting. He wanted all of the employees doing whatever he asked them to do. Including me.

Part 2 of this interview will be posted next week – March 29 2009


  1. Hi,

    I would like to use this interview as part of a course on doing business in Turkey. How can I go about getting your permission to use it? It will be condensed and paraphrased.


  2. Hello Meagan, I can speak to Vincent about this. Of course, I would also need to know more information. You can send a comment (It will remain private) with email contact info and we can speak directly. Okay?


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