HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HOLLY!
You wouldn’t think of it as a warm fuzzy place; it’s a bank, after all. But it’s been having hard times, and morale is low. So when the day began, a supervisor sent an e-mail that read, “Happy Birthday, Holly” and copied it to Holly’s co-workers, asking them to wish likewise.
It wasn’t long before they responded in grand style. Holly was a cheerful sort, and they were ready to cheer her up. Each sent Holly an e-mail wishing her the best, and each received the others’ replies. So did employees on her floor who didn’t know her. Statisticians upstairs added good wishes. Loan officers down the street chimed in after coffee break. By noon, 14,000 employees in Polk County knew about Holly’s birthday, and greetings were coming in from Fort Mills, SC.
Soon e-mails had to be batched. Eventually, they slowed the bank’s network. When the second shift in India clocked in, the network slowed in Hyderabad. Someone at headquarters in Sioux Falls, noticed computers running slow and called the network guru, who explained that Holly was getting more messages than God. By then, each e-mail sent was going to 260,000 employees.
Wells-Fargo says its headquarters is in Sioux Falls, but it’s really in San Francisco. When the boss opened his e-mail, he sent an e-mail asking everyone to stop sending e-mails to Holly; this brought down the network again.
The previous CEO, after he’d poisoned the bank’s culture, dealt with the ensuing fiscal crisis by eliminating everyone’s Christmas bonus except his own. To raise morale, he set up a list-serv asking everyone for an alternative to his budget crisis. One wag noted that, if he were to forego his own bonus, he could give everyone else their bonus, because his was as large as everyone else’s combined. This included a mathematical proof; statisticians are like that. The boss didn’t act on the suggestion, but the statistician wasn’t fired, because that would have reduced moral further. The laughter this evoked raised moral briefly in the same way that a joke does in Russia.
Holly’s supervisor had logged onto his forgotten list-serv, with international consequences. When Holly returned to work, after taking comp time for her birthday, she found more e-mails than a human could read and erased them. We don’t know what happened to her supervisor, but Hyderabad has been mentioned. The moral, of course, is “the gratuitous is more dangerous than the genuine.” The other moral is “be careful what you wish for on a list-serv.”