The Real VIPs at the Office

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Every big company has its CEO, its vice presidents, its department managers and shift supervisors and the other title holders who are supposed to keep the corporate ship running smoothly. But pull back the curtain on the neat hierarchical structure and you'll find who really keeps the gears oiled. There are six basic types, without whom nothing would ever get done.

The cable guy

It's 2 p.m. on a Tuesday and your office computer has just beeped, blinked and given you the blue screen of death. You can't be certain, but it was probably all those damn Excel spreadsheets you were trying to plow through yet again.

What to do? Turn to your boss for help? Like he would actually know what to do. Call tech support? Do you think they would actually answer your phone call?

So you do what every self-respecting, in-the-know office cog does: You grab the cable guy. You know, that dude who lurks around the hallways and is always ready to go above ctrl+alt+delete and restore your PC to thriving health.

Cable guy always has an extra USB or Ethernet cable conveniently in his pocket. He appears, like a rainbow, when they wheel in your new monitor and you can't find the on/off switch. It only takes him a couple of minutes to work his magic, but if you ask nicely, he'll stall a bit so you can slip away for a few minutes of chatting with the woman who sits by the water-cooler.

Which brings us to our next underappreciated office superhero

The woman who sits by the water cooler

The woman who sits by the water cooler, or in more posh workplaces by the high-end Keurig coffee machine, is your go-to woman whenever you want to dig up some workplace dirt .

She's a professional eavesdropper and is on every office plot and intrigue.
Parched workers headed to the cooler for a drink feel obliged to chat with her for a moment, which almost always leads to a longer conversation and an eventual spilling of the proverbial beans. People taking a water cooler break leak more than your home's upstairs faucet.

Usually, when you run into water-cooler woman she is in the middle of a conversation with someone else who was on his way to the water cooler before being drawn in. Water-cooler woman is like the great whirlpool of Charybdis and her co-workers are all Odysseuses, trapped but without the option of feeding their sailors to the six-headed Scylla.

Sometimes when you pass by water-cooler woman she will seem busy. Don't be fooled. Water-cooler lady is pulling out her Oscar-worthy acting chops so she can eavesdrop onto the phone conversation that new graphic artist is having with the web developer.

It's not just hallway gossip that passes by water-cooler woman's desk. Only yesterday, the listening post by water cooler picked up some chatter between the VP of finance and VP of operations about the next round of company budget cuts.

Don't worry: The next transmission to the workers' resistance movement will be sent soon enough from our trusted agent in water-cooler land.

The company phone procurement officer

Just six months ago, your organization decided it was time to up the perks, and handed you a shiny new company smart phone. Too bad the dang device is already freezing up every couple of minutes, and every time you try to stream a YouTube clip or check someone's Facebook status your battery life is siphoned down to nothing.

What to do? It's time to cash in your social insurance and make good on your relationship with the lady who doles out the cellphones. It is she, and only she, who can upgrade your company-authorized phone or hook you up with a brand new iPad.

And why are you in her office on this very day at this very time? Duh – because you heard from water-cooler woman that the tech department people ARE getting upgrades to their company-issued laptops and you want in.

If you are lucky enough to work somewhere that gives out company cars, consider the importance of this relationship amped up several levels. When you need a silver Lincoln Town Car for the evening, who you gonna call? A hint: It isn't ghostbusters.

The guy with the keys to the vending machine

It's happened to you at least once, just like it's happened to everyone else in that infernal building you call the office. You put a five-shekel coin into the soda machine, which is swallowed down but no soda is coughed up.

What to do? Give up on the money? Dungeons and Dragons, no! If you've done your homework, you should already be on a first-name basis with the one guy in the entire company who has a key to the hallowed vending machine. This relationship is crucial to squelching your workday munchies. If you didn't know the dude personally, how could you trust him to believe you when you say the machine has, again, swallowed your coins?

Of course, if you're not one for carbonated beverages or candy bars, you might still know the holder of the sacred vending machine key by some of his other aliases.

He is also the guy who adjusts your office workstation so it fits you just right. He materializes when you need to hang something on the wall. But most importantly, he's the guy who fixes the air conditioning when the office becomes unbearable during the summer's sweltering heat.

Aren't you glad you know that guy!

The person who no one really knows what he does

When he's not at work, this guy's office is used for short meetings or people sharing sensitive business information in hushed tones, so that water-cooler woman won't hear. Whenever this guy (no one knows his real name) is at his desk, he puts on a show of being diligently at work. You can see him sometimes moving his computer mouse or typing furiously, but none of your colleagues has ever seen the results of his prodigious labor.

Perhaps he is the company owner's nephew or the CEO's otherwise unemployable brother-in-law. He may even be an efficiency consultant hired by the company to plan the next round of layoffs. Either way, you'd better off keep your mouth shut. If he has an office and comes to work every work, the bosses must have him there for a reason. Right?


Okay, Steve really is the most important guy in the entire organization, if you could only get ahold of him.

If you don't know who we're talking about, come meet Steve.

Pull back the curtain on your office's neat hierarchical structure and you'll find who really keeps the gears oiled. Credit: Bloomberg
If you've done your homework, you should already be on a first-name basis with the one guy in the entire company who has a key to the hallowed vending machine. Credit: AP