Thriving on Chaos

Twenty-three years ago, around the same time as the infamous stock market crash of 1987, renowned author Tom Peters published a revolutionary management handbook titled Thriving on Chaos. The relatively predictable nature of business was vanishing, requiring organizations and managers to embrace flexibility and a total love of change. Tom Peters claimed that the winners of the future would deal proactively with chaos, seeing it as a source of market advantage, not a problem to be ignored.

Around the same time, Pacific West Sound was launched by a barely-out-of-his-teens electrical contractor and mobile DJ. And while no one would ever confuse Pac West’s founder and President, Brent Milton, with Tom Peters in 1987, you could say that his company has taken a page or two from Peters’ philosophy over the years.

In fact, if you were to spend a week in the shoes of any PacWest employee in 2010, you might even say that Thriving on Chaos could be adopted as a company slogan. “I like to think of it as ‘organized chaos’, remarks Office Manager Stephanie Hillis.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to develop a culture of flexibility in this company” says Milton. “And as a result, we’ve earned a reputation of being able to handle anything that’s thrown at us.

Given the wide range of events and jobs that PacWest covers on any given day, there has to be some serious coordination and almost intuitive teamwork among the employees. Take, for example, one of PacWest’s most recent dilemmas. Long-time client Six Flags Magic Mountain had a Saturday afternoon benefit concert planned to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. One small problem; the show was to be held in the Golden Bear Theater, a half-indoor half-outdoor venue, and the weather forecast called for an epic rainstorm.

“We got a call from Six Flags at about 4:00pm on Friday, one day prior to the concert. The system was already loaded in, and they wanted to know what it would take to move the show across the park to the indoor theater before 10am Saturday when rehearsals were scheduled to begin”, explained PacWest’s Production Manager Birch Caffee. Further complicating matters, PacWest was already supplying production for three other concerts on the night prior to the benefit show.

“It was definitely do-able, but it wasn’t gonna be easy. The guys had to pull a console from the Roy Rogers/Ray Manzarek show, a distro from George Thorogood, and needed the truck from Josh Turner.” Three trucks were unloaded at the warehouse after midnight to assemble the gear for the Haiti Benefit concert.

“At 2:00am on a Friday night, there were twelve guys and a girl pushing gear in and out of trucks in the rain. It was pretty impressive, especially at the end of an eighteen hour work day.”

The following day, Warehouse Manager and ace FOH tech Danny Almeyda loaded his gear, along with a rain-drenched six-man crew, into the trucks after a successful show at 6 flags. Very few people would have guessed that Danny’s beloved aunt had passed away, and that he hadn’t slept because he spent the rest of his night with his grieving family.

“That right there says a lot about Danny’s selflessness and commitment” says Milton. “No one would have faulted him for missing work under those circumstances, but he figured out a way to be there for his family and still do a great job at the show.”

While much of the chaos that seems to exist in this company is unscripted, there are some surprising and unorthodox practices that are actually part of the everyday plan. Visitors to the office are regularly greeted by the lovable canines that come to work with the employees. There’s Draftsman Jordan Manuel’s little Aussie mix “Paleiley,” Warehouse Assistant Mike Lambrix’s Cocker Spaniel “Charlie,” Installation Manager Chris Berendsen’s Lab “Gertrude,” and of course the ever-present “Hoover” and “Maggie” who come to work with the President himself.

Milton remarks, “It might sound funny, but I think that watching the way someone acts toward dogs and kids gives you an indication of how they’re going to deal with other unpredictable situations. Conditions at PacWest can be a little hectic at times, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

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