Previously: Responsibility for the family carpet business has fallen to Greg Estrada, because none of his four siblings has taken an interest. To catch up on previous episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.
Greg Estrada passes by his mother's desk at Professional Carpet Service in Chevy Chase and pauses to show Joan Estrada the chocolate cake he just bought. They're planning a birthday celebration for one of their five full-time clerical employees.
Greg says that morale among the employees has been an issue. Part of that seems to be the result of Greg's zeal for budget trimming. "I like cutting down costs to an absolute bare minimum," says Greg, who describes himself as "a monster of efficiency." Not long ago, he slashed pen expenditures, buying no new ballpoints and instead filling old ones with printer ink. The recycled pens didn't work quite right, and an exasperated employee actually threw one at him, Greg says. So he finally caved in and started buying pens again.
Another time, Greg replaced the office's Starbucks coffee with, in his words, "the cheap stuff." The office workers, including Greg's mom, revolted, and he relented.
Then there's the no-talking rule. Greg, who says he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, insists that all internal communication be done in writing, even if people are sitting next to each other.
According to the company's procedures manual: "Verbals cause inaccuracies, inefficiency, and disruption in the group flow." Greg says that over the years dozens of people have been fired for breaking the no-talking rule, and many others have quit.
On this day there is only one employee in the office. Not surprisingly, she doesn't want to talk to a reporter about her boss.
At 41, Greg has been selling carpets to the federal government for most of his life. His parents, now divorced, started the company 45 years ago. As a kid, Greg stapled and filed business papers. After graduating from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a degree in sociology, Greg worked briefly in the office of a record store chain, but he didn't like being an employee. So he returned to Professional Carpet Service, where he earns a comfortable living and is his mother's heir apparent.
Joan Estrada, 66, says she's not sure when she'll retire: "I take it a day at a time. I used to work till midnight every day. Now I get tired early." But when she does retire, she says, Greg is ready to run the show. "He's very good at taking charge. He does what you need to do immediately."
From across the office, Greg jokes that he's trying to push his mother out, calling her a "figurehead." She laughs and continues working at her desk. It's a flash of humor from Greg, who produces amateur stand-up comedy shows but doesn't joke much at the office.
The phone rings, and Greg darts to answer it. It's a man who does procurement for the Department of Agriculture. "Okay, you need a carpet-to-tile transition piece," Greg says. "When would you like it done? . . . Okay, that's not a problem."
After he hangs up, Greg acknowledges that there's little glamour in his work and says he doesn't even really like carpets. He calls them dust traps that are difficult to clean. So, what does he like about his job? He looks around at the quiet office and says it's the beauty of creating an efficient machine.
-- Tyler Currie
Tyler Currie will be fielding questions and comments about the Adventures of Greg Tuesday at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.