The Department 5

Another corporate tale...

There were, in one corporation, these multinationals, with a large, mirrored and sky-crapping building, a very special department which many called as Department 5. It was a department that was, as one might expect, on the fifth floor of the company headquarters building, and, by this logic, had been given this name.

Department 5 was both a pride and a secret in the company. All other departments were known by name and function: HR, Marketing, Sales, Research and Development, general services, that means all of them. Only Department 5 was coldly known as pure and simple department of the fifth floor. And even those names were not official. It turns out they never tried to name the department 5.

It was not just the name that was not representative. No one in the company really knew what the fifth-floor department was or what it was about.

Luiz Benassi, president, CEO, founder, chairman of the company and, above all, the largest shareholder of the group, always said that department 5 was there for his important functions, to which he kept the secret under a heavy stone. Benassi even threatened: “If department 5 is gone, that company is over.” Sometimes, when he was on good mood, Benassi said that “department 5 is key for this company. We owe our success to it.”

Benassi has always stated that department 5 was more important than himself.

Nobody knew exactly who the department 5 employees were. Neither they knew what they did. Sometimes one of them would appear in another department requesting something: always typical things. A badge that should be renewed, extra plastic cups for the water cooler, pens, a cloth to wipe down spilled coffee. Stuff like that. Eventually, when a company employee crossed the corridors with someone from Department 5 and tried to small talk, in addition to a very cordial greeting, he would hear the other say, “I have to go. We’re in a hurry. “

Beneath mystery, department 5 continued with its activities. No one entered Department 5 except the department’s own staff. What was seen, in the quick openings and closings of the department door, when by luck if an employee was seen entering or leaving, was an empty reception desk, a wall with a huge number 5. The door was a tech one, where you only enter by placing your thumb on the biometric sensor. Not even Benassi could enter department 5, by his own direct and resolute order. When Benassi presented the company to very high investors and these investors asked him about the famous department (many people have already heard of the “department 5”), Benassi said:

This is not for circulation. Neither I can get in there. My order is irrevocable. Even in case of life and death.

That was in the company statute. But what generated the most controversy over department 5 was its budget. Department 5’s budget was as stealthy as the rest of the department. There were only two single items described:

  • “Fifth floor department overhead costs.”
  • “Fifth floor department personnel costs.”

And these two items, added together, cost almost half of the company. The other shareholders of the company, which by the way was extremely profitable, were furious when Benassi presented the numbers to them. Benassi always approved the budget of department 5, without question. There was even someone who said that he did not even know exactly what he was signing, he only knew that it was important, after all, it was a request from Department 5. And this always generated the same conversation with the other shareholders:

The company already has HR, Marketing, Sales, Factories. It is complete. What is this department for? It lowers our profit!

To which Benassi replied, sometimes in a rude tone, without understanding the reason for so much reasoning about the “obviously important and fundamental department 5”:

Afff, department 5 is very important. Do you want to risk cutting it off?

And then there silence. Always a silence. No one wanted to face the scolding and take the risks of ending department 5 alone. Probably the current thinking in their head was supposed to be “what if Benassi is correct and the company goes down the hill without the fifth-floor department?” They simply did not want to take that risk. On the other hand, Benassi alone took the risk of not only keeping the company’s most expensive department, but of making the company profitable nonetheless.

Therefore, given the positive balance, nothing changed. There was a rumor running through the corridors that even Benassi, the greatest patron of the department, did not really know what was happening on that floor. In fact, he might not even remember exactly how department 5 had been created. Benassi was already an old man, for many years in charge of the company. Of course, the only thing Benassi remembered was the vital importance of the fifth-floor department, the indispensable department 5, for the company. And it was like this until the very end of Benassi’s career.

It was on a sad Thursday morning that Benassi died. Some business newspaper went on to tell stories about his achievements. During the funeral, employees were not lacking to honor him. Even the staff of department 5, for the first time seen in such a large group, attended. They left flowers and left, after all, they were probably in some hurry.

For years Benassi’s administrative capacity was praised and exalted, as well as many management students have written theses on his style of command and his ideas. Department 5 lost its biggest sponsor and, of course, the company should choose a new president.

Leo Mediano, vice president of accounts and main controller of the company, the main opponent to the existence of department 5, had assumed the position of CEO by appointment of the board. His first move was to begin a battle against department 5 secrecy. When he met them by chance, he would question the staff of Department 5, wondering what they did and what the department was for. They all acted in the same way: they greeted him cordially and, without another word, ended the conversation with “I must go, we are in a hurry.” Mediano did not advance anything further for a few months.

This started to annoy Mediano, who was accustomed to have everything he wanted at the time he wanted. As he kept repeating himself, he asked, and no one answered him, department 5 employees ended the conversation in the same way they always did, but now, under the shouts and threats of Mediano. Little by little, the members of Department 5 began to avoid the elevator, where he often waited. They started using the stairs. Mediano, when he discovered this, began to annoy the department’s staff, generally, on the second or third floors. Always bothering them and threatening them with screams.

Gradually the employees, rarely seen from department 5, have disappeared. Rumor had it that they started working on alternative schedules to prevent Mediano from approaching them. It was then that Mediano arranged an awful excuse, obviously a lie, which was that he heard that one of the department 5 employees called him a “moron”. So he finally made his mind at what he considered the greatest disrespect to his person. He cut Department 5 without even knowing what was going on there. It did not matter anymore. It was a gross lack of respect.

On the other day, after the Mediano decision, when the curious could, finally, find out what the department 5 did, they found the fifth floor empty. Even the control of the door was gone, leaving a wide hall of empty tables open for everyone’s access. The only thing that remained was the number 5 on the wall and the reception desk, which had probably been there since before the department was formed and would never serve for anything.

One month later, the company was declared bankrupt.

About rftafas 183 Articles
Ricardo F. Tafas Jr graduated in Electrical Engineering at UFRGS with focus on Digital Systems and achieved his Masters also in Electrical Engineering on Telecomunications Network Management. He also author of "Autodesenvolvimento para Desenvolvedores (Self-development for developers). Ricardo has +10 years experience on R&D Management and +13 years on Embedded Eystem Development. His interest lay on Applied Strategic HR, Innovation Management and Embedded Technology as a differentiator and also on High Performance Digital Systems and FPGAs. Actually, he is editor and writer for “Repositório” blog (, editorial board member at Embarcados ( and he is Management and Innovation Specialist at Repo Dinâmica - Aceleradora de Produtos.
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