Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 143 - The Courage for Hard Choices

          After a week of organizing, packing and pricing we had our garage sale yesterday. It was quite a success and actually a lot of fun, as such things go. All the neighbors took it as an occasion to stop by and commiserate about our leaving. They also bought up a lot of our stuff, although I suspect that at least some of their purchases were motivated by charity rather than bargain seeking.
          I sold some notable things that I have been carrying around with me for years, and the fact that they are irretrievably gone makes me nostalgic for them. One was a saber and scabbard that I'd had since my days as a cadet at a high school military academy. I always felt that it was something I had earned since it was part of my uniform paraphernalia as an officer in the corps of cadets. It was also an unusual thing to posses this day and age, and one that could usually be counted upon to initiate an interesting conversation whenever I got it out of the closet for company.
          I also sold a dark brown leather trench coat. I bought it in my late twenties, so I’d had it for over 30 years. It was too small for me for at least twenty of those years, but like a lot of people spreading inexorably through middle age I clung to the notion that one day I would get my disciplinarian on and lose weight. Yesterday I finally forced myself to give up that notion and embrace reality. I sold it to my neighbor, Rich. I made him put it on, and told him how good he looked in it. He did in fact look fabulous. It is a stunning garment. The women of the neighborhood helped me make this pitch by oohing and aahing appreciatively. It wasn’t a stretch for them. Rich looked that good in my trench coat. He gave me $35 for it. It cost me $425 all those years ago. I’ve worn it maybe 15 times in my life. I should take a $390 lesson from this. Like the old saw says, when life hands you lemons, you've got to make some lemonade.  

* * * * *

          The end came pretty fast for me at Albatross after the consultants finished up all their analysis and scheming and got down to business. They led us through a prepackaged bankruptcy. That means the bankruptcy plan was approved by our creditors before it was presented to the bankruptcy court. This cuts out the interminable back and forth that serves mainly to enrich the lawyers. The lawyers got plenty enriched anyway, but we were in and out of the federal bankruptcy court in 38 hours—a record at that time for a ‘pre-pac’, and one that for all I know still stands.
          A major part of the plan called for eliminating an additional $15 million of overhead. That imposing number included my position, although I didn’t know it at the time. I suspected it when Jed Boome stopped talking to me whenever we passed each other in the hallways. This sudden curtailment of pleasantries is an excellent indicator that your employment status is about to change for the worse. You can’t really call it a leading indicator because what it indicates has already happened. You just don’t know it yet. In my case it took about three weeks, but thanks to Jed I knew it was coming.
          It’s sad when you think about it. Executives of troubled companies like to think that they have the courage to make hard decisions about individuals and groups of employees for the greater good of the company as a whole. What they often don’t have the courage for is looking you in the eye or taking any kind of responsibility on a personal level for the hardships they create. Jed’s inability to even say hello to me in a hallway is an excellent example of this. Jed’s bone-headed decision regarding the option price optimization cost the company about $35 million in lost revenues. You could argue, and I will, that were it not for that costly error in judgment we would not have had to reorganize, we would not have had to carve out $15 million in overhead, and several dozen hardworking and productive employees, me included, would still be working there. This explains why Jed couldn’t look me in the eye, but it doesn’t do anything to explain his self-congratulatory posturing about the hard decisions.
          When Rod came into my office and asked me if I had time to go down to HR with him I knew the time had come. I said as much to Rod as he stood in my doorway looking uncomfortable.
          “So today’s the day, is it?” I said, mustering as much bravado as I could manage.
          Rod just nodded. I’m not sure in retrospect that he even knew what I was talking about. He was busy trying to make it seem like a routine meeting to discuss personnel issues. Maybe he did know I was onto him, but he didn’t have the acting chops to improvise from that point. He tried to continue with the charade.
          He dropped me at the door of the HR director’s office and waited outside. Inside it was quick and perfunctory. I got 3 months severance, but that was the extent of any largesse from the company I’d been giving 14 hours a day to for as long as I could remember. Back outside Rod was waiting to escort me back up to my office to get my coat and car keys. They didn’t want me taking my personal effects home just then. They wanted me to come back over the week-end to get them, when no one else would be there to mark my passing. I guess they thought it would be disruptive otherwise. Turns out they were right.
          Ringcomme was waiting outside Rod’s office to talk to him when we got back upstairs. Rod couldn’t abandon me to talk to Ringcomme, but he really couldn’t tell Ringcomme what was going on either. Ringcomme, proud owner of an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, did not understand Rod’s refusal to see him right then. He got a little insistent. Rod’s discomfort grew exponentially. I have an underdeveloped sense of entitlement so I decided to help him out.
          “He can’t talk to you, Jimmy,” I said. “He’s in the middle of firing me. Right now he has to walk me out the door to make sure I don’t cause a scene or steal something.”
          Ringcomme was crestfallen, not because I was leaving, but because he couldn’t get his problem resolved right away. He didn’t know what to do or say. He just stood there looking stupid.
          I got my coat and keys from my office. I noticed that my laptop was gone. It had been open and running on the top of my desk. The power cord was still there, still plugged in. I knew that someone from IT had been dispatched to get the laptop while I was downstairs getting the axe. Later I found out it had been the department manager, my friend with the Christmas ties. It’s usually one of the tech support guys when they do something like this. I guess they were afraid that a tech guy would have spilled the beans. I thought they seemed inordinately determined to keep my firing quiet. As it turns out Rod wanted to personally control the likely fallout. He thought there would be an impact on morale, and he was right.
          My wife was shocked and dismayed to see me home early. She knew what it meant. I’d been laying the groundwork for weeks.
          The phone started to light up almost as soon as I got home. Word had spread once Rod got me out of the building. Some folks had seen it happening. Ringcomme probably felt no need to keep it a secret. Some had been in earshot when I told Rincomme why Rod couldn’t give him the time he was so desperate to get. Everyone wanted to know how I was taking it. There were a lot of crying women involved. I found I was giving more comfort that I was getting. The calls continued the rest of the day, except for one brief period that probably coincided with Rod's big meeting.
          He called the whole department together to announce that he had let me go. I don’t know what all he had planned to say, but apparently he didn’t get very far. Eddie Sharpe asked him in front of everybody if he had lost his mind. Rod tried to make the case that everyone needed to make a sacrifice to accommodate the new reorganization plan, it was a difficult choice to make, everyone was going to have to pull together and get past their personal feelings—stuff of that ilk. I don’t think anybody was buying it. I know I wouldn’t have. For one thing, I don’t think it took him three seconds to decide who to give up to the cost cutting consultants. I think he knew all along he was going to get rid of me at the first opportunity. All the rest of it was just about getting people to go back to work. What they did, most of them, when they got back to their desks, was call me.
          I met Eddie and Dennis for drinks that evening. They were livid. Eddie had already called a recruiter and put his résumé in play. Dennis had been getting calls from an old colleague who had a position he wanted Dennis to take. Dennis had been putting the guy off because he actually liked the setup at Albatross. What he liked was me. He called the guy after Rod’s meeting and told him he was ready to reconsider.

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