Halting and Random Thoughts on an Old Job

Random thoughts about an old job that I sort of still have. I’ve changed names, just in case. I don’t want to piss anyone off. It’s also in a halting style. Each paragraph is less than 280 characters because I was going to post it all on micro.blog but I decided I didn’t want to spam anyone.

Years ago I worked for a 180 person consulting firm in the ERP space. They went from having 75 employees to 180 in a span of two months. (I was employee number 80.) They were very aggressive about sending us to training on the product and we all worked our butts off.

At the time, I was living in Chicago and the company technically had a Chicago “office”, just no office space or support staff. I was first interviewed by Pam who would be my boss for the first few years I was with the company. She was enthusiastic about my coming on board.

I was excited because I had moved to Chicago to work with a large consulting company who pulled the rug out from under me right after I moved and started. The assignment I was told I had was pulled from me on my 2nd day and I was moved to do Y2K work. Ugh.

I flew to Austin for my second interview. The practice manager took me to lunch and we sat at a table with his co-workers, as he called them. Turned out, it was the owner, the head of sales, and the head of operations. I’m sure I didn’t say anything too stupid. I got the job.

I wasn’t sure I had. My interview with the practice manager was excruciating. He shit all over my experience. He HATED that I hadn’t finished college. He didn’t see what my “career path” would be. He was blunt and frankly, a little mean.

I left his office deflated and went to see Lea in HR who had an offer sheet ready for me. I asked if she didn’t need to speak to the practice manager first because the interview did not go well. She told me that Pam wanted me and that was all that mattered.

We were owned by a guy named Bill who seemed generous. Twice a year he would fly us all out to Austin to a local resort for a “company meeting”. They had a little ceremony near the end where we would get our bi-annual bonus.

On the second night, they would always contract with a local shuttle service and carry those who wanted to downtown Austin. They would even hand us an envelope with 200 dollars in spending money.

Bill had his own helicopter. He didn’t really need one, but he liked his toys. At the company meetings, he would let us take rides with his pilot after breakfast. The copter had glass floors on the bottom and they’d fly us up and down the river. Austin is a beautiful city.

They would fly us all over the country for our ERP training, and they were building a substantial training department in Austin. One week I’d be in Seattle for training. The next I would be back in Austin and find that they had purchased even more office space. It was insane.

This company had so much business that almost everyone went straight from training to a client site. I was with the firm for three years. After training, I was 100% billable, or more, my entire tenure with the company. There were perks to that, and there were problems.

The upside is that everyone in management likes an employee that’s billable. This was also, however, the late 1990s, and technology was changing fast. ERP vendors will evolving their products at ever-increasing rates. (Almost recklessly so.)

How did you get experience on the updated version? Well, you had to pay for their training. There were no books. There was on “online” learning. You had to fly to the midwest and sit in a room and listen to people talk. The internet was here, but old IT was still playing catchup.

Additional training became tough to get. This was the downside. If you were billable, you weren’t allowed to take a week off to go train on something new. So, the more a client liked you and kept you, the more out of date your skills would get.

I knew consultants who were thrown out of client sites more than once for not meeting expectations who were then trained up on the newest stuff. Meanwhile, those of us stuck at, say, a hospital in Polk County Florida where we were loved, were not allowed.

Not long after I started, we were acquired by a 2000 person firm who left us alone and we continued to thrive. We were making tons of money. Sales seemed to close everything in the pipeline. Even the people who had been around since the “garage” days were still happy.

Eventually, they created a rule that anyone who got training and left the company within 12 months of that training would have to pay the company back. Most of us rolled our eyes, but I was billable anyway so it wasn’t relevant to me anyway.

Salaries were skyrocketing and a few people jumped ship. The company responded by giving substantial raises to all of us on our next anniversary date. This caused issues. We all talked and shared how much we were making. People did not want to wait for their anniversary.

The raises were huge, in the 60% to 70% range, so people wanted them as soon as possible. A fellow employee, Zack, was going to have to wait almost 11 months for his, so he found another job. He had, however, recently completed training.

So, while Zack was working out his two weeks, he received an invoice from the company asking him to pay them $1,200. On his last day, he took an envelope and put in the training invoice and a polaroid of him giving the camera the finger. Needless to say, I liked Zack.

Eventually, we were acquired by a 20,000 person firm who wanted to assemble us into their Borg. We were told that everything would change. There would be no more bonuses. There would be no more company meetings. We would assimilate and we would be happy about it.

Before the acquisition was complete, we were all given additional raises in the amount of what our bonuses would be. This was a sort of fuck you to the new owners from our management staff who weren’t going to be kept on. It was appreciated.

I’m also sure that it got us off on the wrong foot with our new corporate overlords. I’m still shocked they didn’t take it all away from us. They did freeze all raises for two years. They also took away our generous 401K match and reimbursement for home internet.

More concerning were the departures. After management left, they let go all of our support staff. HR went from being Lea to a 1-800 phone number. Finance went from Jill to the same. Anyone who was on the bench, even if they had future work booked, was let go.

The natives got restless. Half of the sales staff quit. About a dozen billable consultants quit on a single day. Sensing the issues, corporate sent in a fixer. He created a new management structure within our practice, promoting a few us consultants into managers.

My new manager was an awful consultant and after our first meeting, I knew she’d also be an awful manager. I put my resume out there and started searching for a new job. I hated the idea of leaving a client before a project was finished, but I had to look out for myself.

I’m working at a client site with a fellow consultant, Fred. He gets a call and leaves the room we worked in for at least an hour. That was unusual. He eventually returned to the room and told me when my phone rings, answer it.

I get the call and it’s from the company’s original head of sales, Jim. He’s starting a new firm. He knew what I was making and he beat it. Easily. I accepted almost immediately and went to discuss with Fred.

Fred had accepted a new position as well. We both called our new bosses and they were disappointed because they thought we were about to “turn the corner”, but they certainly understood and wished us both luck. It was time to tell the client.

At the end of the day, Fred and I waited outside of Bob’s office. Bob was the director if I.T. and had been very good to us. He sang our praises every chance he got. I felt far more loyal to him than our corporation and I hated that we were going to disappoint him.

I was also worried because Bob had a temper. One of the things I loved about working with him is that he didn’t hold back. He would cuss up a storm. If he wasn’t happy with something I told him, he would threaten to “take me to the flagpole”. That meant he was going to shoot me.

He was also, however, imminently reasonable. He would calm down and we’d end up with a course of action that would make him so happy he’d call my boss to talk about a problem I solved. Employee and consultant alike loved working for Bob.

Bob invited us in. We sat down across from his desk and Fred wasted no time telling him we were leaving ShitCorp. Bob asked how long he had left with us. We told him we intended to work out our two weeks notice. We told him ShitCorp replacements were on the way.

He threw us out. Not angry, but, determined. He said he had to call legal. That evening, in my hotel room, he called and asked for Jim’s number. I had no idea what was up and started packing up the crap I had accumulated over the 14 months of the project.

By this point, I had moved to Atlanta and instead of flying home for the weekend, I loaded up all my stuff into my rental car, drive home to empty it out, and then drove back to Polk County for my last week.

Jim let me know that he had my first assignment lined up, but that he couldn’t talk to me about it yet as there was a situation around it. He also asked if I had told ShitCorp about my new job. I told him that it wasn’t any of their business who my new employer was.

We wound find out that Bob had told ShitCorp that if he couldn’t have Fred and myself, he didn’t need to be in business with them anymore. He exercised a two week out of some sort in the contract. He was also upset that ShitCorp did not give him a promised rate reduction.

We would also find out that Jim had his lawyers talking to the hospital lawyers. Bob wanted Fred and I to finish the project. He didn’t care who our employer was. The lawyers said we quit in good faith. All was kosher.

We found all of this out on what we thought was our last day at the hospital. We were told to take a week off, and be ready to go, business as usual, the following Monday. We were also told to keep out mouths shut and Bob would inform ShitCorp.

ShitCorp was pissed. My ex-boss left a ten minutes message accusing me of stealing a client. A VP at ShitCorp left a chilling, threatening message that unnerved me. I was accused of being “highly unethical”. I called Jim and he assured me, again, that the lawyers cleared it all.

The ethics of the move DID concern me, after all, legal does not equal ethical. I discussed this at length with Jim, Bob and Fred. They weren’t navel gazers like myself so they didn’t seem to care.

Fred and I had breakfast one day though and he told me something that has stayed with me through the rest of my 20+ years in the ERP consulting space. “Never apologize for a client liking your work wanting you. Never.”

As it goes, Jim’s lawyers were right. ShitCorp would eventually sue him for trying to steal clients, but he did it all above board and the suit was thrown out. I never even had to speak to a lawyer myself.

Eventually, my time in Polk County would end. I received a big send off and continued flying all over the country. Bob would eventually bring Fred and I back to Florida, to a different hospital.

I again find myself working for a giant corporation and I’m still working in the ERP consulting space. I’ve bounced around from working for Jim’s firm to occasional independent work as well as my own occasional thing.

I ended up taking this trip down memory lane because of a situation that happened recently. A client contacted my employer’s support team about an issue and they asked me to work on it. The support team let the client know they have their own people for this stuff.

I was accused of stealing the support team’s work. A conference call was setup with my current boss, his boss, and the head of the support team. I told them that I will never apologize for client liking my work and wanting me to work for them.

I did the work.