This crisis is more difficult than anything I’ve faced professionally in my entire life. It makes me realize how fortunate I was for my first 20 work years–how protected and insulated from the business cycle I was.
As I began my work career in 1984 for GTE, I envisioned, like the preceding generation, that I would eventually retire from that company. “You are the future leaders of GTE,” managers told the group of new hires into their management-training program, and I believed it. I even felt that someday I could be CEO of GTE.
Six years later, I left, entranced by the possibility of a startup. I loved the small team size, the direct connection between my performance and the company’s results. We had all-employee meetings standing up in the lab.
Less than two years later, it was apparent that the dream of riches wasn’t to be (a good lesson; I didn’t realize then how rarely startup dreams convert into riches).
Next step was EDS, a gigantic company, though I was in a remote outpost (Boston) which made working for a mammoth corporation much more palatable. The work concerned cellular telephony. (At the time, handsets were called “bricks,” and were nearly as heavy. They cost $1000.) The industry grew so quickly that there was plenty of new business for all comers. I was in marketing now, product management, where I developed my love for launching new products. I made lots of mistakes there, and I learned a ton, eventually developing a specialty helping salespeople structure, price and communicate complex outsourcing deals.
But in 1997 EDS started to retrench in telecom, and I had spent enough time in Boston. I moved to Atlanta, had a brief cup of coffee with Alltel (that’s another story) which I will cherish forever because I met my wife there, and was recruited to join LHS, an IPO wonder story.
LHS was a crazy place, full of conflicts, overcommitted, with everyone checking the stock price on Yahoo five times a day. I loved it. I managed alliances with Airtouch, Logica and others. I helped close some important deals and learned about the give and take required to create and sustain a successful alliance–as well as lots of lessons about what not to do.
Then LHS was sold, and the buyer offered me a lame marketing position. Not for me. My wife and I were looking to move north, closer to relatives, when a job opening came up at a telecom billing provider near Harrisburg, PA. It was a chance to report to a CEO, be a part owner of a company, and get pretty close to the top (as close, I learned, as I wanted to get).
Of course, this was in 2000. The tech bubble had burst, and all the telecom growth projections that had proven conservative in prior years were insanely optimistic now. We struggled to grow (not fun for the VP of Sales & Marketing), but worked hard to keep our most important customers and bring on important new ones.
But like lots of companies you read about now, we were overleveraged. The loans came due, and we couldn’t refinance. We were sold, and there wasn’t a great fit between me and the new owners.
I went out on my own, which was difficult, then as I started to get a foothold, all this shit happened in the summer of 2008, which we’re still living with.
So here we are. I wouldn’t want to go back. I love what I do now. But I do miss how easy it was in the old days. I can’t decide if this is an anomalous situation or whether 1984-2000 was the anomaly. Perhaps they both are.
I started this post to make a point, but I honestly can’t remember it now. I’d rather teach and share than vent or complain. We’ll make it through this era, and someday we’ll look back on this as the greatest life lesson we ever learned. But at the moment I’m ready for the lesson to end.
Please consider sharing your feelings in the comments.
N.B.: Each company I mention in this post has been merged out of independent existence. One, LHS, re-emerged as a standalone company.
(”The Wages of Fear” is a 1953 French movie.)