Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day Minus-76 of Double-Barrel Unemployment

[Check out the intro, if you haven't already:]

September 16, 2008

I'm told one should start at the beginning, but then I'm told lots of things. The beginning is interesting only to those who were there, so here's the 6th-grade book report version: Once Upon A Time, The End. No, Billy -- F. Go stand out in the hall; I'm calling your parents.

Okay - real quick-like... The awesome little software company for whom I had lovingly processed orders and invoices and cash since mid-2005 had used up the patience of its board and investors by the end of 2007. You can't be a "start-up" and be nine years old, apparently. In December, my company merged with another unprofitable little firm and we took on our fourth CEO in three years. So, 2008 was a tumultuous year at Vortex of Doom Communications (not its real name).

January: New CEO acts as if he's managing an elite platoon of Navy SEALs. Our jeans-wearing, multinational company of engineers is not impressed. It's funny and sort of sad to watch.

February: I smell doom. I ask my boss if she smells it, too. Not only does she smell it, too, but she tells me more than someone in my position usually gets to know about the nature and timing of the doom. I update my résumé and stop spending on all non-essentials. Patron Silver and fine rum survive the budget cuts.

March: I don't remember. It was madness, or something. Oh - I REMEMBER! I wrap up about seven months of working harder than I ever had. We all did. Killed ourselves, really - just to try to meet a bunch of nearly impossible targets, so that we could collect little bits of bonus cheese. I cut my domestic spending further. The rum and tequila are safe, for now.

April: The rumors start to fly about a big round of impending layoffs. Rumors like that, in my experience, tend to be true. Boss Lady says don't worry - this time around. They're trimming and slimming to make the company more appealing to a buyer. Ugh. I know this road. I'm pretty sure I've stopped to barf on the side of this road. It's not a fun road. Blind curves and giant holes and bitey little creatures, the whole way. Patron and rum are on sale, so the budget is held steady.

May: Boss Lady and several of us minion-level types work even harder than before and become slightly bitter about it, as we know all we're doing is getting things in order for some acquiring company who will not keep as around. But we have nothing against our customers and it's mostly for their benefit, so we slog onward. At the end of the month, the layoffs - about one-third of our small company - are announced. Some are gone that day; some get "transition periods." Some of us wish we could have been included in this round. Home budget is further tightened. Rum and Patron survive. Who needs food?

June: Farewell lunches and happy hours galore. I try to keep my head down and feign a positive attitude, but it's difficult when you know your reward for helping to salvage as many millions of some rich people's dollars as possible will be a pink slip. At home, we stop using hot water, the TV and soap. Rum and Patron budget is increased by 25 percent.

July: Boss Lady and I are aware of negotiations with at least one potential buyer. Boss Lady is looking for other employment NOW, and I begin a search of my own. All the stragglers from the May layoff are now gone. We move into a much larger and more expensive space - one that was selected and committed to long before the decision to cut and sell out. Okay - THAT'S pretty funny, at least to the few of us who know what's coming. More personal budget cuts: razor blades, light bulbs and contact lens solution. Limes become "dinner."

August: "Sputter, sputter" goes the Vortex of Doom. Even Boss Lady is having trouble faking it. She's fallen out of the loop and knows what that means. She takes her vacation. I'm saving my leave - I figure it's pretty much my severance, based on what I've heard about the VoD's suitor. She returns at the end of the month with a verbal job offer. Meanwhile, my wife [Maris]'s job lurches into vortex mode. We stop using cold water, now, start car-pooling and learn how to cook squirrel with a magnifying glass. We discuss cutting the rum/Patron budget. As a compromise, rum is cut and Patron is increased slightly.

September: "Creak, groan" says the VoD. How lame is it that the brightest spot for me in this slow death actually belongs to someone else? Pretty lame, but so what? It gave me great pleasure to see Boss Lady hold these millionaires and their transaction hostage. She had a formal offer in hand when, two days before the sale was to be finalized, the big bosses finally brought her back into the loop to let her know they'd need her to stick around for a few months of "transition." I have no idea what they had to pay her for those 60 additional days, but it was enough to infuriate the board, so bully for her. But again, that's really her victory, not mine.

So. September 16, 2008 - Day Minus-76: Most of the company is notified that their services will not be required as of today. Some "lucky" few will be retained by the new owners. The finance and accounting group, which includes me and my strange hybrid job, will be kept around for 30 to 90 days. Boss Lady will be gone in 60. I have 75. The CEO of the acquiring company rides in on his silver steed in the afternoon, via conference call. We had two offices; he'll be here tomorrow. Super. I can't wait to meet him. I have a hard time mustering any real indignation, as my boss and our very cool finance guy have somehow managed to get me a decent severance package and even a small "stick around" bonus. It's still a brutal and ultimately depressing day. A lot of us had really believed at one point that our little company would make it.

September 17, 2008 - Day Minus-75: Okay, there's a little indignation to be mustered. Silver Steed Guy swoops into our decimated office and begins insulting us right and left. [This is the easiest part to write, because I don't even have to make anything up. What follows is absolutely true.] First, he belittles the guy who leased this "huge, overpriced waste of office space," when we all know that he leased precisely what the big bosses had instructed him to lease. Classy, no?

Next, Silver Steed Guy spends about six minutes at the beginning of our "all (remaining) hands" meeting, telling us to our faces how grossly his company overpaid for this organization we had devoted anywhere from three to nine years building. Even the least business-savvy among us wondered why he would pay too much for something so allegedly worthless. His backtrack didn't help much. He went on to grudgingly acknowledge that together we would "make it worth it." Sir, if your assessment is that we'll eventually be worth it, than you didn't exactly overpay, did you?

Finally, he tried the old song and dance about how difficult it is to acquire companies (which is all he does), find redundancies and terminate people's jobs. It was even more ridiculous than we'd expected. He stood in front of this room full of intelligent, educated adults and explained to us that his nine-year old son had "cried himself to sleep last night, knowing that tomorrow Daddy was going to have to fire a bunch of nice people." Really, dude? Your fourth-grader? Really? Do us a favor and just go with the cold, hard facts approach. It's harsh, but it's better than making us listen to such bullshit.

Still, I had to play nice. This was the best severance package I had ever encountered, and I had heard about this "Great Recession," and the prospect of double-digit unemployment levels. So I put on my best poker face, went home and toasted with [Maris] to the slow, painful death of this man. We decided that the bit about the crying son was in a dead heat for Best CEO Line We Have Ever Heard. The other one came from the Vortex of Doom's CEO in the wake of the big May layoff, when he told 120 "survivors" that he couldn't make us happy. "If you want happy, get a dog," he said. There was talk of getting t-shirts made with this as our new slogan.

[Maris] and I looked over the budget and decided that, at least temporarily, electricity and soap would be added back in. There was also a modest increase in the Patron allocation.

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