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Not From Toronto
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November 10, 2003

Thank You, Goodbye!

If you've been following along or combing through my archives,you'll know that I recently found work after a long bout of unemployment. It was a great relief to actually have income again. It was even more thrilling when my new job was transformed from a contract position into a full-time permanent position, with the associated benefits that go along with a permanent position. Yes, I finally have a long-overdue dentist appointment. So now all I need to do is stay on the ball, do my level best, and eventually work my way up the corporate ladder, right? Well, I thought so too until last month.

With any interview it is a good idea to do some research on the company that you're interviewing with. Find out what they do, who their main competitors are, and most importantly, the company's history. I did a little research and discovered that the company as it stands right now was formed only five years ago after being purchased by a large multinational corporation. That's fine - it's pretty much standard operating procedure for many companies nowadays. I had done my due diligence, and learned what I needed to know, right?

Not by a long shot. First, I didn't learn of the many previous corporate owners and the rather lengthy and convoluted history of corporate parentage that my company has. Even knowing that wouldn't have been a red flag for me, as what I really needed to know I would have never found out without asking some very direct and hard questions in my interviews. I started getting an idea of what had gone on only a month after I started, in the unlikely circumstance of bidding an executive goodbye and good luck.

This particular financial executive hailed from overseas, and was returning home for a new position at the parent company. In saying goodbye, an impressive list of accomplishments during his time at our company was listed. Included in this list was securing financing from our parent company to prevent us from going into bankruptcy. Huh? Bankruptcy? Hello - where the hell did that come from? Certainly no one volunteered any information during my interview about a shaky financial history. Turns out that was only the beginning of what I didn't know.

Three months into my term of employment I decided to be bold and directly ask to be brought on full-time, well ahead of their initial schedule. I was told that my request would likely be granted, but that some strategic planning on the part of our parent company may have an organizational impact on us, in which case I'd have to wait for the announcement to know how things would proceed. This alone would have been fine, but my boss cryptically and very forebodingly added that the announcement "may be good for you, but not so good for other people." Oh, crap.

Slowly, notices of a company-wide meeting went up, and as the day of the announcement grew closer more detailed e-mails started arriving as well. This wasn't just a little meeting - this was absolutely everyone, including a video link with our sister facilities in the States. None other than the CEO himself would be making the announcement, backed up by our even-newer-than-myself COO. At nine o'clock just over a month ago I finally heard what was really going on - and it's not good at all.

First, since my company was purchased five years ago by our parent company, we haven't made single nickel of profit. The financial bleeding was so bad, in fact, that the parent company has had to further inject 80% over and above the original purchase price just to keep us going. I don't have to tell you that -80% is a terrible return on investment, and they aren't pleased. What's even worse is that two previous turnaround plans failed completely. Yes, this company has been in trouble, has been so for a while, and is in the deepest kind of trouble right now. In your next interview, ask to see the balance sheets for the past 5 years. I know I'm going to.

So, where are we now? The parent company still has faith in us, and has allowed us one last chance to prove that we can be a viable business on our own merits, and even be a good investment to boot. Our company has very definite goals to reach in the next four years, and the stakes are as high as they get. This is absolutely the last bailout. From here on out, we're on our own. We'll either prove ourselves a viable business, or we'll be liquidated. Yes, liquidated. Furthermore, we're going to be consolidating all business operations into the facility I work at, and giving up an unpredictable portion of our business. All US-based operations will cease, and what we can afford to we'll bring into our facility. (This actually means we're hiring boatloads of people in my department, if you can believe it.) My job is quite safe, but some other positions at my facility and all our American counterparts are out of luck.

In short, I now have a full-time permanent position at a company that is bleeding money, has an unsatisfied parent company, and four years to turn it all around while at the same time revamping what they do, how they do it, and where everyone is located. I'm not exactly thrilled, nor optimistic. In my estimation I have about two years before unmistakable signs of a failed turnaround could start to appear. At best, I'm in with a company that has a rocky history, and will have what is likely to be a turbulent future. Were we the leader in our field I'd feel better, but being the smaller fish in a crowded pond gives me reason to polish up my resume.

As I'm in no immediate danger and my job is at least relevant and enjoyable, I'm not looking to jump ship with any desperate urgency. In fact, I'm putting a positive spin on the situation: I have two years to take my time looking for the perfect job, with an iron-clad reason for why I'm leaving that any interviewer should accept. Unfortunately, this makes working on a daily basis an interesting sort of mind game, where I have to be looking out for long-term problems and solutions, but at the same time realizing that I really wouldn't mind being somewhere else with two weeks' notice. I almost have to remind myself to care about my work.

At least they've done me two favours: They employed me when I most needed it, and they paid me poorly enough that I won't mind leaving for greener, more stable, profitable pastures.


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