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10/08/2005: "salt or salve: the follow-up"


Well. I asked for opinions, and did I ever get them. The quantity didn't overwhelm me, but what was said (as of this writing) was... interesting. It leads me to believe that I was less than clear in my explanation of the situation, and even less so in laying out the choices that lay before me.

Thus, I'm going to see if I can't explain myself a little bit better, answer some of the points that were brought up, and make you all agree with me instead of my wife.

First at bat will be an examination of the current path that I'm going down, the one that involves my asking for pay-in-lieu-of-notice. This is, and always has been, very much a malicious act, right from the get-go. I signed a contract, worked under the assumption that I was a contractor, and was reluctantly going to simply go along with the terms of the contract, even after being terminated for grounds that I simply cannot agree with. By filing this claim with the Ministry of Labour, I'm not just going after the one week's pay. Such a pitiful amount is nothing to a company like them. However, the Ministry of Labour, Revenue Canada, and likely a few other not-so-friendly government offices will be a veritable hornet's nest shoved up their rectal orifice. It will suck up their time, effort, and cost them a pretty penny to boot. I simply can't honestly say that there is no malice in this action. Quite the opposite - I wanted to screw them.

I'll admit I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that, and somewhat shocked by the reality of it as well, now that I've just written it down for myself to see in black and white. However, it is also a good point that I should not back off of this claim, lest another hapless engineer come merrily along and fall into the same trap I did. Regardless of the outcome, they are going to think long and hard before ever hiring another Professional Engineer on contract. While that may seem like closing doors for others, it's also saving them the same aggravation I went through, thinking they've found a good job and eventually finding out how mired the company actually is in its own inbred history.

Now, there was a common thread of "you can be bought" going on. Come on, people... I just refused a project because of the potential of patent infringement. Do you really think I'm looking to be bought? It's damned near insulting, is what it is.

I will admit that when I first thought of going back and trying to become a supplier that my wording to them would be along the lines of "if you give me a chance to quote you on some components, all this trouble could go away," but that would pretty much be blackmail, and would most certainly amount to me being for sale. That is not my intention at all, however. I was actually thinking more along Christian lines here... instead of turning the thumbscrews with my pay-in-lieu claim, I'd entirely back off that on my own accord, turn the other cheek, and try to turn an adversary into an ally. No "if" clauses, just a simple change of heart.

I could go only halfway and back off my claim, but that won't mend any fences. My name will still be spat upon anywhere within that company, and that is what I thought I could reverse by being able to save them money on components. Yes, I'd make money, but here's a horrible, shocking truth for you - that's how business works. It's all money. I would be trying to keep my professional history free of hostile adversaries, and at the same time trying leverage the knowledge I gained while working for them to make some money. If leveraging knowledge is wrong, you'd better close your eyes to the capitalist economy we're all neck-deep in.

Please keep in mind that I really don't want to have an adversary brewing in my backyard. I'm not a confrontational guy, and like having friends. I'm not worried per se about having this particular company blacklist me, but why not avoid it if possible? If given the choice, I'd rather have good press than bad.

Something else I should clear up is my feelings about the company and the president, which are distinct. The president is a pretty good guy in general, but I believe that he simply hasn't earned his way to where he is now. He's running his grandfather's company, and it's obvious that it's more sentiment and obsessive hobby than actual business for him, otherwise he'd be weeding out the deadwood and invigorating his organization. The company itself is in a sad state of affairs. Deadwood litters many departments and offices, communication is poor at best, and there seems to be no reward system beyond paltry benefits and a steady income. It seems to be very, very, VERY hard to be fired from a full-time job there (according to those that have been there a long time), which simply means mistakes are absorbed, not really learned from, and life goes on.

Nevertheless, the company makes decent products (upcoming Chinese-sourced cheap knock-offs notwithstanding), is Canadian, is local, and I know the product and process pretty well. I would never allow myself to be put in a situation where I report to that president ever again, but I could certainly deal with him at an arm's length. The company I would never work for personally again, but I have the opportunity to not only become a benefit to that company again, but make money at the same time. Perhaps it's a very fine line, or a distinction that only I'm seeing right now, but I do see it, and I'm hungry for opportunities to use my new-found connections. Why not start with something that I'm familiar with, that's almost literally in my backyard, that I have first-hand knowledge about, that wouldn't matter if it worked out or not, as I was prepared to burn that bridge anyways? I mean, truthfully - is there any better way to get my feet wet in doing sales?

Can you tell that I want to sell to them? If not, I do. I want to leverage a bad experience into a good one. Why shouldn't I?

Upon reading your comments, I've come up with one new course of action I could take, plus a slight alteration. The new course of action would be to both follow through with my claim, then still attempt to sell to them. If that doesn't show no ill will towards them, I don't know what would. It's just business, nothing personal. From what I infer from the president's e-mail he sent the other day, that's exactly how he sees the situation as well.

The alteration? There is nothing saying that I have to deal with the company directly. Instead of being the salesperson going in there offering my wares, I could simply hire someone to do it for me. Sure, I'd be giving up a cut of the profits, but it could make the whole affair that much further removed from being personal. My name would never be mentioned within the company, and wouldn't ever be found out even if they wanted to dig deeper into where these components would be coming from. I know one other person in the company that may not be there now, as he has been planning to leave them for many months now, and he actually worked in the purchasing department. He'd be an ideal candidate.

So, there's the re-statement of my position. I still have yet to get the opinion of my business associates, John and Bob, and my dad, but right now I'm feeling that I need to do this. The claim will go ahead one way or the other, if only because I want them to know they were wrong, and I was right. Then I can get to work on the proverbial making of lemonade.

Replies: 3 Comments

on Saturday, October 8th, Robert Hahn said

You're right about one thing: your last post was pretty badly written. That said, nothing you said really alleviates my misgivings about the situation.

The company forced you to make a choice that would put your designation at risk, and compounded the error by firing you. That was wrong, and they're choosing to dig their heels in rather than say "sorry". The claim must go forward, imho, because if not, then this problem will affect someone else, and you would be nothing better than an accomplice to their way of doing business.

If there was another way through this that would ensure that error wouldn't be made, I'd hope you find it. Maybe talking to the institution that granted your P.Eng would yield some new avenues.

As for the rest, yeah, sure, I get you wanting to make money from a potential contact. My experience would not lead me to make that choice. You have a dialogue open with the president, that's great. I suggest you use it to make clear that they were wrong to put your designation at risk, and they were wrong to terminate your contract because of it. The claim is happening only because you do not want other P.Eng'ers put at risk. In my mind, this was never about the pay, but about the danger they put you in. If you don't want to say that, fine, keep the lines open. Aim for a long term strategy (like 5 years). Mention exactly what you're doing now for a living, but don't ask for a sale or make a deal. Let him come to you. Then make him a raving-fan customer. Asking for a sale, or giving him a deal is just going to go totally bad on you. I'm convinced of that.

But really, with regard to the potential business part of your ruminations, I'd have to say that John, Bob, and your dad are going to be the best sources for input, not we-the-commentors.

good luck. I hope this works out well for you.

on Sunday, October 9th, Boose said

Once again, I'm with Rob, for the most part. I'm one who does sever ties when things get to the point of being truly offensive to me or to my personal convictions (as opposed to merely controversial or debatable). Yes, the suit should go forward, but as for the selling - well, there seem to be a lot of "ifs" in your arguments: "if" you can insulate yourself from the president, "if" they want to use you as a supplier, "if" there are no lingering hard feelings after "business" has been dealt with (Soprano-style asides nonetheless)... That seems to be looking for an ideal world emerging from a considerably less-than-ideal situation!

But, again, I am but a commentator, not an advisor.

on Sunday, October 9th, Bob said

Like Rob and Boose, I still stand by my original assessment.

The claim may have been born by a malicious intent, but from your first e-mail, you stated that there was legal precedent for it. If this is true, you should still be able to go through with it. Mind you, I don't know that this will change how they treat people in the future. If they lose the argument with the Ministry, they may just write something more explicit into their future contracts.

Regarding the "being bought", I'm sorry that it feels insulting, and I don't think that you were "looking to be bought", however it still comes across that way to me. They've treated you like crap, fired you, and really given you no reason to ever want to associate with them. So why are you even considering it? Put another way: If there was *no* chance of financial gain on your part from mending the fence with them, would you still do it? I think that would be the true expression of "turning the other cheek" and if you would do that, then go for it and (as Rob says) don't ask for a sale or give them a deal as part of the cheek turning.

"Leveraging a bad experience into a good one", and "leveraging knowledge" are both good concepts. However, I don't think they're absolutes. I believe that there are times when the particulars of a case make these concepts incorrect for the situation.

Regarding your musings on money, it is hard to argue that it is a large part of our society, but it isn't everything. e.g. Why did you refuse that patent infringement job - was it for purely financial reasons? As for the argument that business works that way, I'm sure that many professional engineers *would* have gone ahead with the potential patent infringement and let the company's lawyers work it all out, because that's how "business" often works.

Take Care and Good Luck.

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