Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Steve's new job

Monday, October 2, 2006, 10:30
Steve's (new) office

It all seems like such a waste of time.

I know, I have to know where the bathrooms are, as well as the lunch room, supply closet, and emergency exit. But I have a highly complex job to learn, and customers who signed contracts and are waiting patiently (or impatiently) to go live are now my responsibility. Any work time spent on voice mail configuration and benefit enrollments should be kept to a minimum.

Phil and Tom are going to work for me, installing the software after the customers buy it. Installation sounds easy, doesn't it? If you or I go to Staples and buy Quickbooks, we can pop in a CD, install it, and be balancing our checkbook within an hour. Corporate software has gotten out of hand, though. Especially ours.

Customers like it, but from time to time they demand modifications. In the interest of making them happy, and keeping their business, we comply. Our program now has more options than a Big 12 football game.

Every message the user sees can be edited. Every screen can be customized. Imagine buying a car and having to pick three pages' worth of colors and styles. "Honey, what do you think about this one for the gear shifter?"

There are so many possible configurations that no one can test them all, and so, occasionally, bugs are found. Our three-man development team knows the urgency of those, so they bounce crazily back and forth between fixing what's already been installed, and programming new features for the next release.

I take a good look around the office. Every white board is filled with reminders; stacks of papers and books litter every desk; phones ring as if we were hosting the Jerry Lewis telethon.

The installation team and the programmers have not had a supervisor for months. That means they have probably been careening from project to project, working for whichever customer screamed the loudest that day.

First, the office needs to be flawlessly clean--or at least a hell of a lot cleaner than it is now. If there's anything I hate, it's being unable to address a problem because someone can't figure out which pile the paperwork is in.

Next, we will have to define procedures to help us decide what project gets done when, and by whom. Changing gears mid-project wastes time, and leads to confusion. Breaking bad work habits is not a fun thing; these guys may hate me when this is over.

And of course, the employees are going to have to learn to trust me as a manager. They don't know about my previous job, and don't care. They need to know that I'm not going to run them all into the ground with work, and/or fire them.

"Can't make the 1:00," Phil says, trotting past me in the hallway. No way he's blowing off our first department meeting.

"Phil, we need you to be--"

He disappears into his office and closes the door.

"He always does that," says Bernadette, our administrative assistant. "Get used to it."

"Tell him to see me when he comes out of there."

"You don't wanna go there..." she says.

"Let me worry about that."



"You wanted to see me, Steve? I'm very busy--"

"Phil, the meeting today," I say. Not a direct question; I just want to see how he handles himself. Will he address the problem head on?

"Too much going on, Steve. Too many installations. Everybody wants a 1/1 go-live--"

"Too busy doing work to talk about how we're going to do the work?"

He sighs. "I know you want to help..."

"There's a kid, Eric, who lives down the street from me," I begin. "He's in college. The lady next door asked him to rake the leaves on her mother's lawn. She offered him $100 for it, too."

"Okay..." he says, leering at me with dark, inquisitive eyes. He has no idea where I'm going with this.

"The kid really needed the $100, so he took the job. He got the address from his neighbor, ran over immediately and started working. He wanted to get it all done in one day, so he was really busting his butt.

"His phone kept ringing, but he didn't answer it. He didn't even look at who was calling. He was extremely busy working, see? So whomever it was was going to have to wait until he was done."

"Uh-oh," says Phil.

"Turns out it was his neighbor calling. She had given Eric the wrong address. The kid was raking the wrong lawn!"

"Oh no!"

"By then four or five hours had passed. Poor kid did all that work for nothing."

"Wow," he says.

"We haven't had any leadership in this group for a long time," I say. "There are going to be some growing pains while we get out of the ruts that we're all in. But we will get out of them, I promise you."


"As much as it's going to hurt all of us, we're going to have to stop working and talk sometimes. Yes, that will put us farther behind. But in the long run, we'll work smarter and faster."

"So I guess I'll see you at 1:00," he says with a frown.

I'm here one day, and I've already got a problem employee.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Keep in touch"

Wednesday, September 6, 2006, 1:30pm
Steve's office

Dom agrees that the biggest hurdle between him and my job is his personal life. He has to reassure Dan that he's calmed down, but he can't be too obvious about it; otherwise it will look like he is merely saying what Dan wants to hear.

"When we talk to Dan, I'll handle it," Dom says.

At first, I thought Dan was agreeing to the phone interview as a courtesy, and that he had no intention of considering Dom for the job. But to my surprise, he pulled in three heavy hitters, including the CFO and the VP of HR, for the call.

On the call, I speak as little as possible, letting Dom take the lead, just as he would if he were in charge. Naturally, he answers every question effortlessly, having been with this company for years, and having worked closely with me on every major project I've been involved with. It's going as well as I could have expected.

"Dom," Dan says, "You do realize why Steve is leaving this job, don't you?"


"And you do realize that this is an extremely labor-intensive job, and will be for the foreseeable future?"

"Yes, I do."

"You might not have much of a... personal life. I need to hear how you feel about that."

This is it--the key question of the interview. If he answers this correctly, I think he'll get an offer. They'd be crazy not to offer it to Dom: There'd be no recruiter to pay for, no lengthy hiring process, no long "onboarding" period for him to get acclimated.

"Actually, I have a girlfriend now. We see each other a lot, but we don't go out much. I spend most nights at home lately."

Of course, he's full of shit. Dom doesn't have a girlfriend, at least not that he's told me about, and though he's usually on time for work, he does have the occasional 10:00am raccoon-eyed roll-in.

The line goes dead silent. This is a startling revelation for anyone familiar with Dom; it's like Diddy announcing plans to sell off his bling-bling and join the Hare Krishnas.

"A girlfriend?" Fran, the CFO, manages, finally.


"She's not an employee, is she?" Dan says, to uproarious laughter. Guess Lila wasn't as much of a secret as I thought she was.

"No, she's a physical therapist," Dom says. He had a lie ready. The man is one hell of a bullshitter.

The conversation runs long, which to me is a good sign: Why would they bother if they weren't serious about him?

Yes, I want this for Dom. Despite a rocky beginning, we work well together. He's the most qualified person I know for the position, and he's done his time with the company, even moved clear across the country for what was technically not a promotion.

"We'll try to make a decision by the end of the week," Dan says. Another good sign. If they were considering outside candidates, the process would take a lot longer than three days. I think he's got it.

"Physical therapist?" I say, after we hang up, and we laugh hysterically.


Friday, September 8, 2006
Steve's office

Dan Johnson is here, which is yet another good sign. He wouldn't come all this way to turn Dom down.

"Steve, I have some bad news for you," Dan says. Dom and I exchange white-faced looks.

"W-what's that?"

"You just lost your parking spot. Dom, congratulations. You're the new district manager!"

Friday, September 29, 2006
Steve's office

My desk is empty; my phone is silent. All I hear is the steady whisper of air from the heat vent in the ceiling. The vent is directly over my head; I always meant to have it moved, but never got around to it. There are a lot of things like that.

With all the silence, I have time to think, about how it used to be, back when I liked, no loved, my job, when I sometimes spent 12 or 14 hours at my desk, getting up only to use the bathroom, when I worked weekends straight through and woke up from a dead sleep to add to my to-do list. I didn't resent the work then; I thrived on it. It reminded me that I had a purpose. That purpose is Dom's now.

Did I make a mistake? Did I commit "career suicide", as Dan called it? Was I wasting my talent?

Now that the pressure is off, I wonder if I could have made it, if I could have somehow dealt with the stress until things calmed down again. But in the end, I take a deep breath, and all I feel is relief.

"It was nice working with you," my coworkers say, awkwardly running their fingers over my doorhandle. It was "We'll miss you, Steve," and "Thanks for helping me," and "be sure to keep in touch."

But I won't keep in touch, and neither will they. They will get preoccupied with other things, and grow closer with the new boss, and my time here will fade to a distant memory. Dom will do my job, and if he leaves, someone else will take over, and the world won't come to an end. Employees will come, and they will go, like a subway train that never has the exact same group of people on it twice. I made friends here, but most were friendships of convenience; once physically separated, we'll forget each other. That's not a bad thing; just the way it is.

But I'll miss my job.

This is the company where I grew into a true professional, where I learned what a 10-K and an IPO was. I learned budgets, forecasting, and G/L accounting. From now on, I'll be able to say, "Having worked for a Fortune 500 company, I..."

"Steve?" Bonnie says. "I just want you to know it's been a pleasure working with you. You always took care of me. I appreciate that. I want to--" she pauses, looking down at the floor. "I wish you the best of luck." She hands me a small, gift-wrapped box--two tins of rasperry Altoids and a box of Chai tea, my favorites. Funny how silly things like that make me want to cry.

"Are you taking off early?" Lila says, standing in my doorway. It's around 3:30.

"Hey!" I exclaim, leaping from my chair to hug her. "I was wondering if you were going to stop by."

"We're gonna keep in touch, right?" she says, casting her huge eyes up at me. How can I say no to that?

"Definitely. Let's really stay in touch," I say. "Everyone says it, but let's really do it."

"You better," she says. "Call me this weekend, maybe we'll go on a double date."


"I'm really happy here. Thanks for getting me my job back, Steve."

I want to say something profound, something that you would read in a book or see in a movie. I want to dazzle her, or amaze her, or make her cry. But I can't think of anything.

"You totally earned it. You're a great employee, and you have a great future here."



"Are you gonna be okay at your new job? I mean, will you like it?"

"Yeah, definitely!"


"Dom, I won't see you Monday," I say. I'm standing in his doorway, watching as he shuffles three pages of reports and clutches the phone between his shoulder and ear, and it occurs to me that this is exactly how I always looked to him.

"I, wait, Bruce, can you hold on just a second?" he says into the phone, smiling up at me.

"It's okay, Dom, you don't have to," I laugh.

"You sure? I wanted to walk out with you."

"I know the way."

"Well, listen, I--"

"It was a lot of fun," I say. "Just... keep in touch. Okay?"

"I will."

No, he probably won't. And neither will I.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lemons and lemonade

"I think you should call a lawyer. You should fucking sue him!"


"You should call the newspaper! You should call channel five news!"

"Good idea, Tim. Let's broadcast to the world that I fucked a high-school student who was half my age. Oh yeah, and she worked for me, too!"

"You were dating!"

"I'm gonna look like a total pervert, Tim. I won't win that one."

"So you're gonna do nothing? He's blackmailing you! He's wrong! You have to fight him!"

"Tim, right or wrong doesn't matter in this case. As soon as it gets out that I was in a relationship with a girl under 18, I'll be radioactive. "

"But it was legal," she reasons.

"People are still going to think I am a perv. Whatever reputation I have left will be gone at that point."

"What did Lila say?"

"Didn't tell her."


"You heard me."

I'm not telling Lila unless I absolutely have to. If she knew, she'd probably get pissed off and quit, and that would be a mistake. Management really likes her, and the only reason she would get fired would be for revenge--against me.

I'm glad I didn't let myself get more pissed off at Dan--the quieter I am, the more he will wonder what I know that he doesn't. But what am I going to do?

I actually go so far as to search online for an attorney before I stop myself. Do I really want to go this route? Do I really want to stand up in front of a judge and make a claim against Dan Johnson, a millionaire CEO with a spotless reputation, a claim that he is almost certainly going to deny?

Besides, even if Dan admits it, Lila won't suddenly become innocent. She still broke the rules, and she is still subject to termination. Perhaps the lawyers could arrange some kind of compromise, given Dan's ham-fisted attempt at extortion, but that would be a best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that Lila still gets fired, no one believes my side of the story, and my face is plastered on nursery school bulletin boards across the state.

I'm being hasty. Calling an attorney is giving up, and it's too early for that. I've known Dan for years; we've worked through complex problems together. He respects me professionally. Maybe if I prepare a solution and present it to him, he'll accept. I'll write up a business case, like I would for any other issue.

Thursday, August 31, 2006
Corporate headquarters
Dan's office

"What good news have you got for me, Steve?"

"What if you could fill my position with someone equally talented, and without having to hire an attorney to do it?"


"You knew about my relationship with Lila two years ago, and did nothing. Sounds to me like that's a pretty egregious violation of company policy."

He looks at me.

"Of course, you could say you knew nothing about it. But you'd probably have to lie under oath, and Ross would too. There would be all sorts of uncomfortable questions from lawyers and newspeople--"

"I understand, Steve."

"Your story might not pass the smell test. I give my resignation, and then you conveniently find out about my affair from two years ago? Let's face it, CEO's are not exactly the most trustworthy people in the world right now."

"No one wants a battle, Steve. None of us have the time or the energy."

"So let's find a solution."

"Fine. You know, Steve, something you said really bothered me. You said you had lost respect for me, and that you didn't think I cared about that. But I do care very much."

"With due respect, Dan, you're a Fortune 500 CEO. Your job is not to care about people. Your job is to hit revenue targets. "

"True, but that doesn't mean I don't get attached to people along the way. It doesn't mean I don't admire you and the way you make it your business to succeed."

"If you admire me, and respect me, I need you to trust my judgment and let me go, Dan."


"I will never understand your decision as long as I live, but you know my objections, so I won't repeat them."

"Fair enough."

"What is your solution, Steve?"

"Promote Dom."


Dan has a problem with Dom. He had a chance to promote him two years ago, and he chose me instead, even though Dom had more experience. After I gave my notice, Dan had yet another chance to promote Dom, and he did not.

Dom is a natural leader, hard-working and thorough, and is more than capable of doing my job. Dan must have something personal against him; if I had to guess, i'd say it was Dom's ongoing quest to shove his dick into every warm vagina in the time zone.

"He can do the job."

"If I wanted Dom to do the job, I would have hired him."

"Why don't you want him?"

"I think he lacks dedication."

"Ridiculous. He can do the job. I've got no reason to lie. Will you at least interview him?"

"Of course."

"I will get you two more candidates as well, so you'll have three to interview," I say.

"And if I don't like any of the three?"

"I'll stay on as a consultant to help you find a replacement, even after I start my new job."

Doing two jobs might seem tough, but it would be temporary, and the workload will seem like a picnic compared to this.

"I suppose we'll have to pay for your consulting services?"

"I work cheap; I don't work free," I answer.

He sits quietly. "So what do you think?" I ask.

"You've made up your mind; what else is there to say?" he shrugs.

"So, Dan, about our phone call the other day--"

"Forget it, Steve."

I wish I could.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

About that happy ending...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006, 5:45pm
Steve and Tim's house

"That's incredible," Tim shrieks. "You did it! You did it!"

"I can't believe it," I say.

"So, when do you start?"

"I told him I might need a month. He was okay with that. I haven't formally accepted yet."


"I had to talk to you first."

"Thank you, honey. Now take it!"

"Don't you have any questions?"

"Are you going to be travelling a lot? I don't want you getting stressed out."

"I might have to go to Thailand once every spring or summer. They'll pay for you to come with me, but only once a year."

"So if you go more than once a year and I want to come, we'd have to pay?"

"Yep. But I want you to."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Steve's office

This phone call is going to be fun. I've never spiked a football, but I bet it feels a lot like this.

"Steve, what have you learned today?"

"Actually, this phone call is about teaching you something, Dan."


"I've decided to resign. I'd like my last day to be Friday, September 15."


"Steve, I thought we had gotten past this."

"And now you see that we haven't. Right? This is the right move for me, for my health and sanity."

"Steve, it's career suicide. Career suicide, Steve!"

Big shots like Dan love to repeat themselves. They think they are so brilliant that, if they say something and it does not have the intended effect, they simply say it again, as if the only possible problem is that we didn't hear.

I knew he was going to regurgitate the "career suicide" bit, and I have an answer ready--actually, it's more like a story. And telling a story is exactly what Dan Johnson would do in my situation.

Shit! Am I turning into this guy?

"Did I ever tell you about Craig, my next-door neighbor?" I ask.

"I beg your pardon?"

"He lives next door to me. He's an avid jogger. Every morning, he jogs up a hill on a street adjacent to ours. There's heavy tree cover on either side of the road, no sidewalk. It's a narrow road, poor visibility, very unsafe. No way he should be jogging there."

"What's the point, Steve?"

"I asked him why he jogs there. He says it's the steepest incline in the area. He loves the workout he gets jogging up that hill, and he hates treadmills. His resting heart rate is in the 40's. He brags about it! And you know what I told him?"


"I said, in the morgue, everyone has a heart rate of zero."

He chuckles.

"It doesn't matter how great the workout is; the cost is too high. He's risking his life jogging up that road. One day, he's going to get hit by a truck and die."

"Cost-benefit," he says softly.

"Yes. The cost outweighs the benefit. It doesn't matter what this job has to offer me. There are too many consequences for staying here."

Could I be convincing him this easily?

He breathes deeply. That means a speech is coming. Shit.

"That's a wonderful story, Steve. Your point is well thought out. But this is not a matter of life or death. You're not playing in traffic; you're leaving a lucrative job with a promising future at a Fortune 500 company. The sky is the limit for you, Steve."


"Steve, other men do your job. Lesser men. Men who are less talented, who have less energy."

Ah, I see. So I'm a lazy slug!

"What are you saying, exactly, Dan?"

"I'm saying try harder."

"I'm done, Dan."

"Try. Harder."

"September 15, Dan. That's the date. I would advise you to have a replacement ready."



Friday, August 25, 2006, 6:55PM
Steve and Tim's house

Dan calling, my phone says.

It's not unusual for Dan to call me after hours, but I have a bad feeling nonetheless. We haven't spoken since I hung up on him Wednesday, and I have been expecting a lecture.

"Good evening, Steven."

This is not the after-hours Dan Johnson, who makes bad jokes and asks what I've learned today. This is Dan Johnson, businessman, who makes million-dollar decisions while sitting on the toilet.

"Hello, Dan." I don't ask how he is doing, or what I can do for him. I ask nothing, so he has no segue into what he wants to talk about. I have no intention of making this easy.

"Steve, I need to talk to you." It's the voice he uses in the boardroom, and with customers. Whatever he has to say, it's not good.

"I have a few minutes," I say.

"Steve, I hate to say this to you, because you know how I feel about you. But, sometimes past mistakes can come back to haunt you when you least expect it."

As opposed to those future mistakes that come back to haunt me?

"What mistakes?"

He takes a breath. "Steve, I trust you are well aware of our fraternization policy."

Yes, I violated the policy, with Lila. I probably violated the policy 150 times. And I confessed as much to Dan himself, two years ago, back when I was a rubber-kneed, babytalking, lovesick doofus, and could not have cared less if I was fired or not, as long as I could lay down next to Lila at night and be blissfully intoxicated by her green apple-scented shampoo. After I confessed, the whole thing went away. There were no consequences. I knew it was too easy.

But why is he bringing this up now? Does he want to fire me? Why bother? I'm quitting!

Maybe he wants to destroy my career by letting this information slip out. But, as I've already admitted, my career might be over already, and I'm not sure that spreading this kind of story about me would be worth the risk.

Maybe it's a bargaining chip, I think.

"What are you getting at, Dan?" I bark, discarding any sense of decorum I was pretending to have.

"Dating a subordinate is a serious offense. It exposes the entire company, Steve, all of us. Our livelihood, our--"

"I get the point," I say. I'm in no mood for an academy-award winning speech.

"The point is," he says, "that dating a subordinate is expressly forbidden by company policy. And if we were to ever find out that it happened, it would be grounds for immediate termination. For both parties."

That son of a bitch. If I insist on quitting, he's going to conveniently find out about my relationship with Lila from two years ago, and fire us both. I am leaving anyway, but Lila has no plans to quit. She's been doing a great job for us, and has a bright future. Dan knows I won't want her termination on my head.

"So this is what you're being reduced to, Dan? Blackmail? You're going to blackmail me into working for you?"

"She's a good employee, Steve. It would be a damn shame if we had to fire her. And it would be a shame to lose you, too. The company won't be the same without you. Your employees need you, and the company needs you. Just promise me you'll think about it."

"Yeah, I'll think about it. And maybe I'll stay, and maybe I won't. But either way, I've lost all respect for you as a human being. As far as I am concerned, you don't exist to me anymore. I'm sure you don't care about that, but I need you to know it anyway. I used to look up to you, and now..."

"You're angry now, Steve. Take some time to cool off. Go for a long drive and think it over. Someday you will thank me."

"I doubt it."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, I'm free at last!"

Being the resourceful fellow that I am, as soon as I made the decision to leave my company, I told everyone I knew that I was looking, and asked if there was anyone they knew of who I could speak to. Their responses fell into three major categories:

1. "You're the big hotshot: Why are you asking me?"
2. "I don't know of any job openings in that area."
3. "Why don't you look in the newspaper / go to / call a recruiter?"

Notice that none of these answer my question, which was simply if I could have a few contact names. Frustrating? You bet. But, rather than alienate them by reminding them how stupid they are, I merely repeated the question, slower, until I got an answer--which was usually, "Nope, don't know anyone."

Conventional wisdom says that you don't look for jobs in the newspaper, or online, because everyone is looking there. You must network, the experts say, and find jobs that are not listed on websites, so as to reduce your competition. Sure, it makes some sense, but nonetheless, I posted my resume on Monster, and Careerbuilder, and received daily email updates on new jobs. Then I spent every free moment calling contacts, reading job descriptions, and waiting.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I see an interesting job on Monster, and before applying, I tweak my online resume to highlight my relevant experience. In so doing, I changed a few keywords. Over the next three days, something amazing happened.

Recruiters called me. A lot of recruiters. The keywords I had added apparently were exactly what some of them were searching for, and by the end of the week, I had four interviews lined up. It was like guessing a password that opened a vault.

I had to explain repeatedly why I was leaving such a high-level position, and why I was willing to go elsewhere for less money, if necessary. I explained that my personal life was important, that the amount of work was oppressive and that it didn't figure to improve anytime soon. I got my share of skeptical looks after this explanation, as if I had actually gotten caught screwing the boss's wife.

I was phone-screened and interviewed. I found myself telling the same few "work stories" repeatedly, when asked about my abilities as a manager. I like talking to people, and I sure didn't mind the ego boost of reliving what I have accomplished.

If I was reading their faces right, most of the interviewers were very impressed with me, but one by one, they turned me down. "We went with another candidate." "Your experience doesn't quite fit our company." "This job would not be challenging enough for you." "It doesn't pay enough."

That last one really bothered me. I was truly willing to take a pay cut, if it meant I would have my life back. But you can't just walk up to an employer and say, "I'm desperate. Give me whatever you want!"

"I'm getting a job anyway," Tim said. "If the offer seems reasonable, take it. We'll get by." She's more or less dumped her catering business and is trying to find a job as a chef at a restaurant. Funny thing about that: No one will hire a woman chef. Sure, these same guys who won't hire a woman probably go home and eat their wives' cooking every night, but they somehow still think women are incompetent to cook for a living. But that's another story.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Looking for a job can be full-time work in itself. Along with the job I already have, I won't be able to keep up this pace forever. When I'm too exhausted to keep looking, then what?

Today I have a meeting with a disgruntled client. They are so frustrated that they asked for Dan Johnson himself to come out and meet with them, but Dan called and convinced them that I could respond to all of their concerns, and that he would follow up with me personally afterwards. Dan has a gift: He can blow you off and somehow still make you feel special.

Dom takes a seat at the boardroom table across from me, and two of our colleagues sit at opposite corners, fidgeting noticeably.

Dom and I have been through this too many times before to be nervous. I find that, if I know someone is going to let loose on me, it's never that bad, because I'm ready for it. It's when I get ambushed that it goes poorly.

You might as well never be nervous for something like this. The worst that could happen is that you don't know an answer. So just be ready for that! Figure out what you're going to say if you honestly don't know something--but try and avoid answers like "I have no earthly idea." People are very understanding, as long as you don't look like a moron.

I like to question people to death when they are badgering me. Keep clarifying, and restating, and taking notes until they lose motivation. They can't stay at maximum pissing rate for long.

Bert, our client's CEO, strides briskly into the boardroom, slamming a heavy pile of books on the table. Several people jump in their seats, startled.

"Steve, right?" He says, looking at me.

"Yes sir," I say, rising and offering my hand.

"That's okay," he says, waving me off. "Just so you all know, I don't sit for meetings. I don't sit for anything. There's no chair in my office," he pauses, scanning the room to see if we believe him.

"You don't have a chair--" Dom begins.

"I injured my back skiing 20 years ago. It hurt to sit down, so I worked standing up. I've been doing it ever since. I use a cordless headset for my phone, and my computer is on a podium. A business magazine came in here and did a story on me," he adds proudly.

"My girlfriend would appreciate that," I say. "She owns a catering business, and she never gets to sit--"

"She doesn't get to sit," Bert says, straightening his cuffs. "Interesting. Not to cut you off, but my time is very valuable, and we need to cover a few things today. With me, you get it straight, and I want you to know that our account is in jeopardy. Are you willing to work to retain our business?"

"Yes," Dom and I say.

"Three hundred fifty-six thousand, two hundred twelve dollars and thirty-eight cents," Bert says, writing the number on a dry-erase board behind him, in six-inch-high digits. "That's what we spent on premiums with you last year. Did you do three hundred fifty-six thousand, two hundred twelve dollars and thirty-eight cents worth of work?" he asks, and all eyes turn to me. So much for spreading my team out.

"I have your policies in front of me," I say, slowly, opening my folder. It's strictly for effect; I've memorized the numbers. "Do me a favor; write a number underneath that one."

He uncaps the marker and looks at me.

"Twenty-eight million," I say.

He writes the number.

"Now write thirty-five thousand." He does.

"We insure this building, your company's vehicles, we insure you against employee dishonesty and theft, we even insure you as an executive, Bert, in case you go skiing again."

The group explodes in laughter, but I get the impression that it's as much about me diffusing the tension as it is about being funny.

"I'm using rough figures, but you see the point. As an insurance company, it's our job to protect you against unfortunate contingencies. Your company is a good risk, so we cover you. For that three hundred fifty thousand, we assume twenty-eight million dollars in risk. Twenty-eight million," I repeat, and it's scary how much I sound like Dan Johnson.

"The thirty-five thousand figure represents the portion of your payments that are used to cover our expenses. It's about ten percent; very low for this industry, but you're a long-standing customer and we don't believe in huge fee increases. It's my job to use that thirty-five thousand to pay my employees, to cover time and materials, underwriting, and any other overhead. Did we do thirty-five thousand dollars' worth of work last year? I guarantee it. I wouldn't be surprised if it was fifty thousand worth of work--but that's my problem, not yours."

The room falls silent. Whatever vitriol he had whipped up among his team is gone. Now, we can have a civil discussion.

The rest of the meeting was uneventful. We ran down the client's list of issues and assigned most of them to our customer service manager. We scheduled a thirty-day follow-up call, at which point all issues should be resolved.

After the meeting, I gather my papers and walk toward the door. "I need to speak to you privately," Bert says, placing a hand on my elbow.

"Is your resume on Monster?" he asks, as we retreat to a side hallway. "I believe I saw it there."


"Are you looking?"

I'd better be careful here. Dan knows I am looking, but if it gets back to him that I admitted that to a customer...

"I would be willing to consider a move if the right opportunity came along," I say, diplomatically.

"Don't worry, I'm not gonna call your boss," he laughs.

He withdraws his BlackBerry. "Are you free next Tuesday at three?"

Tuesday, August 22, 2006, 3:00PM
Bert's office

"I need you to coordinate our implementations," Bert says, squeezing the sides of his lectern and rocking it idly from side to side. "You'll supervise a small development team in Asia, as well as a couple of implementation consultants here."

The company is not exactly in the insurance business, but they make software that many insurance companies use. The job calls for thorough industry knowledge, as well as technical savvy and management ability. It's an unusual skill set, and Bert has been trying to fill the position for months.

"I probably can't pay you what you're getting now," he says, and waits for my reply.

We talk salary. We're not as far apart as he thinks we are. Evidently, my company wasn't paying me shit.

He makes me an offer on the spot. It's $4,000 less than I make today.

"Increase it by $5,000, and I'll say yes right now," I say. Wouldn't it be something if I ended up getting an increase in salary out of this?

"Twenty-five hundred is the best I can do."

"Deal." We shake hands.

And that, my friends, is how I got out of a shitty job for the low low price of $1,500 a year.