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My Entrepreneurial Spirit Comes From Anger

Digging for nickels, dimes, quarters, and silver dollars in a kiddie pool filled with sawdust at a company picnic, I remember someone telling my younger brother what a valuable contribution my dad was making to the company that was sponsoring that picnic. I'm sure whoever that person was used different words to relate this idea to my 3 year old brother. However, even at my young age (4 or maybe 5), I remember feelings of pride and happiness for my dad.

My dad is a highly intelligent, hard-working, dedicated, well-educated, and well-paid guy. He can think through things 12 steps ahead of where they are right now, diagram it all out for you, and walk you step-by-step through what needs to happen to get there.

Despite this, growing up, I watched my dad have 7 different (well-paid, high-position) jobs in 15 or 16 years.

One of the first downsizings came as the biggest shock.

In my memory, I see my brothers and Dad and Mom standing around the kitchen counter.
In my memory, I don't just see, but also experience; the pain, the hurt, and the frustration as Dad walks through the door at home, 2 hours earlier than usual, briefcase in hand.

In my memory, I see, experience, and feel his feelings of betrayal as he tells my mom how they had escorted him to his desk, given him 15 minutes to collect his belongings, and escorted him to the door (presumably they did things this way so that they could prevent or control anything he would say to other employees).

What would he have told the other employees?

That their jobs were to be made redundant, outsourced, downsized, etc. the next day.

This was an era pre-pagers, pre-cell phones, when you wouldn't have someone's home number or even think to call them in the evenings. (Instant messaging, texting, and emailing, were not options then.)

My brothers and I, and later my sister, watched as Dad went through
- "downsizings"
- "lay-offs"
- "outsourcings"
- "redundancies"

or whatever the catch phrase of the day was for the equivalent of:

- "You've been sacked. India's cheaper."
- "You've been sacked, but only because we're going a different direction"
- "You've been let go, but only because of us, not because of you"

As my brothers and I made our way into the working world, each of us experienced (in our early twenties) a downsizing, an outsourcing, or a "being let go" from a large corporation that wasn't making the bottom line or saw fit to get rid of us - not because of what we'd done, but because the company wasn't meeting the bottom line.

We all had received promises of how we'd be able to really grow in the respective companies we were working in.

In one particularly difficult case for me, I had (during my lunch break, but on a company computer,) logged in to my Hotmail account. This was in 2000, when the Internet was young. (Hotmail was still unknown enough that some people thought it was a porn site.) While I was logged in to my email, a co-worker was standing nearby, and saw a funny email I had received.
He asked me to forward the email to him.

I sent it to his work address and forgot about it. He was let go 1 month later for questionable sales practices, which many people in the office questioned and doubted.

6 months later, the company, 8,000+ employees, was having financial difficulties, and had been trimming the workforce. (Our office had been cut in half in number of employees. Overall, the company had let go of 2,000 employees and had a hostile takeover from an even larger company.)

I got a phone call on a Friday afternoon from the legal department of that company, informing me that I was being investigated for possible dismissal for sexual harassment.

I was shocked.

The phone call was from one of the company's attorneys, asking me if I had sent a "pictographic representation of people engaging in lewd acts" from my Hotmail account to a co-worker's work email address.

It had been six months. I had no idea what she was talking about, and I asked her for more information.

Once she explained it, I said that I had sent the image. I wondered how it was possible that I could be dismissed for sexual harassment for sending a humorous but completely non-sexual image to someone who had requested it.

After I got off the phone with the legal department, I typed up my letter of resignation, with a plan that I would come in on Monday, use up my vacation time by taking off the next three days, and resign the following Friday.

Monday morning, when I requested the time off, my manager asked me to hold off for an hour because he and another manager needed to meet with me.

Sensing that I was about to be fired (not letting me go for the true reason - sales were low and the company was capsizing, but because they wanted it to look like I'd done something wrong), I printed my letter of resignation. When they called me in for the meeting, I took a union representative into the meeting with me. The union representative asked what the meeting was about. They said that the meeting was about my termination for sexual harassment.

The union representative said that before the meeting commenced, I wanted to hand in my letter of resignation.

If I hadn't turned in my letter of resignation in that meeting, I would have been terminated (at the age of 20, from my first-ever corporate job) for sexual harassment. All that for sending an email with a couple of pictures.

What were the pictures?

People (men and women) skydiving while naked.

There was no sex involved, and I don't know how it could have been even construed as sex in any way, except to someone with an overly Freudian perspective. To me, and much of the world, the picture was just hilarious human nudity.

On the way out of the meeting room, the manager apologized that it had ended poorly with my time at the company.

But he was said "I'm sure you will be good at whatever you decide to do."

This coming from the guy who was about to put "fired for sexual harassment" on my record for something so trivial, if I hadn't come prepared to the meeting with my letter of resignation.

The feeling that "I won't allow anyone to do that to me again" was in the forefront of my mind as I walked out the door for the last time.

I'm working on it, but I don't know that I've truly forgiven the people at that company who, right up until the day before I was let go, led me to believe that I had a long-term future within that company.

Coming back to my brothers and I - we would all have made excellent employees for a company that wouldn't have lied to us and/or betrayed the trust and faith we placed in that company.

Today, I don't think any of us will ever again believe in the long-term proposition for working in that kind of environment. I guess I can't really speak for them, but for me, I had a couple more negative experiences in large organizations following this one, and it soured the possibility of ever believing in some big company's vision ever again.

At this point in my life, I have no idea how I would ever trust someone that I worked for telling me that we would grow together (me exchanging my hours, knowledge, effort, energy, and focus in exchange for a long-term proposition of what I might contribute to building), and that I would have safety and security in my job.

These experiences with corporate America have made me self-reliant, and that's good.
Today, despite having each been offered our ideal job at some point along the way, each of us (my brothers and I) spent the remainder of our 20's learning about and building businesses.

Now, in our thirties, we each control our own time, and each of us is his own boss.

Some days my boss is a real jerk to me.

We're all pretty driven, which comes from the way we were raised. But it also comes from watching what Dad went through. Each of us, in our own way, learned from watching Dad's experience.

As I've said, I can't really speak for my brothers, but I'm still angry about how those events affected Dad and our life as we were growing up.

I'm pretty cynical of work opportunities that come up in corporate environments.

I'm also quite cynical of people who buy into a corporate vision, working in jobs that they sort of like, thinking that those jobs will be there to provide for them in the future.

As a result of my own experiences, the people who work with me (as contractors) know that the only way I will continue to use their services is if they continue to do a good job.

That's the expectation I set up front, and I think it's a good one to have.

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