Career and Life Disruption – Company or Industry
The series is based on the advice from Glenn Zweig who I interviewed in the podcast episode, How to Switch Industries from Executive Search Consultants Perspective. I reflected back on my career and life and how I had dealt with disruption. What I found was my life was full of disruption.
In this series, I will discuss 4 kinds of disruption and how I handled each. The 4 are as follows:
In this post, I want to discuss the 2 company disruptions that I experienced and how I managed to navigate both successfully.
IBM’s Near Bankruptcy
I wrote in the previous post about my health disruption when my L4/L5 discs ruptured during the holiday season of 1992. I spent 3 months on disability working on a variety of projects including creating a new version of myself.
During my time off, I was only partly aware that IBM was experiencing a near-complete financial meltdown. IBM came within a few weeks of needing to file for bankruptcy.
When I returned in April of 1993, the previous CEO John Akers unceremoniously left and Lou Gerstner was hired. Lou Gerstner had no technology background but was referred to as the cookies, credit card, and cigarette guy. He spent his career at American Express and RJR Nabisco.
Almost immediately the full employment or no-layoff policy was discontinued. Almost 100,000 employees were asked to leave/retire and offered generous exit packages. Several IBM plants would then close.
I had colleagues who did not plan to retire for several more years being told to leave. They were not prepared to retire nor were they prepared to look for a job somewhere else. IBM was all that they knew.
I heard from several colleagues the refrain “They cannot do this to me. They owe me!”
I realized that IBM owed them NOTHING! They had been highly compensated for 20,25 or even 30 years and they had not kept their skills up. For many, their skills were not relevant for the new Internet age.
I was 36 years old with extremely relevant skills. My career would not be affected just yet but the handwriting was on the wall.
I had all of my financial assets tied up in my house, 401(k), and IRAs. For someone, my age I had a healthy net worth. I had not accumulated much IBM stock even though 10% of my check went into buying IBM stock. Unlike my older colleagues, I periodically sold my IBM stock.
When IBM’s finances collapsed so did the stock price. Many of my colleagues had thousands of IBM shares and some had their entire savings in IBM stock. They were both financially and emotionally devastated.
I never held much stock from my employer ever again. This changed the way I saved and invested my money. I needed to be prepared for the unexpected and to be flexible. Up until this point, I never had an emergency fund. I did not need one, I was working for one of the most prestigious companies in the world. Well…. that came to an end.
I discussed in my previous post that I took a job in a briefing center where I was speaking to some of IBM’s top customers every week. This gave me tremendous exposure to a world outside of the cloistered IBM.
I started planning to leave IBM.
Working for the Borg
I have said when I graduated from college I went to work for the Borg, uh I mean IBM. Resistance is futile as you will be assimilated!
When IBM screwed me on my pension in 1999 (look for more on this in the next post), I left IBM in January 2000 to work for an exciting network processor startup Agere, inc. What I did not realize was Lucent, the former AT&T telecom division, was acquiring Agere. Lucent was the sister to the borg.
For the first couple of years, Lucent completely left us alone. However, after 9/11 things started to change. Lucent suffered from the same problems that IBM did in the early 1990s.
The company was spinning off divisions of the company making them independent. Lucent Microelectronics was spun off as Agere Systems. I was now an employee of Agere Systems.
Over the next few years, we went through what I referred to as the Chinese water torture of layoffs, one or two people would be laid off each month. Drip, drip, drip, ……
Eventually, I would end up on the team that would rank people to see who would be laid off next. It was at this point I needed to get out.
Fortunately, as part of the acquisition, I received well over $100K in retention bonuses which allowed me to finish paying off the mortgage and funding our son’s college education. Our son graduated high school in 2002 and enrolled at the University of Dayton. At the age of 46, my wife and I were debt-free.
I started to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I no longer wanted to work for the borg.
Volunteering for a Layoff
After we went through another round of layoffs where I ended up taking one young man out for lunch and told him not to buy the house he was planning on purchasing. He was almost guaranteed to be the next to be laid off. That is a discussion I will never forget.
Two weeks later he was laid off. Several years later I ran into him and he thanked me as he went 2 years unemployed and moved back in with his parents before he found a job again.
It was then that I had enough and I would start the next step in my journey. I had decided to apply for my Texas alternative teacher’s certification, which is a story in itself.
I went into my boss’s office and told him I wanted to be laid off in the next round. He already knew of my plans and we started the gears in motion. This was the only time I was ever laid off.
IBM, Lucent, and Agere Systems were all failing. Only IBM still exists and in my humble opinion, it is a shell of its former self due to incredibly poor management.
What I did right was I moved on my terms and not on theirs.
We will see more companies fail in the coming years due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, climate change, and international disputes (Ukraine/Russian Conflict).
Are you ready to get in front of company or industry disruptions and move our your terms and not theirs?Marc Miller