yes. yes, yes, yes.

The following day, I went right back to the show, and right back to XYZ Company’s booth.  I found Fred.

“Hi, Fred,” I said.  “Listen, I was thinking about what you said yesterday, and I think I have someone for you.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “I think I’d be willing to talk to you myself.”

He was quiet, so I continued.  “And I think my engineer would be interested in talking to you as well.”

He quickly said “Let’s not talk about this here.  Call me when you get home, we’ll set up an appointment.”  Then he walked away.

When I got back, I called him and set up a meeting.  And a few days later, I drove to their offices – which were far, far away from my house, in the completely opposite direction from my current company.

“I used to have a Product Manager,” he said.  “I loved him like a son.  He worked here for a few years, and I felt like he was the perfect person to take over the company.

“I’m sixty-two years old,” he continued.  “I don’t have any kids.  I don’t have anyone to take over.  I’m looking for someone who can come to work here and learn the business.  Someone who I can give a small piece of the company.  You know, just to keep them interested, and let them share in our success.  But someone who can become the president someday, inherit the whole thing.”

It was a weird meeting.  The company’s office building was very nice – constructed very well, with extravagant furnishings on the executive side.  There were about 50 office workers.  Another 100 or so worked in the factory on the first floor, many of who were bused in from the inner city at the company’s expense, as a way of providing jobs to inner-city employees.

That piece of the company was extremely interesting, and attractive.

On the other hand, the owner and his wife sat in the conference room with me, sucking down cigarettes.  The entire building reeked like stale cigarette smoke.  When I looked around, I saw people smoking everywhere.  And the owner was drinking vodka, straight, out of a tall glass of ice.

It was a huge glass. Maybe a pint.  Filled with Absolut and ice.

At one point, his glass was empty, and he called in his secretary.  When she arrived in the conference call, he held out his glass and said, simply, “Ice.”  She took the glass from his hand and quietly walked out of the room.  A few minutes later she returned, the glass filled with ice.

That piece of the company was bizarre, and a little frightening.

Still, I was desperate to get the hell away from my current company.  I spent the entire day there, discussing how I would grow their cellular business by building a brand-new retail line of accessories, constructing a sales force, and going after specialty retailers, automotive retailers, and cellular carriers.

We wouldn’t be chasing after mass-merchants like my current company.  We’d be going to “step-up” retailers, companies that needed to have an edge over the mass retailer to maintain the business.  We’d have a higher quality of product, made entirely in the USA, well-packaged with a ridiculous warranty.  We’d make it impossible for the step-up retailer to want to go anywhere else.

“What do I have to do to get you?” he finally asked.

“Make me an offer.”

“What do you make now?” he asked.

“That’s not important,” I said.  “What do you want to offer me?”

“I’ll give you forty-two thousand,” he said.  “After a year, if things are working out, I’ll give you a nice raise and a piece of the company.  The last product manager was making almost a hundred thousand when he quit.”

A piece of the company.  A hundred thousand.  Holy shit.

“I don’t make any decisions without consulting my wife,” I said.  “If you can give me a written letter of offer, I’ll get back to you in a day.”

His letter mentioned the salary, the job description.  It did not mention the eventual equity, or subsequent raise.  I didn’t care.  I took the letter home with me.

“Thank God,” Sandy said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean we’re dipping into our savings account every month,” she said.  “We’re almost out of money.  A few more months and we won’t be able to pay our mortgage.  Taking this job means we can afford to live here.”

I accepted the offer the next day.

The following week, Danny did the same thing.  We worked it out so that I would give my notice first, leave the company and begin working at the new place, and then a couple of weeks later, Danny would follow.  This way, it wouldn’t seem like we left together, as a package deal.

The day I gave my notice, I was the happiest man on earth.  I walked into work without a care in the world.  I went into my office and discretely cleared all my personal stuff out, putting it all into a box and then bringing the box out to my car.  Then, I walked into my boss’ office – she had the door shut, and she was buried in some sort of paperwork that she clearly didn’t understand.

“We need to talk,” I said.

She looked at me and said “I don’t have time,” very grumpily.  “I’ve got to review these reports…”

I interrupted her.  “You’re going to want to talk to me now.”

Her eyes widened.  “What’s the matter?”

I handed her a letter of resignation.  “This is my two weeks’ notice.  I’m leaving the company.  I’ve had enough.”

Her eyes widened even more.  She looked shocked.  “Why are you leaving?”

“Why am I leaving?!” I asked incredulously.  “I’m leaving because I was demoted.  I’m leaving because I do your job, and you get the salary and the title.  I’m leaving because I get a glowing review, but when I ask for a raise you tell me the company can’t afford it, even as they’re buying brand-new Cadillacs for the senior executives (I forgot to mention that, BTW).”

She said “I wish you would have told me you were looking.  Maybe I could have gotten you more money.”

“I was clear to you that I wanted more money.  You told me you couldn’t do anything.  I told you if you couldn’t do anything, then I was going to have to do something myself.”

“I didn’t know that was what you meant.”

“Come on,” I said.

With that, her office door opened.

It just opened, and the VP of Marketing was standing there.  Immediately, he began to talk to her.  It was like the door wasn’t even closed, like she wasn’t even in the middle of a discussion with me.  It was as if I wasn’t important enough to even warrant an “excuse me,” or a knock on the door.  He looked in her window, saw that it was just me sitting there, and saw fit to interrupt our discussion as if it weren’t even happening.

When he finished talking to her, she just said “Al has something you might want to hear.”

“Oh?” he asked.

“Go ahead, Al,” she said.

I looked at him and said “I’ve accepted a job with another company in our industry.  It’s not a direct competitor, but I’m going to be heading up a product line, doing a lot of the same things I’m doing here, and eventually I will be a competitor.”

He stared at my boss for a few seconds, and then he blurted out the single most gratifying sentence I’d ever heard in my life up to that point:

Now what are we going to do?!”

More conversation ensued, but his question echoed in my ear for the whole thing.  I have no clue what was said after that.

Word spread quickly throughout the company.  Human Resources called me, and once again I got gypped out of being allowed to take my two weeks’ notice off, collecting severance for working at home.  Even though I was going to work for a competitor, they trusted me enough to let me serve out my two weeks.

The VP of my division cornered me a few days later.

“I hear you’re leaving us?”  He asked it like I was some distant employee.  Some insignificant guy who he bumped into now and again, as opposed to the guy who worked with him day in and day out for two years, cooped up in a tiny office together, building a product line from scratch.

“Yep,” I said.

“I just want you to know that you’re going to work for the biggest asshole in the business,” he said.  “If that doesn’t bother you, then this should definitely be a good move for you.  It’s the only way you’re going to get the money and the responsibility that you want.  But I hope he’s paying you well.”

“I already worked for the biggest asshole in the business,” I said with a smile.  “Anything else will be a walk in the park.”

On my last day, they had a party.  After work, about 30 people went out to a local bar, and I got completely shitfaced.  After years of refusing to socialize with people from work (a policy that I established after leaving the last company and did not break, with the exception of trade shows with people above me on the corporate ladder), I broke the policy for one night and drank entirely too much.  After we were done, we went to the famous Tick Tock Diner.  A few others from the office came with me.  We ate slowly, enjoying the food and sobering up a bit.

And that’s how I ended my last day of work there: eating a pizza burger at the Tick Tock Diner.  I know I had a pizza burger because I’ve been going to New Jersey diners for thirty years, and a pizza burger is the only thing I ever order.  I am a creature of habit.

And that’s why I should have known that I was about to start an even shittier job than the one I left.

~ by Al on October 10, 2009.

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