I was at a Christmas party last weekend when another guest asked me why I had retired nearly two years ago. I replied that I had “become retired” when my job went away in yet another of the new-management-team reorganizations so typical of the high-tech industry.
When the exit process was done, I looked around and decided that I just did not have it in me to find yet another job, prove myself once again to a new management team, demonstrate for the umpteenth time that I was willing to do whatever it took to make the company succeed, work long hours, get back onto airplanes, prepare for meetings, and do my job as well as half my boss’s job (while he got the big salary).
The Job Drought
In 2012 there were darn few jobs out there for anyone in tech marketing and even fewer for anyone over the age of 50. (Unemployment Over 50: Give Yourself a Time Out) I knew that a job search would take months of grinding full-time work trying to locate a bone of opportunity in a bare cupboard. Then, if I succeeded in finding something, to have a new CEO, a new VP of Marketing, a new board of directors, or the equity partners, decide that what they really needed was:
- To bring in a new head of marketing (usually someone’s frat brother or former staff member) “who did it for me before.”
Downside: Several people need to be offloaded to free up the compensation required by this one replacement. Also, it takes months to bring a new person up to speed on the company, the products, the market opportunities and the competition.
- To move marketing wholesale to a new part of the country to accommodate a new executive or a new paradigm.
Downside: This separates marketing from headquarters and costs the company a lot of money in unemployment compensation for the outgoing folks, new salaries for the incoming folks, and travel to and from headquarters—not to mention reduced productivity as projects shuttle back and forth instead of decisions being made in real time.
- To outsource marketing to an agency or group of agencies.
Downside: This will require weeks and months of educating total strangers, who share their time among many clients. The agency then doesn’t receive the kind of direct management that it needs to be successful because no one is left in the company to provide that oversight. It will also cost the company a lot of money in T&E and hourly rates for the agency team that is traveling and doing the work a salaried person used to dedicate full time to doing.
- To eliminate marketing altogether so as (A) to save money, or (B) because they just don’t trust Marketing, or (C) to free up headcount requisitions for the VP of Sales to put more bag-carrying reps on the street.
Downside: the company’s brand awareness will tank, the flow of qualified leads for the sales reps will dry up and the press and industry analysts will forget who the company is and what the products do.
So all that work and dedication ends up with you as the marketing or communications head in a conference room facing your boss and an HR rep with a stack of manila folders on the table and your name on one of them. With that dismal prospect ahead, I decided, “Stick a fork in me, I’m done.”
It wasn’t exactly a retirement party with a pat on the back and a gold watch but those are virtually unknown in high tech. Despite that, I actually did look around for the next year and applied for multiple jobs but, as I expected, very little was available. When jobs came up, companies mostly either hired young, cheap labor or waffled for a while before delaying hiring until the economy became more stable.
And speaking of stables, let me point out that tech companies are not above taking these actions around the Christmas holidays. Not a shred of sentiment is allowed in the door. Sonus Networks had its first marketing layoff (one of several) on January 3, the day we returned from a New Year’s Day off. Guardium let me go on December 7 — Pearl Harbor Day. Wang laid me and thousands of others off on December 8.
“Merry Christmas—here’s your pink slip. Have a great holiday worrying about how you’re going to pay for presents for your kids or whether you can afford a tree. Forget the roast beast–it’s $10.00 a pound. Now don’t forget to smile as you sing those carols.”
Ah, the tender mercies of what Pope Francis calls “unfettered capitalism.”
Good Tidings for Business
Still, there is good news and a glimmer of light in this holiday season. Here are three reasons to be optimistic about 2014:
- Job Stats: The November job stats that just came in are better and in November the unemployment rate dropped a big 0.3 of a percentage point to 7%. That’s good news and The Wall Street Journal points out that,”the large number suggests that broader hiring was going on.”
I’m hoping that means attacks on Marketing have dwindled since I got retired. Recently I have seen “Help Wanted signs posted around. Granted, they’re at Dunkin Donuts, the supermarket, and local restaurants but that’s usually an early indicator that things are picking up.
- Cautious Optimism: Business people are cautiously optimistic and that’s also a good sign. Businessmen pride themselves on making logical decisions based on quantitative analysis. Yet a large—but unacknowledged—amount of emotion goes into those decisions. Corporate executives have to feel confident and comfortable before they will loosen their bulging bank accounts and start investing in growth again.
Confidence is a feeling, not a number. In his great novel Dune, Frank Herbert says, “Fear is the mind killer.” It’s also the killer of business growth.
- Federal Budget: This week the U.S. Congress arrived at a modest but significant budget agreement after years of dysfunction, acrimony, gridlock, invective and foot dragging. Whatever you think of the deal, the fact that it exists at all should reassure corporate management that the government is unlikely to fall down the rabbit hole again in 2013.
So, despite my answer to the party guest’s question, I feel better about business in this holiday season that I have for many years. We don’t need gold, frankincense and myrrh; we just need a shot of confidence and a break in the uncertainty that causes fear and paralysis. I may have been retired before I was ready, and it may not have been a great holiday gift, but I think things are about to get better for those who are still in the job market.
God bless us, everyone!