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Archive for April, 2011

Well, it happened again. I drove down to a company for a late lunch with one of the execs. Showed up at 12:30 pm but he wasn’t in his office. Walked by the big conference room and found him in a meeting. I waved at him through the glass and he waved back and nodded so I went and sat down in the lobby (right next door) to wait for him to wrap up. 25 minutes later I was still sitting there, waiting. I could hear that the conversation was still going on next door.  He never came out to let me know that he was running late. I finally just walked out, went to my car and ran some errands. I got an email from him at 1:15 saying that his meeting was through and that he was looking for me. I had already left him an email saying that I had left.

Yes, all so strange. That inability to get off target. We even made eye contact. Just get the heck up and say “Hey, I am running late.” I guess I could have barged in and asked for an update but the meeting seemed pretty heated and so I stayed where I was.

It’s the I AM SO IMPORTANT play.

I don’t wait much anymore. Time is too valuable to just sit there. If I have to sit, I would rather sit at home.

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Postscript: Received apology email from exec next day. He just lost track of time. My guess is that the next lunch, he will be ready to go.

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Okay. You have put in your 10-15 years as a Human Resources apprentice. In reality you know just about all you are going to need to know about policies and procedures, best practices (eckkkkhhh), compensation and benefits. And this includes you recruiters. If you don’t know all you need to know after ten years, then you’ll never learn it. If you are still haunting job boards and posting jobs to find candidates then you are probably a lost cause.

So far you have been working at job-jobs. These are jobs that you take to put food on the table, pay the rent (or mortgage) and buy a new car. The usual stuff.

Somewhere along the line it occurs to what you might do if money were no barrier. In other words, what type of work would you choose to do if you had your cost of living covered? Sort of like retirement. But earlier.

You need to abandon working at job-jobs and man up (or woman up).

Step 1.

Evaluate your present job. Ask yourself the following questions.

Do you have a high enough level position so that you are well compensated as far as salary and bonus are concerned. I have found that compensation below a VP level drops off sharply. Director is okay (we all can’t be VP’s) but you may have to do 3-4 “good” director jobs to make what you do in one VP job.

Are you banking (saving) money. This includes personal savings and 401K.

Have you received stock shares in a significant amount. Significant for the purpose of this exercise equals at least a million dollars. The million is calculated on the difference between potential sale price and your strike price. For example if you were granted 100,000 shares and your strike price was $2 and the potential or real price is $12 then you have a million dollar play.

12 – 2 = 10 x 100,000 = 1 million dollars. You can do the math. if you were granted 30,000 shares then you had better hope the stock goes to $33.33 to make your million.

Yeah you are going to have pay taxes on the proceeds but that is another story.

Is the company viable? Usually to get a significant amount of stock the company will have to be private on the way to an IPO or sale. Once a company matures, employees below the executive level just don’t get that much stock.  That qualifies it as a job-job. In any case take a hard look at the company business model and prospects to evaluate the chances of success which is usually one of two exit strategies. Either go public (IPO) or the company gets sold.

In other words, know the exit strategy. Evaluate the reality of that strategy.

In the 1990’s it seemed every company was going public. Now after the bust of 2001-02 and the hard landing of 2008, less and less companies are going public and more and being sold. Instead of stock getting an “X” factor of 2-4 times the number of shares you were granted, it often goes the other way. You get 100,000 shares and before you go public you end up with 10,000 after a reverse split. Someone once told me that if you can’t figure anything else out then know this. The number of shares is the second most important factor is gaining wealth. The price of your shares is number one. But barely.

2. If you don’t have enough equity then go someplace else.

One friend complains about his job all the time. He is under-appreciated. He is low balled on stock. They haven’t made him a VP yet even though other people in the company have told him that he should be the VP. Well, everyone but the CEO who in reality is all that matter. I think he is still a manager. Then they promote him but he is still a manager. Then they give him more responsibility but he is still a manager.

I would have been gone a long time ago. But then it takes very little for me to leave.

Reminds me of the infamous grade 12 (highest level of manager) in Finance at Sun Microsystems.  Managers would reach that level and often stay there for years with the director title being dangled just out of reach. But it was the carrot that kept alive the hope that one day the manager would indeed become the director.

The powers that be would move people around always with the promise that this next assignment would be the gateway to the next level. But for most, it just never happened. What surprised me the most was not that they didn’t make it but that they didn’t get it.  They didn’t get how they were being manipulated. Now, that being said, grade 12 at Sun back then wasn’t a bad place to be. You got to work in one of the finest finance departments in the valley. But the smart ones left and became a director someplace else. The really smart ones knew how to game the system and get promoted but they were only marginally smarter than the ones who left.

My friend, the forever manager, is typical. Hard, hard worker. But no balls. Won’t take a chance. The best animal in the zoo.

Yes, a zoo animal.

He is way smarter than I am. But I had balls.

B-A-L-L-S!

But I was a director 4 times and knocked back 3 times. 3 different companies. Each time the message was the same. Oh, we like you but you are just not director material. Maybe they were right. Maybe they were wrong. I just moved on.

Then I became a VP. No one knocked me back.

Then I made a paltry million.

Job titles are currency. They come and go. They are only yours for the time you are in a company. You can’t really pass it on to the next person. You may think you have bequeathed it but the truth is that the next in line will do it different. They will morph your presence and style into something different. It’s their turn. One of the reasons I never look back. Certainly not to see who is doing my job. I may look back now and then for the lessons learned but never at my successors. It’s their turn.

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James Gosling, the architect of Java has gone to Zoogle (aka Google).

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He turned down The Larry’s low ball offer from Oracle (oracle of what, one may ask?).

I am not sure Google is any better. But it may be a statement about James’ situation. He has been floating free since leaving Sun.

See there I said it. James never really left Oracle. He never entered Oracle. He left Sun. The Sun that we both really like warts and all. But that Sun was sinking fast, being swallowed whole by the jaws of Oracle. McNealy really wanted Sun to go to IBM but when the shareholders nixed that deal, he then influenced the Oracle deal.

That’ll show them. He began with the dagger and ended with the dagger. First Vinod and then the whole employee population or at least those that were left. Okay, Vinod is an old story. 1980’s stuff.

Anyway, here is James looking for his next home. After all he had been at Sun for a long time. That is a big void to fill. Besides Oracle and Google are locked in a lawsuit over the use of Java and the acquisition of James (the father of Java) is a nice emotional symbol or the righteousness of Google’s cause. Whether he went after them or vice versa makes no difference. Gosling going to Google is a moral victory for the Zoo and all of its cafeterias. The founders know this in spades.

Years ago when Java was peaking Microsoft made a run at Gosling. Java really screwed up Bill’s plan for world domination of the desk top. So why not steal James and win a moral victory.  Yeah, Sun would have had Java but Microsoft would have made a nice chess move.

CHECK!

Not checkmate but nice enough anyway.

But Sun got wind of the deal and countered and so James stayed.

This time around James was free so Google made the same move. I mean why not?

Google saying to Oracle, CHECK and mate.

James just being a piece on the board. A damn fine piece but I doubt Google will know what to do with him. They already have their cadre of identifiable heroes. Sun had no trouble letting James be the father of Java.  But Google is all about the two founders and their jungen pitbulls

James doesn’t fit the mold plus he is way more creative and independent than fits their profile. In the zoo, the animals are caged or kept in habitats. That ain’t James.

Time will tell.

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Bridge jobs are jobs you work at in between real jobs. Sometimes you know that a job is going to be a bridge job and sometimes you don’t.

My very first Silicon Valley bridge job was at a place called AMI. It was the summer of 1983.

I had just been laid off from Atari and was out hunting. AMI which was a semiconductor company, had an opening for a recruiter. I met the team and they made me an offer. I accepted. It was only after I started that I discovered a horrendous bit of information. A good chuck of AMI’s business was dependent on Atari. Since Atari was going down for the count (think Titanic) I realized that AMI would be going down too (think Lusitania). Even though I had not coined the term yet, AMI became a bridge job. A job between Atari and my next real job.

I started to look for another job almost right away. I began my search after only two weeks of my start date and three weeks later got another job offer. I gave two weeks notice and left. No one at AMI understood my quick departure. I told them that eventually they would understand it and that it wouldn’t be good news when they did.

A year later the plant had been shut down. Except for an operation in Pocatello Idaho, the company cased to exist.

But it served a purpose in my career. It paid the bills for seven weeks when I badly needed a job.

Think Bridge.

My next bridge job was in 1986. I had left a company that had just been acquired. I knew without a doubt that the corporate headquarters in the Bay Area was going to be shut down. Except for a few “lucky” folks who were willing to move to Texas, everyone else would lose their jobs. I moved quickly wanting to beat the layoff notice. I may have moved to quickly (I am really good at finding jobs). I interviewed at a company that offered me a job as their Compensation Manager working in HR. Within three weeks I realized that the job was a dog. After 5 years of profitability they were beginning to spin out of control. I could read the writing on the wall.

LEAVE, it said.

There were some layoffs coming up and I volunteered to join the folks being shot from cannons (to spray our guts all over the Valley once again). I also offered to handle several rounds of layoffs for extra severance. My boss agreed.

That job lasted 8 weeks. Another bridge job. And the stakes were much higher than in 1983. In my first bridge experience my wife was working and if need be, we could survive on her pay. In 1986, we were living in a more expensive place (bigger mortgage) and had a young child in the house. So our nut was much bigger. My wife was working but we now needed two incomes to pay the fright.

There are truly no rules in job hunting. I didn’t want to stay and so I left. Less than a month later I was working at another company. A place where I spent the next several years.

The 1980’s, a period of many jobs for me, most happily forgotten, taught me that if a job didn’t work out it automatically became a bridge job. Sometimes a job looked good coming in and was okay for a time but then things would change and the job would go sour. It could be a change of bosses or a merger with another company. Sometimes I found that I had just misjudged the company.

At Cellular One for instance, we got bought out by a company I had just left so I had to go leave it all over again. At Electronic Arts (the place I eventually escaped to) the founding CEO got the bright idea of having HR report to finance. Of course he waited until I was firmly in place before making that decision. I stuck with it for a time but then eventually had to leave again.

Because I am a hunter by nature (I actually like job change) I became better at finding jobs than in keeping them.

Trapped for me means that for financial reasons I have to stay in a job for a time. I really hates that. of course eventually I did a startup to make enough so that I had F##K-U money in the bank. Right now, as of this writing, I only do work that I am interested in. So I ain’t doing much.

At the end, all jobs became bridge jobs. I found that no job was “the” job. I really only had the skills I had developed and utilized.

Consulting and contracting gave me the natural league in which to play “forever bridge job”.  Not only was no job “the” job but both the client and I expected me to leave.  Trust me, if they didn’t ask, I did.

When I leave a job I walk out the door just as if I am coming back the next morning but of course I am not. About half way across the parking lot I begin to jog towards my car. I might even resemble a fighter pilot scrambling for his plane as the enemy approaches. It’s that little jog that brings so much joy.

As one CEO said to me when I turned down his offer of being VP of HR. A job that I had been doing as a contractor for some months.

“You’re free, aren’t you? You are really free.”

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How to make a million dollars if you have the guts.

Las Vegas - ONE MILLION DOLLARS CASH

One Million Dollars

Three easy steps.

1. Go to companies that are not public yet but are looking for a liquidity event. That can mean going IPO or being sold.

This is tough for most people because they may not live in an area where there are a plethora of pre-public companies.  If you live in Small Town USA, there may be several chain stores on main street but otherwise most businesses are privately owned and will be either be passed on to someone in the family or be sold to another entrepreneur. You can work for these type of companies for you whole life and just make wages. If you are lucky and understand the business, you might get a chance to buy the company.

I have a saying. If you’re a plain’s Indian you need to go where the buffalo roam. If you want to work in pre IPO companies you need to head for the technology centers on the West Coast, East Coast or down into Texas (Austin I think). But you need to go where there are many of these companies and more coming. I live in the SF Bay Area. Will I ever move? Not as long as the buffalo are here. I have worked for 18 companies in my career not including all the companies I contracted for. I have done 4 pre IPO companies. Made money at two of them. There are going to be some of these places that don’t make it. You have to be able to shrug and move on. Your  goal is to make money on stock and enjoying work is a strong second (but it is second).

2. Make sure you get stock and plenty of it.

You live on your base and bonus but you make a million on equity (stock!!!!!). It is usually high level exec’s that make bonuses that might get a worker past a million and more. But for us worker bee’s stock is the answer. The CEO of Cisco’s administrative assistant made more than a million when the company went public. You don’t need to be an exec. Most people focus on title, salary and bonus when looking for a new job. I was the same for much of my career. Then I began to realize that a whole lot of the extra cash I had in the bank was due to selling company stock options. Finally I began to look for an opportunity where I could get a decent stock package that gave promise for a big hit. Once I decided to go in that direction, my whole perspective changed. At the time I was a director at a big public company that I liked and in a job I loved.

But when the opportunity came, I moved without a second thought. I was recruited heavily by a startup for a director level job. I knew I needed to be a VP to get the stock I yearned for and so I focused on title and stock. They kept coming back to me offering me more base salary and sign on bonus. Finally I told them unequivocally that the job had to be a VP and I wanted a certain amount of stock.

I WAS PREPARED TO WALK AWAY! To get what I wanted, I had to be able to do this. I was nice about it but without a certain level of equity, the job wasn’t worth moving for.

Finally they came around and lowballed me on base (I didn’t care) but gave me the title and equity package. three years later I cashed in the stock 6 months after we went public. I had what my father used to call GO TO HELL money. I never actually said go to hell, but you get the idea.  I no longer had to work anyplace or for anyone I didn’t want to work for. It was liberating.

3. Be willing to move on.

Sometimes a job is just a bridge job. You make or don’t make your $$$ killing and you move on to the next opportunity. Your goal to put enough money (whatever that amount is) in the bank so you are free to work or not work. A friend of mine recently said, “All jobs are bridge jobs.” I am totally in agreement. I don’t look for lifetime employment. I am not interested in being a zoo animal waiting for my daily feeding. I like hunting for myself. I know that this is not for everyone. And trying to make a whole bunch of money isn’t for everyone.  They would rather try to win the lotto. Of course the odds are better that you are going to get struck by lightning than win the lotto. Actually the odds are only marginally better playing than if you don’t play at all. That should tell you something.

I am not against lotto by the way. By all means play it. I choose to play job lotto. Once I set a financial goal which was a very humble million dollars, I set out after it the only way I knew how. Changing jobs  often enough to make some extra cash on stock.

My first pre IPO came up a bit short but I still made around $100K. My second public company which was hotter than a pistol when I came on board, came up empty for me. They did a silly acquisition that dragged them to the bottom of the Pacific. Mariana Trench I think. The third was another public company which had been becalmed and then took off and got hot. I made around $250K on that one. Then I moved to a pre-IPO and went well over a million and change. Of course I had to pay taxes but one day I looked at my bank account and realized I was a poor man’s version of a millionaire (BUT, I WAS A MILLIONAIRE). It had taken 4 company moves in nine years and it had taken almost 12 years to make my million. It might have happened faster but I really liked company number three and hung around longer than normal.

It took me a long time to realize how this worked. I was slow on the pickup. I wanted freedom and got a version of it early on in my life by needing very little money. My formula was simple.

Live cheap

Work

Take time off

Live cheap

Work

Take time off

The problem was that I always had to come back to that one nasty word.

WORK

Not that work is bad but I pretty much was a magnet for bad jobs and bad bosses. I just wanted freedom from those two things.

Once I was married and we had a kid, a mortgage and car payments I was trapped into thinking of other ways out. So when I was unhappy I would just change jobs for another job. What I call job-jobs. You work to pay the bills. They have you by the short hairs. Then I wanted freedom from that. But I couldn’t take time off moving wasn’t getting me anywhere. It was a crap shoot with companies and bosses but finally I decided I needed to make this strategy of moving work for me financially. That when I became THE MERCENARY!

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This meant I was a professional. Not like other people who think professional means that they get all sorts of accreditation’s and recognition from peers (read..other zoo animals). Yeah, I worked at doing my job better. I wasn’t there to short change those who  elected to retain my services. And yes, I liked to mix it up a bit. But the truth was that I was in the game for a big strike. Not Trump big. I am not a comb-over type of guy anyway and admittedly I don’t play at that level.  But I liked moving, fighting the battle and moving on. That’s what a mercenary does. That became my strategy. If there wasn’t the promise of some real coin at the end of the expedition then I moved on. I won some and lost some. I accepted this as part of the game.

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The Jackal Hunts

The Jackal is out looking for prey uh err…new jobs. Or maybe I should say, the Jackal is hunting on the Serengeti plains of Silicon Valley.

One of the first places he goes is old carrion for me. I worked there for three months back in 2008. It had the promise of being a strategic HR job but the reality was that it was a pure administrative and tactical position. In fact tactical was the high-end of this loser. But 2 plus years have passed and the person who was my successor ended up being fired  either by a mutiny of her crew or a mandate from the admiralty.

Who knows for sure. When I left……. I left. No looking back.

Now the job is finally that HR VP level that I recommended in between doing data input to what passed as an HR database but had no connection to payroll (so double entry).

Hoo Haw!

So the jackal is in there nosing around dead carcass. The job which reported to finance when I was insitu now reports to another exec. So maybe no more Ms Payroll yelling at HR when they (me) made a data input mistake.

But in my opinion, dated though it is, is that this carcass is rotten. Eat of it and you’ll quickly be sick. I mean when you go in for the very first interview shouldn’t you meet with your potential boss??????

Nope. You get to bottom feed with the troops most of whom have no idea what the job entails.

But any job hunt is a roll of the dice. Now and then you just have to follow the track of the prey and if it ends up being rancid, then just move on. Bad meat is bad meat. Of course Jackals are scavengers so one beasts rancid meat is another beasts fine dining experience.

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There is nothing the Jackal won't eat

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