Happy Chinese New Year

So ends another decade, my 4th on this Earth. each one has had it’s own unique flavor. The 70’s to me were childhood. They lasted for an eternity, in all there Naugahyde glory. The 80’s were my adolescence, the Reagan decade of morning in America, and a continuing depression in Upstate New York. A good decade spent thinking about girls every 7 seconds. Any decade that begins in 6th grade, and ends with College graduation is tough to define. So much change in so little time. The 90’s were young adulthood. Having a job, starting a life on my own. Travel, friends, weddings, and marriage. By the 2000’s I was nested and starting a family. Fatherhood has defined the past decade.

Looking ahead to the 2010’s it’s hard to say what will define them. Some things I know for sure, are that the years will pass even faster, the kids will grow up and be ready to leave home by decade’s end. What exactly I will be doing besides parenting I have no idea. Getting older and fatter most likely. Maybe by then I will have passed beyond cynical and disillusioned about my career, and entered into resignation. Entering into the downside of my working years I will be hanging on until retirement. What will the world look like by then? What will our country look like? Our economy? A long twilight perhaps, or maybe a slow dawn. I doubt total darkness or bright sunshine will be in order. I can feel already that a certain economic stagnation has set in.

In my corporation the worst effects of the economic downturn are behind us. Now we are poised for some positive growth. But as our sales increase, and the workload threatens to overwhelm the survivors, my Dark Corporate Overlords are holding tight to the purse strings and resolving to use this opportunity to re-structure the corporation. They have decided that the elimination of 20% of our jobs in Minnesota is an opportunity to begin what they have decided is inevitable, the transfer of highly skilled engineering and technology development (the heart of our company) to Asia. China in fact. So as managers cry out for more help to keep up with demand, we are being told that no positions can be added in Minneapolis, but that we must put a plan together to start adding positions in China.

The reality of it all is only now beginning to dawn on middle management. I have seen this coming for at least 10 years, so I am not surprised by it. If anything, I wonder what has taken my Nefarious Liege’s this long to try it. For the past ten years they have been steadily moving production to Asia, with much success, if success can be determined by our stock price. So flush with pride over this achievement they have finally taken the next logical step. My advice to any shareholder that would ask me, would be to sell now. We have reached our peak. The CEO has begun drinking his own bathwater, and no one around the Senior Officers is either aware of it, or willing to tell him to stop. So sad, but so typical of baby boomers. They believe their own P.R., and nothing can be more dangerous than that sort of hubris.

So the next few years should be interesting. At first there will be confusion and dissension inside of the ranks. Some managers will stand up and say it cannot be done. They will be shouted down as pessimists and naysayers, and many examples of past triumphs will be used to show how the naysayers were wrong before, and therefore must be wrong now. After that the managers will either comply, or be replaced by others willing to comply with the directive. Then the strategy will be implemented, slowly and haltingly at first. Some business units will be chosen to lead the way, and their efforts will be watched closely. Regardless of the actual outcome, success will be declared, and the rest will be herded along behind them. The true effects of the move will not become apparent for several fiscal years. It takes time for a lack of product innovation to begin to show up in a market. We will keep producing the products we make today, only in derivative forms, well into the next 5 years, and our competitors will begin to gain market share. Management will then decide that the reason is that we are too slow in moving our business to Asia, and that our remaining overhead in the U.S. that is supporting the move and overseeing the training, and development of the China staff is too costly, and must be cut. So the cost cutting and job elimination in the U.S. will increase. This will only worsen the situation, as our experience base erodes more quickly, and our communication and relationships with Western customers begin to suffer. We will lose business even faster at this point, and the point of no return will have been passed. After this, a takeover, or the breakup of the business will most likely ensue. This failure will be blamed on many things, management, the economy, external factors, everything but the move to China. That will have already been decreed as a success, and the few left standing will know better than to dispute the Corporate Gospel.

Is this scenario a pessimistic one? Yes, I admit it. Is it inevitable? No, the future is never cast in stone. Can it be prevented? Of course it can, if true leaders stand up and are willing to lead others against the stream of group think. Will I be one of them? Hard to say at this point. I have always been a survivor, but I have been able to manage it not by drinking the Kool Aid and falling into step with the system. Instead I have survived by being recognized as someone who finds a way to get results by working around the system. I have been Ferris Bueller. Many times folks have praised my results, and been puzzled at my methods. “How does he do it? So strange. He does things differently, and you wouldn’t think it would work, and yet it does.”

I have found a way to float along in middle management, just visible enough to be acknowledged and rewarded for my performance, but just anonymous enough that I have not yet had to really stand up to my Dark Corporate Overlords, and openly oppose them, or their methods. I am more subtle in my resistance to things. I use non-being, and find ways to use the force of the system against itself to achieve my ends. In doing so I have carved out a little safe haven for myself, and those who work for me. A calm place where we can do our work in our own way, and maintain some bit of dignity and sanity. I wonder how much longer I can keep that up. The coming pressure to move the heart and soul of the business to China will be one that I cannot avoid. This will be the biggest challenge yet, to try to rally the organization to resist a decision that has already been made, and will likely doom the corporation for a generation. This battle cannot be fought entirely behind the scenes. I will need to find ways to enlist other, more powerful managers to fight a battle like this. Am I up to the challenge? Ask me again in 2020 and I’ll let you know.

Happy Chinese New Year


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