Friday, March 06, 2009

Crap-orate America

It's a slow Friday here at work right now so my brain is flitting slightly. Earlier, my thoughts found itself six years ago when I was twenty-one and at my first job. My very first job out of college was a customer support trainer for one of those multinational conglomerates that sold document solutions. That's what our brochure said though -- but to put it bluntly, we manufactured, produced and sold photocopiers from Japan. I was a small cog in a huge worldwide operations. Trust me, I totally felt my insignificance the minute I came in for my first interview.

My office was the Boston branch and it very much shared the same dynamics as The Office (though the boss wasn't that annoying). We even had a Dwight! However, as part of my job, I spent very little time in the office. Everyday, I put in at least fifty miles in my car driving from client to client training them on the complex boxes that we sold them for amounts that could've fed a family of ten in a third world country. It was a lonely job but I liked the independence -- and I really learned how to drive, read maps, navigate and guess roads (it was the pre-GPS days back then). was my best friend. I only went in at work during the quiet days where there were no training requests from the sales representatives.

I didn't make a lot of money as a customer support trainer but it was better than nothing. I graduated in 2003 which was post-911. Jobs vacancies were skint and I had rent to pay. Not a very good combination. Some three months into my job, I noticed that the training requests were getting lesser and lesser. I was spending time in the office more and more. Our branch sales director was smoking more and more outside by the side entrance -- and he looked like he had more lines on his face than my college-ruled binder. I knew something was not right. I mean, the economy was struggling back then, but the management never made anything transparent to us. I knew we weren't making a lot of money but I had no idea we were actually negative.

One day, my manager called me into the conference room. The HR guy was in there. I didn't know what was going on -- I thought maybe it had to do with those bullshit Peoplesoft crap that our HR kept making us do. I vaguely remember, but our HR guy was one of those people you really had to force yourself to like. He moved really slowly and called everyone by their full names. He liked to think he was bourgeous just because he's from Connecticut. And he had this thick moustache across his face that made him look like the Monopoly guy.

"Maria," he started as I cringed with what he called me. He cleared his throat.

I waited.

"Due to the company's financial position currently, we would like to sever your services to the company operations beginning today," he said -- no joke, he really used those words. He said that my department was being abolished and that the sales representatives will be conducting the product training then on forward.

"What???" I demanded. I turned to look over to my manager --- who promised me the world when she offered me the job -- and she was extremely focused on her palms.

"What I meant to say is--" Monopoly guy started.

"I know what you mean to say," I said, rather rudely. "But I'd like to know if the four other people in my team will also be sacked. Are they?"

Neither of them said anything.

"Am I being let go because I'm the newest?" I asked. "Why am I not given the same chance as them? I can be a sales representative too! I know the range of products better than any of the sales representatives. Surely, if you guys will help me, I can learn how to sell too!"

Both of them still remained quiet. Monopoly guy looked more bewildered than somber.

"No seriously," I said. "If you think we're a cost center, then give me a chance to generate revenue for the company. Don't you think that it'd be a waste to simply let all the training you gave me go down the drain? Clearly I'd never use it again if I had to leave."

From the corner of my eye, my manager was looking at me and she was nodding in agreement. She almost looked proud of me.

"B-b-but," Monopoly guy stammered. "You're twenty one."

"And?" I countered.

He took a few seconds to collect himself. "I will discuss it with the sales managers and I will get back to you," he said. "For now, please clear your desk and we will give you a call if anyone agrees to grant you an interview." I wanted to deck him.

My manager escorted me back to my desk and asked if I had any outstanding accounts. I handed them over to her and wordleslly left the building. I entered my car and drove aimlessly for a good two hours until I got hungry.

I decided to go to Panera Bread for lunch. Mid-swallow of my panini, my mobile rang.

"Maria!!!!!!" the voice on the other side boomed. "Jim Kelly"

"Ah, James," I mocked. Monopoly guy always called him James. I could hear him cringe over the phone. Jim was one of the sales managers in the company and he looked like Santa Claus (complete with the platinum white hair. He rang me up because he heard from my manager that I was looking to start in sales.

"Why don't you come to the office tomorrow," he said jovially. "And we'll discuss your career, won't we?"

I agreed, happy that it was him who called me. Out of all the sales managers in the office, he was the most human-like. Everyone else either seemed like dried glue or like Margaret Thatcher reincarnations. Jim was the only one whom I had the gall to joke around with during the times I bumped into him in the pantry.

"You know," he said just before hanging up. "I told Marne to let me know if anything was going to happen to you. I had my eyes on you, kid."

The very next day, I signed my papers for my new position. My manager approached me in Jim's room just after signing the dotted line.

"The HR guy had to go to the hospital that afternoon, you know," she said. "He just couldn't take the tension like that. We weren't expecting all of that to come from a twenty-one-year old. Congratulations!" She smiled warmly.

That was my first real brush with the monster called Retrenchment. I hated it. Even though they company took me back, it was never the same again. It was like getting back together with an ex-boyfriend that cheated on you. There was a constant air of suspicious hovering around my head ever since. However, the rest is insignifanct because I have obviously moved on. But at twenty-one, it was perhaps one of my bigger achievements -- being able to turn a lay-off into a mini-promotion. Too bad I can't say it was happily ever after ever since.

I ended up leaving the company six months later for a Fortune 500 company. It was a similar position with a wider range of products (but no photocopiers, thank goodness). I went through four different people during my interview and a fifth one with the Boston sales director. She was this middle-aged woman who looked more suburban than any of the Desperate Housewives. And she had a faux fur coat hanging from the back of her door.

"So I see you've just worked for (insert old company name here)," she commented as she looked at my resume.

"Yes, ma'am," I said.

She looked at me. "The fact that you're speaking to me right now simply means that my sales managers that you spoke to prior to this really liked you."

I didn't think she was looking for a response so I kept my mouth shut.

"I used to work for your old company, you know," she revealed. "It was a heavily male-dominated industry back then. They were all ruthless. Who's the sales director there now?"
I gave her his name.

"That bastard," she said good-naturedly (I think). Then she cleared her throat. "Okay, do you have any other questions?"

"Yep," I said rather boldy. "When do I start?"

She smiled. "How about the second week of November?"

I survived my first economic crisis five years ago (albeit nowhere as big as the one going on right now). I also survived my first retrenchment experience, and I survived my first real job. A lot of my experiences were more bitter than they were sweet, though I don't regret any of them happening. I am now involved in an industry that has absolutely nothing to do with those two companies I first worked with -- but admittedly, the experiences I garnered from there all contributed to who and where I am now. And most importantly, I learned a lot about people and work dynamics. I realized what my priorities were and which direction I wanted to head towards as an individual.

With the current global financial crisis, I can just imagine all the people losing their jobs -- and college graduates having a tough beyond imagination time finding employment. My heart totally goes out to them because somehow, I've been there done that. However, I am confident in saying that they will be able to get through these hardships and tribulations in due time. And that it's still possible to hold on to hope.

I still have my job and for that, I am eternally grateful. But becauseof what I've already gone through in the past, it comforts me to know that it's something that I can conquer somehow.


Blogger Avaran said...

oh forget losing a job.... i quit 6 months ago for an exam leave, and now, no HR in India is even willing to talk to me..... like, "we're retrenching our existing employees, how can we tyhink of taking you"
of course, it isnt helping im trying out smething thats meant more for dreamy times, like trying to be a journalist... anyways, its jus not happening.. and im as down as can get....

and well, good to see u back.... even iv been away from blogger for some time

2:12 AM  
Blogger Crushed said...

It takes guts to hold your corner like that.

These are hard times, I don't know anyone who isn't simply just holding on day to day.

But the human will to survive is truly amazing.

1:18 AM  
Blogger thisisme said...

Wow - congrats on staying strong like that. I'm with you, I still have a job and know I can survive if I have to. Been there, done that.

Fingers crossed we don't end up like that this time around.

7:00 PM  

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