Never Give Up

Life Lessons

I spent my entire adult life educating myself and progressing my career.  I wanted to be the best and to be seen as the best.  I spent 10 years at my first employer.  The company manufactured aircraft, turboprops to be exact.  It was exciting.  I was working as an Industrial Engineer.  Within the first year, the company signaled a downturn.  Business was slowing down, and the workforce needed to be reduced.  We had over 7000 employees.  In the first round 500 employees were laid off.  I saw a few let go from my office area.  One of the other staff said its just dead wood.  They didn’t do much, just took up space.  A saw one of the individuals get called into the manager’s office.  A few minutes later, they come out.  You can see the look in their face.  They just lost their job.  It was chilling seeing it happen.  I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself into. 

Over the next 2 ½ years this scenario repeated many more times.  In the end, over 5000 people were gone.  All that remained was about 2000.  I was one of them.  I survived.  During this downsizing, the company was also changing hands.  A new owner was coming in and with them, they introduced new business.  A new aircraft was being launched that was previously on hold.  We began manufacturing the wings for a new business jet and took on the assembly and painting of another jet.  The place was slowly recovering, and new workers were being added.  As for my career, under the new owner, their business structure did not include Industrial Engineers.  I was offered a position as a Methods Analyst.   An alternate position, Methods Engineer would have been preferred but I was told I was not qualified.  I was disappointed and hurt and vowed to do whatever it took to become a Methods Engineer.  My Methods Analyst days were actually shorted lived.  In a short period of time, I achieved my goal.  The company posted for a new Methods Engineering role and I applied.  They interviewed a dozen others, but I got the job.  It was a great feeling to win, and I had more plans.  I decided to go back to school and complete an MBA.  The company had lots of engineers.  I needed to stand out and be above all the rest.  It took me 4 years part-time to complete the degree.  It was a huge undertaking which I did not realize until after I started.  By then, I wasn’t going to quit.  I needed to see it through and get it done.  While completing the MBA, I also took on another role.  I moved over to Supply Chain as a Supervisor.  I had several direct reports, a team that I would now learn to manage and lead.  It was very challenging at times, dealing with many individual personalities.  I quickly learned that it wasn’t about me getting the job done.  I needed to rely on and support my team to get the job done.  Its all about communicating and working together.  The way you treat others says a lot about a person and a leader.  Equally, the way a company treats its employees also says a lot about its culture. 

My previous supervisor when I was in Methods was let go.  The company wasn’t satisfied with his performance. I was able to gather this information from a few sources.  Shortly thereafter, my Director was also let go.  I was surprised.  He recently returned from special assignment in another part of the company.  Looking back, maybe that contributed to the decision.  Who knows.  People are let go all the time, its just how business runs.  Right? 

Within a couple of years of completing my MBA, I left the company.  I was still a Supervisor Supply Chain and there wasn’t anything on the horizon that would change that.  The company paid for the MBA but didn’t present any opportunities for me to use it or to advance. 

I started a new role as Program Manager at a company that manufactured components for aircraft engines.  I was responsible for their biggest customer and overseeing millions of dollars of investment.  I travelled often to many different places.  It was an exciting time, and the company was a great place to work.  There was stability and growth.  Over the next 10 years, I took on more responsibilities and had people reporting to me.  I continued with my style of building a strong team and supporting them.  My roles progressively increased eventually to Director of Contracts.  I was now in charge of the team that managed all our customers and new business opportunities.

It was at this time that another opportunity presented itself.  The role of Director Supply Chain became vacant, and I was asked if I was interested.  I said yes without hesitation.  I would report directly to the General Manager of the facility.  I’ll call him Tim.  Tim knew I had experience from my earlier role at my previous employer.  I became part of what later was known as the senior leadership team headed by Tim.  I was handed a new department and a new team.  As I took on my new responsibilities, I decided to increase my knowledge of Supply Chain and enrolled in a program that would earn me a certification.  Tim was very supportive.  In total I completed four certifications in the span of five years.  I appreciated Tim’s support in growing my career and by education.  Despite my drive, I sensed that Tim did not see me as a future leader.  Instead, Tim often displayed favoritism towards another, a colleague.  Tim was preparing him to be a future successor.  Tim often scolded him for being late to meetings, poor decision making.  Yet, despite this, Tim continued to advance him ahead of the rest of the senior team.  Some days were very hard to come to work and see the scenario unfold where Tim would deliberately start conversations with his protégé and ignore me entirely.  He even gave him books to read to learn new skills.  The fact I had an engineering degree same as his protégé plus in addition a business degree and four certifications, it didn’t matter as I still didn’t measure up or make any sort of impression.  That was hard to accept.  I wondered what I was doing wrong or lacking.  On multiple occasions I spoke with Tim letting him know my desire to grow within the company and take on new challenges.  It did not resonate with him.  All I could do is let Tim know but nothing changed.  One day, Tim announced he was retiring.  He basically had enough of the day-to-day grind of the position and having to deal with the corporate office which happen to be next door.  If I could sum up the corporate office and the executives within; very unprofessional, unsupportive, only interested in the numbers and no leadership skills whatsoever.  I understood why Tim was leaving.  In the end, I was appreciative of Tim for the role I had and his support, but it overshadowed what he failed to do.  Maybe I’m being ungrateful, but I had dreams of moving beyond a director role.  I wanted to one day run a division.  In this respect, I was relieved to see him leave because he did not support my goal.  On the 2nd last day before his retirement, he came into my office to talk to me.  I was very surprised.  In the five years prior that we worked together, I can count on one hand how many times he came into my office to speak with me.  I was always engaging him.  Its as if he sensed that he needed to explain himself, needed to explain the decisions he made in choosing his successor.  I listened but it was too little too late to explain anything.  In my view Tim could have and should have selected both of us as his successor and given the corporate office two candidates for the role of General Manager.  As it stands, his protégé didn’t get the job.  He was not ready according to the corporate office.  So, whatever Tim tried to do, it failed and blew up in his face.

The company filled the role with an external candidate.  The protégé was not happy.  Tim left things in good shape, so the new General Manager didn’t walk into a disaster that needed immediate fixing.  Instead, it gave him time to get to know the business and the team.  He quickly realized the hindrance of the corporate office and the inadequacies of the executives.  Their constant negativity and endless approvals for every decision and before any action can be taken.  It didn’t take long and within a year he handed in his resignation and left.   

Afterwards, we’re sitting in a staff meeting and the protégé gets a call on his cellphone and leaves the room.  He comes back about a minute later and announces that he was offered the General Manager role and has accepted.  The executive that offered him the role is the same person who told him a year earlier he wasn’t good enough.  However, it happened, the protégé got his wish.  He’s now in charge.  I got along well with him and was genuinely happy for him.  In the months that followed, he in turn, valued me more than Tim ever did.  He began to rely on me more and more and it became very obvious to the rest of the senior team.  Whenever he was absent or on vacation, he left me as his designate in charge with full signing and decision-making authority.  It allowed me to interact more with the corporate office and show everyone my qualifications to do the job.  The protégé was also being recognized and was re-assigned to another division to assist improving their performance as they were struggling to deliver product.  The re-assignment lasted 3 months.  During this time, I was requested to lead our division as interim division manager.  This was a huge step forward and one I was ready to take. 

As I demonstrated my leadership skills, about a year later, another similar opportunity arose.  A sister division nearby was struggling to meet their delivery commitments.  The General Manager had resigned months earlier, and a replacement was a few weeks from arriving.  Again, I was asked to step in as interim General Manager.  I felt my status and exposure was greatly improving and I was positioned for a new role.  I also had several very good conversations with the corporate office particularly the executive to whom all the General Managers reported.  He supported my goal of advancement.    

In the meantime, problems arose with our largest customer.  They were dissatisfied with our performance.  The General Manager (the protégé) took it upon himself to handle and resolve the matter.  He began to rely less on the senior team and more on his own skills.  Unfortunately, his attempts to improve only resulted in further deterioration of the relationship.  The corporate office began taking notice of the situation.  Eventually, it reached a tipping point.  The corporate office brought in others from retirement as consultants.  They had extensive experience dealing with this customer in the past.  I’m sure the General Manager viewed this as a lack of confidence in his abilities.  Equally, the situation with the customer was not getting any better.  He spent almost a year making it worse.  I’m sure he felt he was in a no-win situation.  He handed in his resignation and decided to retire.  Not many were surprised.  The corporate office was facing a dilemma.  The division was well below financial targets, largest customer was very dissatisfied, low moral of the workforce and the General Manager role had gone through multiple changes in the last few years.  Stability and confidence needed to be restored.  With that in mind, the corporate office set out to find a new General Manager.  I believed I was a strong candidate and therefore, I applied.  A dozen others across the entire corporation from different divisions also applied.  The hiring process took almost 7 months.  I had 2 great interviews, the second being with the executive to whom the position would report and with whom I already had several conversations about advancement within the company.  The interview with him went very well.  I prepared a lot.  I emphasized full understanding of the problems and plans of action to correct each.  I gave him something that none of the other candidates could since I had firsthand knowledge.  I felt I had a great chance of getting the position.  Sometime later, the executive came to my office to see me.  He told me a decision had been made.  He said it was a very tough decision and he would be going with someone else.  I appreciated that he let me know beforehand, but someone else had already spilled the news.  Now it was confirmed. It still hurt.  I was extremely upset, disappointed at myself.  Wondering if I could have done more.  I heard from another that they were looking for fresh eyes on the situation.  If that was a requirement, then they did not have confidence anyone internally would see all the opportunities to improve.  I needed to accept that and move on.        

We met the new General Manager a short time later.  Let’s call him Zane.  He relocated from another division and the company covered all his relocation expenses.  It was a huge amount.  Finance was looking at the expense and questioning the decisions to pay for all those costs.  At a time when the division was belt tightening and cutting costs, spending huge sums on relocation was not well received internally.  The corporate office makes the decision to re-imburse the cost, but it’s the division that needs to actually pay out the money.  I quickly saw that he was not there to build relationships.  He was looking to cut heads.  We had a couple personnel quit and Zane did not want to hire replacements.  He wanted their tasks to be distributed amongst the rest.  He started questioning the value certain individuals provided.  During one of our many weekly meetings, a Quality Manager misspoke on a course of action and it infuriated Zane.  Zane told the senior team he wanted this Quality Manager gone and a short time later he was let go.  Even though he had over 25 years service, there were no second chances with Zane.  And as usual, no replacement was hired.  Zane was pushing hard on the group for improvements.  A short time later, the head of the Quality Department resigned.  He didn’t want to work with Zane any longer and would rather sit at home until he found another job which he eventually did. 

Zane started looking at the organizational structure and wanted to make changes.  He discussed creating a new role for me.  He was re-aligning functions and wanted me as director of the new department.  I told him I was definitely interested but the compensation also needed to be aligned.  Zane expressed his displeasure with me bringing up money, but I needed to put it on the table.  Several months went by and finally his proposed changes were rolling out.  He presented me with an offer for the new position he had created.  It was exactly as discussed previously.  He left the offer with me to consider and sign.  However, the compensation was well short of what I expected.  It was a very minor increase.  Speaking with HR, they mentioned he was not going to give any increase and then decided otherwise.  I was not comfortable accepting the new responsibilities for the amount he was proposing.  I already knew by his style that his expectations would be high.  I wanted to accept the role but not at the salary Zane was offering.  I went back to him and explained my desire for the position and provided a counteroffer to his salary.  He said he needed to think about it and would get back to me.  I felt there may be hope that he would accept or at least increase his initial offer.  I did not have to wait long.  He got back to me a day later and said he could not accept my counteroffer and did not offer anything further.  I replied that if the offer stands as is I would not be accepting.  Nothing further was said.  In the weeks that followed, Zane and I continued to interact well at least as I saw it.  About 6 weeks later, he came to my office and said that he needed to talk to me.  Based on his look and his tone, I sensed something was wrong.  He asked that I accompany him.  As I followed him, I knew I was in trouble for something.  I followed him into a conference room where the HR manager was already sitting.  As I entered the room I recall saying “this can’t be good.”  He sat down and so did I.  He proceeded to tell me that my employment was being terminated and he thanked me for my years of service.  He then got up and left.  I don’t think he even made eye contact and his speech took about 10 seconds.  I was in disbelieve.  I was in shock.  22 years came shattering down.   

I never thought I would be on the receiving end.  The reality starts to set in and what could I have done differently starts to come to mind in the days that followed.  The truth is that there is no such thing as job security and doing a great job doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have your job.  If you get on your bosses’ wrong side, your fate may be sealed and your job on the chopping block.  Its not fair and its ugly but that’s how it is.  Don’t ever think you are untouchable or irreplaceable.  You’re not.  It’s taken me a career to truly realize this.  Also, I was not alone in being terminated that day, there was another member of the senior team as well.  Zane was re-aligning the organization and we were no longer a fit.  He basically sent the message that no one is safe.   Unexpectedly, Zane’s actions had ripple effects and negative after shocks.

In the months that followed, there was a steady stream of people leaving.  The new head of Quality resigned.  A manager and analyst in Finance, scheduler in Supply Chain all resigned.  Head of Operations resigned, and Head of IT put in for early retirement.  Head of HR abruptly resigned with no formal resignation. They left their cellphone, keys and badge on their desk and never returned.  They wanted nothing to do with Zane or the organization.  The senior team as I knew it was pretty much gone.  No one wanted to stay or work with Zane.  There is a saying and please remember this, when you hire or promote the WRONG people, you begin to lose your BEST people.  Even the executive who hired Zane resigned.  You can draw your own conclusions, but it smells of a very toxic environment.  I asked for a reasonable increase in order to accept the new position and was told no.  I was then terminated, and my settlement was 20X more than the increase I requested.  Whoever approved this and I’m sure it was well above Zane, truly cannot manage a business and this is why the organization is struggling.  I left with money in my pocket.  So many others were happy to leave with nothing as long as they were somewhere else.

In case you’re wondering, I am working now.  It didn’t take long to find something new.  After Zane terminated me and left the room, the head of HR told me they had no doubt I would find a better job, more money and be in a better place.  They were 100% right.  Life works that way.  Sometimes you just need a push to see what else is out there.  As for Zane, he fails as a leader.  He does not see the value of the people and they will never give him their loyalty or their best.  As for the organization, it will continue to stumble and lurch forward.  They have a spokesperson on social media who I’ll name Katie.  She’s been with the organization for over 30 years and knows all the secrets and skeletons.  She’s constantly promoting the company as a great place to work and trying to fill the many open positions.  When a company is truly great, its recognized and seen by others and you don’t need to keep saying it.  People eventually see the false narrative.  Shame on you Katie.

As my final note to you for reading this far,

“Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.” – Roy Bennett

Scroll to Top
Verified by MonsterInsights