Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sour Grapes

Our society has changed dramatically this century.

The new church is that of the corporation.

While many will deny their worship of the corporation, you can understand it best in their reaction to those who have been excommunicated from the corporate church.

There are still people at Apple who will not talk to me because the company got rid of me. Even more surprising, Apple people continue to be afraid to either send or receive an email from me. From that you might guess that I committed corporate murder.

Most of these corporate worshipers have little understanding of their new religion. With little questioning, they assume the decisions coming from the CEO, the nominal head of the church, are law that supercedes any law of the land. Their salvation is their job, and they will do almost anything to retain that salvation. They will not question the law.

Before I go farther with this metaphor, I need to make clear how I have worked in a corporate world so the differences between religious fanatics, and those who come to the church to fulfill their own needs can be made clear.

First off I believe in the power of teams, and the right of each individual to have a chance to prove themselves in an environment designed to further the goals of the corporation with maximum efficiency. I believe that each member of the team will in their own self interest drive the performance of others in the team if the compensation plans are constructed properly.

I do not believe in mixing friends and business. While some people whom I have hired have become friends, I have never hired anyone because they are a friend.

Individuals in my ideal corporate world need to be empowered to do everything needed to achieve the goals of their corporation while living within the framework of the corporate environment and not violating the outside world's ethical standards.

Those are lofty goals and only work when a manager can become a leader and is willing to take the flack for his team so that they can get their jobs done.

It has been my experience that corporations know what they want done, they just don't know how to go about it, and often they are willing to trust their fate to people who talk a good story, but really don't know what they are doing.

As a salesperson, and a sales manager my job at Apple was to sell computers. Most of my career it was to sell computers to the enterprise for a company that openly claimed to not be interested in the enterprise.

I was very successful in my nearly twenty years at Apple. I captured both manager of the year and account executive of the year in my career. I finished second in the world once. My wall full of sales awards includes numerous national and regional awards. The record shows that I and my teams over achieved quota for all but a few years in the twenty years I was there. Every single performance review that I have is a glowing one. There are no negative ones.

In my last role at Apple, I was director of federal sales. I worked my way into that job through almost unbelievable odds. I was given a defunct part of Apple's business the US federal government, one rep for each coast, one system engineer, and my area associate. It was expected that we would fail. The federal revenue for Apple had been dropping precipitously for seven consecutive years.

The thing is that we didn't fail, in our first year we grew our business over 60% at time when Apple continued to loose market share, and other enterprise teams were falling flat on their face. We got a few more resources the next year, and again grew the business over 60%. We were the darling of Apple, invited to present to other teams on how we created success in the middle of failure with so few resources.

Just as we were hitting our stride, a whole new team of managers were brought into Apple to fix the field sales team. My manager who before the coup had sixty people reporting to him ended up with me and my small team as his only reports.

All of the managers brought in came from Adobe and all were under forty years of age. None of them had experience selling hardware, and few even knew one end of a Mac from another.

The Vice President who took the helm even shared with us that he had been brought in to fire the Apple field sales team and fix the sales process.

After a year of trying hard to be helpful to the new people, my manager left after he got put in a job with no reports. He was one of the most successful enterprise sales people in the history of Apple.

In the space of the two years after my manager's departure, I got to report to four different managers, none of which had ever worked for Apple or even used a Mac.

One of those managers was apparently given the job of driving me out of the company. My team of very successful veteran sales and engineering people who had grown to twenty by this time were treated like new sales reps just in off the street.

They were assigned quotas which even sixty percent growth couldn't achieve. I was not allowed to speak in forecast meetings and was even told at the national sales conference that my team was going to publicly spanked and taken behind the woodshed for a whipping.

In a year when Apple couldn't ship G5 desktops in Q4 we were awarded the Plunger award for not shipping G5s in Q4.

The gory details aren't worth repeating except that I stood up and complained about the unfair treatment of my people who during that year did not receive correct commissions for over nine months.

The manager that took us to the woodshed left in January of that year. I got another manager in March. In June during an operations review, he complained that our growth of over 60% was falling short of our over 70% quota growth. I was asked to prepare a recovery plan.

The morning I was told to present the recovery plan, I was called and told the presentation would be in a hotel instead of our office. When I showed up at the hotel for the presentation, there was an HR person present, and I was placed on leave so an investigation could be conducted into my conduct.

Of course anytime something like this happens, you know you are already toast. Even as someone over fifty being fired while doing a great job, there was little I could do, so I headed off to a new non-corporate world.

Doing it the way Apple did it, cost me most of my retirement options which had been given to me but had not vested, but that is the high tech gamble and at this point water under the bridge.

The real sadness comes from the dismantling of a very successful team. One by one my managers were forced out. All the sales people but one are now gone from federal sales. They have all been replaced by ex-Oracle sales people.

How they are doing, I don't know and really don't care. I haven't seen any huge federal successes for Apple but perhaps they're keeping them secret.

This story isn't an unusual one in corporate America. It demonstrates who you know is more important than how well you do your job. You could write plenty on those who tacitly help get rid of people who are successful only so they can look successful. It is not worth the time.

Corporations are full of those types of people who unfortunately will do whatever is asked to keep their job or make more a little more money. They have to live with themselves so that is probably punishment enough.

The corporate church thrives on cronyism, money, and the willingness to say whatever upper management wants to hear and ignore any other values that might have been learned in life.

While truth is valued outside the corporation, saying the right thing and having the ear of the top dog is the most important thing in a corporation.

I certainly do not regret leaving Apple. I was lucky to have survived with my values intact. My career at Apple confirmed to me that I am the type of person that I knew I was.

One manager once told me that I was too much of a Boy Scout, and he could never count on me to lie when I needed to. I'm actually proud of that.

Having survived Apple, I feel much greater reverence for the "Honor, truth, duty" motto from my military high school and the "Veritas" that adorns my college diploma.

I escaped the corporate church with soul, and I continue to sleep well after a hard day's work.

So if that is sour grapes, then they actually taste pretty sweet to me.

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