Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chapter 9 - HELP WANTED: Tales of a Free-Spirit Professional

A warm welcome to visitors - old and new! Please click on the right side of the page in the archives to follow this post from the beginning. It ALL starts in June 2011, so take a look and follow along. As always, thanks for reading and enjoy.

Because we weren’t fully merged yet, the accounting department from the Madsen Group was still overseeing all expenses on the Consulting side of the firm. On my way there, I ran into Betsy, the assistant to one of the soon-to-be-former partners.

Her boss had come in a couple of years ago when they were trying to build the advertising side of the consulting firm. Donny Horowitz, a legend in the ad world was eighty years old and in my opinion, a few breaths away from a nursing home.

His assistant was a spunky woman in her seventies. With wavy red hair fixed in a neat bun and jewelry always well-coordinated, Betsy was old school, wearing a suit even though the office had gone business casual several years ago.

I’d gotten to know her better during the transition and she became a regular stop on my roaming route in the days before Bikram.

She was in the kitchen making a cup of tea.

“Donny are I done,” she announced dipping a tea bag into a dainty little teacup that looked like it had been stolen from a fancy tea service in England.

“Oh noooo! That’s terrible!”

“Not really,” she said, her arthritic hands wrapping the teabag around a spoon to wring out the excess liquid. “I’ve got my retirement from working for Donny all these years. Plus, I’ve got the matching fund from the Madsen Group which should be a nice, little chunk of change.”

“Matching fund? Do we all get that?”

“Oh sure,” she said, explaining to me that when someone started at the Madsen Group, they were given a retirement fund that the company matched each year.

“But, I can’t touch that until I retire,” I asked, reaching into the refrigerator for a bottle of water.

“You can cash it in whenever you want. No penalty. You’ll just get taxed on it at a higher rate.”

Later that night, I searched and searched for the last statement I received and didn’t pay any attention to. It was for retirement and pretty much irrelevant I figured, until I was over 65. When I finally found it between a stack of paid bills, unopened, I held my breath as I opened the envelope and hopefully the key to my freedom. Scanning the numbers and pie charts of investments made on my behalf, I looked for the total.

“$16, 772.68,” I almost screamed.

I was finally free!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chapter 8 - HELP WANTED: Tales of a Free-Spirit Professional

A warm welcome to visitors - old and new! Please click on the right side of the page in the archives to follow this post from the beginning. It ALL starts in June, so take a look and follow along. As always, thanks for reading and enjoy.

If this were a movie, I would’ve stood up and told Scott that I was through with being an assistant; through working in a job I hated, denying myself of the creative aspirations burning inside me. And then I’d walk out; kick my shoes off in the elevator and jump into the fountain outside our building in front of the Plaza Hotel, squealing with delight, “I’m free! I’m free!”

Instead, I made a spreadsheet.

I couldn’t just walk out – not with a mortgage, credit card bills and no savings. I spent hours on that spreadsheet, figuring out just how much money I would need to survive. It wasn’t pretty and until I figured out a way to make it work, I’d have to stick around and do my best not to throw up in my mouth every time Bikram asked me to do something for him.

Bikram, like all of the partners – remaining and departed – was given stock options. I had no clue about the stock market, let alone what it meant to have fifty or fifteen hundred stock options, but what I did know was that he was obsessed - spending most of his days pacing around his large new office located on the twentieth floor, watching the stocks go up and down. He’d come out of his office to let me know every move the stocks made. Thumbs up meant things were going well. Head down and hands stuffed into his khaki’s, not so good.

Bikram wasn’t a tall man. It wasn’t as much about height as it was about confidence. At least Scott was kind of out loud about his awkwardness. Bikram tried so hard to be the cool, confident guy with hid rimless glasses, expensive loafers and faux-touseled hair.  Unfortunately, he just appeared to be playing the cool, confident guy. Nobody took him seriously and I wondered why on earth he was being groomed to be the CEO.

It all became clear about a month into my working for him. I’d still made my usual rounds to Scott’s office and upon returning from a quick visit with him and a check-in with our in-house graphics department, Bikram was waiting for me.

Summoning me into his office like a teenage girl dying to tell her BFF the latest piece of gossip, he ushered me in quickly and closed the door.

“Did you talk to graphics?”

I’d played this game many times when I used to sit in Scott and Tim’s corner. I called it the “Warm Up” – the game where people try to get you to give them information without appearing like they’re trying to do so. Bikram was an amateur and I’d seen this in him when he was a lowly Junior Partner a couple of years back. It pained me to have to play along.

“Yep. The document will be ready by noon.”

“Good, good,” he said, clasping his hands as he sat at his desk. “Sit down, sit down,” he said, trying to appear all warm.

I declined. I just couldn’t do it. I’d played gatekeeper for too long to pretend like I hadn’t a clue as to what was coming next.

“Nah, I’m good,” I said, fully aware of the silent stance I was taking against his authority.

“Hey, yeah, so I know you’re all tight with Scott and everything. I was wondering if you, uh, ya know, heard anything while you were upstairs talking to him.”

He cleared his throat nervously as I took my time to answer. I wasn’t trying to play games with this guy – okay, well maybe a little. But the truth was, I couldn’t tell him what Scott and I talked about because it would crush him.

When Scott had asked me earlier how things were going with Bikram, I didn’t hold back. I was so done with it all – ordering lunch, doing expenses and worst of all – pretending that I really cared about what I was doing. Maybe it was because he used to by my boss or maybe it was the fact that he’d confessed to me weeks ago that he really didn’t have any power.

“They’re just keeping me around to show them ropes,” he’d said with an air of nonchalance. “I don’t mind. I like being needed.”

It was his sheer honesty in that moment that allowed me to abandon any lingering professional airs with Scott. We were finally and ironically on common ground.

“He’s kind of an idiot, Scott,” I almost whispered today, feeling just a little guilty about being so blunt. “He doesn’t really do anything all day long except check his stocks.”

Oh, the irony – my complaining to Scott about a boss who did nothing.

“You realize they chose Bikram because he’s the quintessential yes-man, right?”

And still, more irony.

“The plan is to get the core Madsen Group people out completely. They’re just biding their time. I know it. They know; I know it. But it’s fine.”

Scott was so matter-of-fact about it all that I felt fine for him. I’d underestimated him. He knew what was going on from the get-go and had worked every moment of it. It was on that day when I think finally found my respect for Scott.

It was Bikram I was worried about. The poor sap really had no clue. He actually thought they were going to make him CEO because he was good.

Sitting in front him, I was overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions ranging from utter disdain to extreme empathy. What could I tell him? That he was just a puppet and as long as he remained that way, he’d “succeed?”

Hell no. I wasn’t going to serve him up a pitcher of company Kool-Aid. But, what could I do? This was the biggest chance this guy had gotten in all his career – who was I to ruin it?

I decided to do what I did best and play dumb and irritated.

“Heard anything? Like, what would I hear?” I said with just enough edge and apathy to make him feel stupid.

“No, no,” he said squirming in his chair slightly, “I just thought that since you guys are close……”

I pushed myself off the wall I’d been leaning against and stood up straight to indicate the conversation was over, shrugging off my conversation with Scott as just “normal catch-up stuff.”

Back at my desk, I remembered I had forgotten to turn in Bikram’s expenses.

“I’m running up to accounting!” I called out, grabbing a large envelope stuffed with receipts.