Corporate Ties by Ben Woods

TODAY: 10 a.m. companywide meeting ... WTF!?!?!?

Wednesday, June 22
No, this email probably means something much worse, like they will be undertaking a mass firing. That’s about as final as you can get, well, unless they are planning to kill us, bury us in the parking lot across the street and continue to spam our unused email accounts.

Don, who lives in a cubicle diagonal from me, is packing. I peer around the partition to see him thumping books in one cardboard box, with another already full and sealed. Someone asks where the boxes came from, but I don’t even think he knows. Did the spammers leave a trail of containers for believability? Robert doesn’t appear to be concerned with the reason; he just wants to be the first one out the door and beat the traffic in the funnel-shaped parking garage.

After reading the email one last time, I consider the meeting could be a way to warn us of a terrorist attack, but through my eighth day, I’m not so sure that would be much of a change here. Let me first differentiate between the two: There haven’t been any weapons involved (to my knowledge), and I haven’t had to watch any telecasts that are months old regarding our mission to destroy a religiously oppressive country. But Mettle Life Insurance, located in Louisville, Ky., is just a blip in the financial world, trying to overthrow the gargantuan pecuniary players in the global market by offering somewhat different products. Instead of jihads, however, we sell annuities, as far as I understand. But I haven’t actually seen an annuity sold. It’s not like we have a gift shop.


All week: Meetings to hypnotize me into relocating.

Monday, June 27
Since the announcement last Wednesday, my thoughts have been consumed by the decision of staying or moving. And before that, during my first seven days at work, I had remained solidly unattached to Mettle and my co-workers. I had grandiose ideas about starting a new job in such rich surroundings, with people from all walks of life, various ethnicities, religions, sexual identities, etc. But as an outsider, I assumed I could keep my distance, while I decided if this is where I wanted to be.

And now, on the eleventh day at my new place of business, I’ve made the decision subconsciously. Mettle is the place I need to be. It is just the close-knit, thought-provoking atmosphere I have been craving since I left my last job.

Then again, it would be nice to have some freakin' work to do.


WARNING: Don't forget to wear your Sunday best at all times!

Tuesday, June 28
“The working hours are pretty flexible,” Stephen said. “As long as you are there for the core hours, from 9-3, you can work pretty much whenever. I leave my house at 8:30, and it takes me 30 minutes to get there, but I’m always out by 4:45. Of course, I occasionally have things to work on over the weekend, but it’s usually not very much.”

Jeff and Ken also approached the small congregation at Barry’s cube.

“How’s the cafeteria?” said Barry. It was entrancing how Barry never missed a chance to bring up food.

“It’s pretty good, overall,” Stephen said. “It’s your typical cafeteria. They offer a couple of different main dishes, a bunch of sides, box lunches if you can’t get away from your desk.”

“Not bad, and much better than Mettle!” Barry said. “I still haven’t found the cafeteria here.”

“What about the dress?” Ken said.

“You want to wear a dress to work?” said Barry, apparently waiting for a high five after spouting another vacuous comment.

“As long as you wear a decent shirt, dress pants and a tie, you’ll be all right,” Stephen said. “I had to buy new clothes when I first moved up here. It took awhile to get used to, but now, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

“You have to wear a tie every day?” Barry said.

“Pretty much,” Stephen said. “Well, on dress-down days, you don’t.”

“Oh, so you can wear jeans?” Ken said.

“No, you have to wear the same stuff ... just you don’t have to wear a tie,” Stephen said. “Well guys, it looks like it’s about time for the meeting. See you in a few minutes.”

I always thought dress-down days meant business casual, but according to Dress Casually for Success … for Men, there are various levels of casualness, from traditional (polo shirt and khakis), dress traditional (oxford shirt and khakis), contemporary (jeans and shirt) and dress contemporary (black slacks and black shirt). The book apparently leaves off vegetarian casual (salad and khakis), which is popular among herbivores, and causal casual, which involves wearing nothing until you are told to dress casually.

At Mettle, the normal dress code was a shirt with a collar and khakis. The thought of wearing a dress shirt, slacks and a tie every day, however, seemed unbearable for us.

“I’m not too interested in wearing a tie every day,” Barry said.

"It goes without saying that no apparel can be considered elegant, or even decent, if it shows the effect of manual labor on the part of the wearer, in the way of soil or wear ... Much of the charm that invests the patent-leather shoe, the stainless linen, the lustrous cylindrical hat, and the walking-stick, which so greatly enhance the native dignity of a gentleman, comes of their pointedly suggesting that the wearer cannot when so attired bear a hand in any employment that is directly and immediately of any human use. Elegant dress ... not only shows that the wearer is able to consume a relatively large value, but it argues at the same time that he consumes without producing."
- Excerpt from The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen



Things to do: Find a Green Card solution for pretty girl in window cube.

Thursday, June 30
“That is not how it works,” Daya says. “A company has to sponsor your work visa, and then for the Green Card, the company has to petition immigration services again. It’s all tied to the company, and most companies won’t sponsor you because it’s just going to cost them more money.”

As usual, it all comes down to money. Here’s a girl who’s brilliant, who apparently likes living in the states and is a great asset to the company. But because of the system, and a backup of immigrants from many nations to obtain a Green Card, she’s stuck. And it’s not as if she can bring in a note to the USCIS office and say that her company is moving, or that the dog ate her visa. She has to move to the back of the line, which, if everyone were to actually line up, would stretch from Washington, D.C., to somewhere just barely past Jupiter.

I am curious why she came to America in the first place, how long she has been here, how her relationships have been. I’m not sure which is more unnerving: staring at a computer screen that’s filled with intriguing but foreign programming, or staring at a foreign girl, who is intriguing in her own right. Both come with the option of pursuing, but neither will allow much time.


Critical note: Lifetime of opportunities takes on greater meaning here.

Friday, July 1
“So what are you gonna do now?” I say, slowly moving back to my cube.

“I just don’t want to be stuck doing something I hate,” Jeff says.

“Hate” hasn’t even entered my vocabulary at this point. My job is cool, I feel like I belong, I had a date with an awesome girl who even likes Olive Garden and endless breadsticks and salad. This is close to the opposite of hate for me. Cincinnati isn’t that far away, either. A future with the company and the people here isn’t out of the question.

But there’s something, however minor, that doesn’t sit right.

"Why would you hate this?" I say.

“If they are worried about me switching departments, that shows me I don’t have a say in my job,” Brad says. “If I’m not happy here, why would I want to stay?”

"Why would people stay if they aren't happy?" I say.

"That's an easy answer. Once you're in for so long, you don't want to leave. It doesn't make sense. You have to stay."

I wonder what the time limit is on having to stay with the company. I don’t want to be the guy trapped in the 9-to-5 job, eating the same minestrone soup and stale breadsticks from the cafeteria every day. Diamonds are forever, not my job at Northern Lineage.


DANGER: Knowledge being transferred at high voltages.

Wednesday, July 6
I didn’t see the entire schedule for the week, but at last count, there are about 34,104,497 meetings set for each day. I know this because Ken is supposed to be in three meetings at 8 a.m., while Barry and Jeff have two apiece. Maybe Northern Lineage is jumping the gun a bit on parallel universe web conferencing, or perhaps they expect some people to bring in stunt doubles. Either way, I am stuck at my desk, trying to figure out the Annuity Profit Plus program that Jeff built. Daya doesn’t have to attend many meetings, and neither does Don.

Then I find out what is occurring at these meetings. It is something Northern Lineage calls The Transfer of Knowledge. When I say it eight times really fast, I envision two things. First, I picture the Fellowship of the Ring, trying to arbitrate the meaning of life, liberty and pursuit of annuities. But Barry, not Frodo, would be expected to carry the burden of annuities to the promised land of Cincinnati.

After this picture fades away, I see Barry sitting in one chair and a monkey, wearing a tie, in the other. The mad scientist slowly places the lampshade-shaped hats on both heads and straps down the arms and legs of Barry and the monkey. With a sinister laugh, the scientist flips the switch, and soon thereafter, a constant electrical stream of knowledge can be seen in the air, passing from Barry to the monkey. After a successful exchange, the scientist unlatches both parties, only to find that the monkey now has a sudden craving for Chinese food.

Either way, with Barry at the helm, Northern Lineage appears to be in good hands, at least from the standpoint of fund transfers. Again, I have no idea if this is true, but judging by Barry’s remarks, he was damn proud of his work.

"Recently, a high-level manager told me, 'When I hear that top management is making plans for someone, I feel confident that they will make decisions that are constructive, effective, and good for the man. But when I hear that someone they're planning for is me, then I get worried!' Continuing, the manager expressed concern that, 'Top management can't possibly have a complete or accurate picture of what I want, particularly when you stop to consider that their thinking is optimized around organization priorities, as if nothing else in my life mattered.' "
- Excerpt from The Organization Trap ... and how to get out of it by Samuel A. Culbert



All day: Trip to headquarters! Raid the cafeteria!

Thursday, July 7
But before we can do this, Barry has made a simple request to Grant, unbeknownst to the group. Barry wants to see the server room, and more importantly, where our current running servers are located. Luckily, they are in the same building as the cafeteria, so we climb a couple of flights of stairs and rummage through the residence of just about every Northern Lineage server.

After a little searching, Grant and Barry find the Mettle servers. They have been in Cincinnati for more than two years, when Northern Lineage already knew this move would be coming and decided to relocate the servers. I can guarantee you that Northern Lineage didn’t woo the servers by showing them the cafeteria and gym.

Computers are amazingly loyal machines. That is, as long as users don’t screw up their input, or as long as they aren’t overworked. Computers follow directions well ... even if you tell them to delete all of their files. Even the spaceship computer HAL knew, according to the odds, that it was time to go.

Barry is tempted to caress “his” servers. Judging by the look on his face, he’s having a good time, possibly warming up to the idea of moving to Cincinnati.

For Barry, this is his defining moment.


Monday: Some work, but mostly trying to figure out our next career move.

Monday, July 10
For one individual (Don), you have a cut-and-dry answer: a definite “yes.” He was already moving before they even made the announcement. And Chris is pretty close to a “yes” as well, but he seems to be going as a company man. Then on the other side (Barry), you have a fairly resounding no. For someone who has been in Louisville essentially his entire life, it doesn’t make sense to pick up and leave.

The rest of us don’t have blatant conclusions. Daya is telling herself she has to go, but it’s somewhat uncertain as to just how the Green Card stuff will work. Jeff is closer to going than not going, but he has said repeatedly that his plans with the company are short term at best. Ken shifts frequently and overall, doesn’t seem to fit with the scheme of things at Northern Lineage. I don’t have a good enough grasp on Nitya, Peggy, Debbie and Reshmi, but I’m pretty certain they won’t all be moving.

I truthfully cannot make my decision in a bubble. The others have that privilege, although they recurrently agree that they hope everyone goes. If no one goes, I cannot go either ... I don’t know enough about the systems. At the same time, I’ve already forged much closer relationships with my co-workers than I could have possibly imagined. Besides, I wouldn’t mind moving, even if I just finally returned to Louisville in the first place.

While moving is always a hassle, not moving could cost me job experience, excellent friendships and a potential date/girlfriend/something more. And let’s face it: Who can resist being part of an ever-changing story like this one? The Queen City could be calling ... or maybe that’s just my stomach.


Signups here: No need to have parental permission ... life jackets not included.

Monday, August 1
With the clock winding down toward decision day, it’s continually interesting to see the effects of relocation talk. Barry’s demeanor hasn’t changed a bit; if anything, he is more comfortable at Mettle now than he was when I started. That’s because he has an inordinate amount of job security, considering he’s the only one at this stage who knows the processes inside and out. Then again, that was the case six weeks ago as well. So why is there a lack of tension in the present time?

It’s simple: Northern Lineage is giving Barry the attention he craves, which in turn, has created a much more relaxing environment for him. He’s still the same determined worker ... but he’s a bit more carefree with his emotions toward many company dilemmas. It must be a weird feeling, knowing that you essentially have control over your lifespan at a business, pretty much regardless of what happens.

Ken is in a similar scenario, yet it practically scares the shit out of him.

"Downsizing and outsourcing may be a necessary last resort for firms that have been managed so poorly that they face extinction without emergency surgery.

But there is another side to the story. Annual American Management Association surveys show that downsizing and outsourcing do not tend to increase profitability. The AMA surveys show that only one-third of companies who downsized between 1990 and 1995 reported increased operating profits after the first year of layoffs or outsourcings, and even fewer firms report such gains in the following years ...

By hacking permanent jobs off the organization chart and replacing them with virtual ones, companies frequently undermine rather than improve their long-term competitiveness. One analyst dubs it "dumbsizing," pointing out that hundreds of companies are living to regret downsizing and outsourcing decisions."
- Excerpt from Corporation Nation by Charles Derber