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Acquisition: The Circle Of Life In The Valley

By Kyle Strickland

Silicon Valley, with its multitudinous startups that make VC’s mouths water, is a breeding ground of cannibals. As Radiohead’s Thom Yorke might put it, “the big fish eat the little ones,” with large companies throwing down their cash weight to gobble up the competition or buy their way into new markets.
Last Friday it was announced that NICE Systems had acquired my current company, Merced Systems (unfortunately they won’t be renaming the new entity MICE Systems, to my dismay). I knew the announcement was coming up on that Friday because of a fellow employee’s intuition and smart snooping, but I had been planning on being in Park City for my dad’s birthday for a while and didn’t feel like sticking around for the shit-show that would undoubtedly ensue. I’ve been at companies when big news like this emerged, and I know an emotional and awkward atmosphere is inevitable. For instance, I was at HP when Mark Hurd, CEO at the time, resigned over a scandal with a humongous severance package (#goldenparachute) and saw the outrage in employees who have spent scores of their lifetime with HP. No work was done that day; all eyes were on the news and how it affected them.
The acquisition decision is very strategic and great for both companies, that much is true. In fact, my dad has been pushing both companies to do so for some time, since he is an independent IT consultant to both. But the news isn’t nearly as great for the people, many of whom lost their jobs as a result. Entire departments were let go instantaneously and are still expected to report for one more month. People who have been with the company for six years are gone, and few are happy about it.
During an acquisition, it is normal for only about one-third of the staff to remain through the merger. It is a trying period to survive with so much up in the air about new management structures, pay increases/decreases, job security and even job location. NICE, for instance, is headquartered in Israel. Who’s to guarantee you won’t have to move internationally to keep your job? Nobody.
For the people who have been let go, they depart only with a small stock payout and an even smaller severance. Acquisitions are great for the people that start the companies because they have large stakes in the company at a very small price; but if you just joined three years prior and have minimal stock options, you’re not about to see much of a profit from the merger. The original members are ready to retire, while others scrape together only a couple thousand to hold them over to their next job. It’s unfair, but timing and luck are everything if you want to get that big payday in the risky game of startups.
NICE is coming into the office daily now, and it will gradually impose its will and vision on the employees until they flee or succumb to the new way of life. The new reign means new everything, and it almost makes sense to get a new job where the headaches of uncertainty, changing management and possible relocation won’t follow.
For me, I am in a similar position as most. Lots of uncertainty enshrouds my job’s future, but it seems like I am in one of the few positions that our new parent company wishes to really hold on to and develop. We will soon see if they can offer me up something really NICE to keep me on board through this mess.

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Office BS, And Resigning Yourself From It

By Kyle Strickland

“Don’t let yourself get sucked into the bullshit – just write a column about it.”
Kyle Strickland

Offices are hard to adapt to, especially considering they are usually the first place you will ever spend 8 to 10 hours surrounded by the same people and seated in the same seat. Office lighting shies towards the level of one hundred miles from the sun, and the offices themselves are loud and full of drama, complexities and extreme annoyances. For instance, there is one guy near my cubicle who just started working; his laugh is far less enjoyable than listening to a horse fart from five inches away. It’s a terrible guffaw of epic proportions that outdoes Goofy on crack.

And then there is the girl who used to be sitting where Loud Annoying Laugh Guy now resides. Back when she was closer to my desk, I’d hear her sneeze about five times an hour. I started keeping track with little tick marks on a Post-It, and I swear I filled a Post-It a day before she moved her desk around the corner. Even though she is a cute little girl (by that I mean very short and probably older than me), it would ALWAYS throw off my concentration. The worst part is, though, that I still hear her. She’s halfway across the office, and it’s still right there in my ear.

I don’t mean to only focus on the surface-level annoying aspects of being corralled into cubes with other people. The real adjustments that office life forces one to make lie a bit deeper. Most obviously, the stakes have been raised over office life as an intern – your reputation is now affected by how much you play foosball. As an intern, you’re lower than low, but at least nothing really matters. As a new-hire scrub, I find myself anxious about how much of myself to reveal to coworkers and about how much work I am doing. Am I doing enough? Do I come off as a slacker (still)? Are they being honest with me? Are they talking shit about me?

This sounds kind of paranoid, but office politics at the company I work at are the most intense that I’ve ever seen, and this brings me to my next point – offices create competition in strange ways that undoubtedly leads to bitchin’ and moanin’. My office’s trash talk may not contend with that of an Oracle sales team, which are known for being cannibalistic, but I’ve already witnessed plenty of complaining and conniving that goes on behind backs on every team I’ve dealt with. I shudder to think what could potentially be going on around my backside. It may be nothing yet, since I haven’t done much to piss people off, but that day could soon come.

Building off of the sense that office people love to talk trash, I believe keeping your mouth shut is critical to surviving the office. There is a certain amount of common sense to this, of course, but I have to remind myself to take extra precautions because I never had to check myself in the past. Offices are like troops of gossip girls; anything you say will be held against you and transferred on to everybody you don’t want hearing it. Shit talking at work is not smart, no matter how much I know I would love to join in. I can’t stay out of all of it, however; sometimes it’s just too tempting, and I’m only human.

I recently heard a story about an employee who demonstrated exactly how not to exit a company, elucidating the “loose lips sink your shit” policy I’m describing above. We’ll call the employee Hank.

Hank had been putting in zero effort for a while, with no numbers on the sales board and no obvious attempt to fix it. He skipped required meetings and took extra days off and left early on a regular basis. It was too obvious that he was fed up with his job and was on the outs. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that he had no tenure and was slowly shooting himself in the foot in the event that he didn’t secure a new offer before getting axed.

When he finally got an unofficial offer, he acted prematurely, as though he was out the door, telling members of his team and acting free and giddy. When the manager asked what was going on (I assume in a very general manner), he replied, “Oh, so you already know?” The manager didn’t already know, but at that moment he learned for sure. Oops! That was dumb.

At that point, he had no signed agreement and left himself completely at the mercy of the recruiter offering the new job. It took an extra two weeks to seal the deal, but he finally got the offer in writing and was off. It could have ended up very badly, however; the offer might not have come and, had he stayed one more week, he would be fired, burning the bridges and the villagers’ homes at his current company in the process.

I’m not trying to say Hank is dumb, but I want to illustrate that what might be common sense to most from the outside is hard to remember when you’re on the inside of a job. Office life and teams of people are complicated social groups, and what annoys you and makes you pissed off, and what makes you whine and talk shit, can blind you. You have to be smart and remove yourself from the emotional involvement as much as possible, because at the end of the day it’s all about numbers. It’s a business. They’ll drop you just as fast as they hired you if they can make a valid case for it. Hank made that too easy for them, and almost got burned.

This brings me to my last point – something Jeffrey Gitomer wrote in his Little Red Book of Selling. He entitles one of the last sections of the book with an anonymous quote he read early in his career: “Resign your position as general manager of the universe.” It’s essential to uncomplicated life in an office – taking yourself out of everybody else’s lives will enable you to focus on your own. Other than learning from other people’s success and mistakes, it is not smart to actually get involved. Stay neutral, and only get in if you think that your personal values (or your ass) are on the line of being violated. It will disentangle you from the web of craziness that we call office life.

Unfortunately this won’t stop that guy from laughing, so I am going to have to find another way to get him to put a sock in it.

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Follow Me Up The Ladder

By Kyle Strickland

This is not a typical business column. It’s not a business blog, a sales site or a dry advice column on self-motivation. I’m not here to tell you what a textbook might, ladling terminology and tactics over you and promising, “If you plant them, they will grow.”  I don’t have that level of expertise yet. Instead, you’ll be shadowing a novice on his plucky path towards entrepreneurial-level sales.

Watching a young paladin start his quest, much like the soft and innocent Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, probably sounds like a huge waste of your time at first: Pft, I don’t got time to listen to this newb rant about his shits and his giggles. He hasn’t even started! There are hundreds of books by people who already made it, and I can get all of their secrets for cheap (instantly, nonetheless)!

Good point, italicized voice, but have you ever heard of context? Sure, you can instantly learn the methods successful people employed to make their millions. In fact, I am starting to read all of those books, and highly recommend the practice. But you won’t get to see the reality of how they did it; what they were up against; when they struggled, crying deeply into their high-thread-count pillows in their lonesome high rises. Once somebody has made it, they can’t go back and recreate the feeling their challenges wrought upon them and explain just what they did to get over them. But I can. Reading me, coupled with those professional books on business,sales and branding yourself, is a winning combination that will fill your veins with tiger blood.

Henceforth, you will find a log of the things I encounter, learn and apply in the business world, with special focus placed upon my newfound determination towards fast-paced growth in the career of sales. Trust me, it becomes addicting once you’re inside of it and can see your own potential. Just about everything in life is based upon sales, when you think about it. Like an Indian gazillionaire once told me: “Kyle, every day you are selling yourself,” (not for dollars on the corner, mind you).

It’s a very simple but true statement. Think about it – if nobody believes in you, how many people are going to do what you want them to? How will you accomplish anything if nobody will stand behind it? It’s not about coercing or manipulating; it’s about having an idea and showing everybody that it’s the best one going. Of course, if you don’t have any ideas or even a plan, sales is clearly not for you. Go learn accounting and punch numbers to eternity.

Here is one of my favorite scenarios to illustrate the everyday necessity of selling yourself: asking for money in college. I had to convince my parents to give me more money all throughout college whenever it would surprisingly run out mid-month. Did I use brute force or whine? No. I convinced them of the value their money would have on the level of grades I achieved. I showed them how it was an investment, and, let me tell you – I sold the crap out of it all four years. Even though this strategy bought me more beer than it did A’s, I was unwittingly living the valuable lesson that the Indian salesman put into perspective for me: everything you want to do hinges on how well you sell it to the people who can make it happen.

Visit S T E M every so often for more on the musings of The Professional, including the endless list of extremely successful entrepreneurs who started as sales guys, and the historical aspects of why my enthusiasm for business is surprising.

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