This is the next installment in an ongoing series where I talk about my history in business, starting all the way back when I was a child to now, my mid-forties. Feel free to read parts zero, one, two, three, four and five if you haven’t yet to get some context.
We last left off when I had just left my associate position as a computer consultant and, very reluctantly, re-entered the corporate world…
So there I was, sitting in my stupid cubicle in one of the downtown high rises in the corporate offices of First Interstate Bank, a large national bank that had been around for decades. My job was helping with the computer support for the several thousand branches all over the country.
I hated it, but unlike the first time I had a corporate job, this time I had a plan to quit and start my own business in about two years. My plan was to suffer through this corporate bullshit for two years. This way while relying on a steady paycheck, I could finish paying off all of my debts (what little I had, mostly a car payment), put a bunch of money in savings, and try to build a little business on the side. Then I could quit my job once and for all and be on solid footing to build my business.
So despite the fact I hated going to work every day, I was motivated by my plan. It helped.
Working for a big company sucks ass. The amount of money wasted is staggering. The disorganization, office politics, and massive amounts of wasted money and time are shocking to behold. If you work for a large company, or ever have, you know what I’m talking about.
I saw entire groups and departments that could be easily eliminated from the company without any noticeable negative ramifications. I saw guys work about 2-3 hours a day who made $80,000 a year (and this was in the early 1990s, so adjust that upwards for inflation) who were never fired, or even reprimanded. I saw executives get furious about the smallest, most minor details just because they happened to see them occur right down the hall from them, when they were having the same problems in their own departments all over the place. My team would work on projects for months just to have the entire thing sabotaged or even destroyed by one or two other employees in distant cities.
On and on. Working at the software company was bad enough, but working in this Fortune 500 environment was a real wakeup call at how horrible companies are run.
Regardless, I put my head down and put in the work while I was there. In addition, remembering the lessons I learned at the software company when I was a little asshole, this time I made sure to maintain a pleasant attitude towards everyone.
This hard work and positive attitude paid off quickly. My boss two levels up from me took notice. When the manager of my group quit, I was immediately promoted to his position. So within four months of starting, at age 22 I was the manager of a staff of six guys, five of whom were 10 or 20 years older than I was.
Since I really didn’t give a shit about the job, I fucked around a lot. I got in trouble with the building staff for having my staff store boxes in the wrong place. We would all competitively play the computer game Doom on the corporate network, dragging down its bandwidth. I would throw big pizza parties, finding any reason I could (“Joe’s kid turned five today! Pizza party!”) and would charge it to the company. Shit, I was directly contributing to the corporate waste I was mentioning above. The difference was that I was a short-timer and I knew it; I wasn’t the corporate career-guy most of those guys were.
About a year into the job, I got a phone call from my boss who had quit. He was now working at Nike, at their world headquarters, about a 25 minute drive from where I lived. He said he was impressed with me and wanted to hire me and another of my co-workers. He told me he would pay me around $7,000 (I think; memory is hazy) more per year than I was making at First Interstate Bank.
I would have preferred to just stay at the bank, since switching jobs in the middle of my two-year plan seemed like a hassle to me, but $7,000 is $7,000, and that was a lot of money to me at the time. So I agreed.
Both me and my friend and co-worker, a guy named Derek, quit the bank at the same time and joined Nike. Nike was a very different company than First Interstate Bank. Nike was much more exciting, vibrant, and newer. The employees were younger, happier, more energetic, and distinctly better-looking. However, Nike was still a gigantic national corporation, so all the same problems, bullshit, waste, and inefficiencies were present. Working at Nike was fun, but I was still floored at the amount of corporate garbage these people had to tolerate by working there.
“One more year,” I kept saying to myself, “One more year.”
Soon, I had paid off all of my debts. A few months later, I had stashed away several thousand dollars into savings, just enough to support me a little during the first few months of my business. I was also trying hard to get some consulting clients on the side, and was able to pick up a few, some of which were referrals and even some old companies who I used to work with back when I was working with Ted (he was no longer doing any computer consulting and was instead focused on database programming).
My job at Nike was computer support again, this time for the sales department. It was fun, since companies always kiss their salespeople’s asses, and I was able to benefit from this. I was sent to several different sales conventions and retreats in fancy hotels with big, extravagant parties meant for the salespeople. Since I was part of “sales support,” I was able to go.
I learned two things from these retreats. One: people in sales were the ones making the most money and getting the most benefits from the company they worked for. Two: monogamy didn’t work, since I saw tons of married people cheat on each other left and right at these sales conventions. It was just a normal thing at these events that everyone was accustomed to.
Soon, I put a date on my calendar: September 15th, 1996. That was the date I was going to quit Nike, then take two weeks to get everything set up, then finally go full-time in my own business on October 1st. Every day I would look at that date, remind myself of it, get excited, and get anxious to leave.
I felt like I did when I was in my last year of high school. I was both excited and frustrated that September 15th wasn’t coming fast enough. I remember the dread I felt when I looked at that date, and it was only March. Six more months! Ugh!
I put in just the minimum amount of work at Nike as I could, focusing instead on reading and research for my new computer consulting business. I cranked out reading as many books as I could on consulting, sales, marketing, success, and so on, and took careful notes as I went along.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, September arrived. I went to my boss, a nice woman named Melissa, and gave my two-week notice. She was confused. Nike was such a great place to work, and I had such a fun, high-paying job. Why would I possibly want to leave?
I was honest and told her I was starting my own company. She nodded and understood. She said I was one of the best people she had worked with, and I appreciated the compliment. Once I had given notice, I relaxed, and just chilled out until the big day arrived.
My last day at Nike, I cleaned out my desk with a huge smile on my face. I said goodbye to my co-workers warmly, since they were all very nice people. With my small box of stuff, I walked down the isles, though the cubicles.
“This is the last time I will ever work in a cubicle,” I said with conviction.
I entered the elevator.
“This is the last time I will be a slave,” I said while alone in the elevator, my happiness rising.
I walked out through the vaulted entry hall of the building.
“This is the last time anyone will tell me how much money I make,” I said.
I walked out, into the parking lot, and got into my car.
“This is the last time I have a JOB!” I actually yelled it out.
And I was right.
I started the engine and tore out of the parking lot, finally, finally a free man.
My real journey had finally begun.