Shift Happens

November 17, 2007


October 24, 2007

Recently, I traveled back to Winston Salem to a 4 year reunion and to watch a Wake Forest football game.  As I got caught up with some of the people in my graduating class, I was amazed at how much change had taken place in these four short years.  The words reorg, divest, and consolidate were flowing off people’s tongues left, right and center.  Most everybody I talked to had either changed jobs or changed companies.  Shift happens. 

I heard the standard flippant comments about there being no loyalty out there anymore, but few complaints.  The driving force behind the wealth that this country has generated is the pursuit of maximizing shareholder value.  Business decisions and strategies have to keep pace with the rapid change in the marketplace.

One year ago to the day, for the first time in my life, and hopefully the last, I was fired.  The family business where I had worked for 7 years was sold.

I remember it was October 19th because it was my daughter’s birthday. 

Here I was at age _____ (you have to read previous Op-Eds to discern how old I am), with three kids, a wife, a mortgage, and no idea of what I wanted to do. 

Whatever my talents were, I needed to discover them quickly.  The Bible sure tells us not to hide them; in fact, it’s a sin to hide them, isn’t it?  Maybe it’s the curse of a Gemini, the split personality thing, but I always feel pulled in different directions.  But, I don’t put much stock in astrology. 

I went through something similar to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (or as I like to call it in this instance, relief).  I am probably still going through those stages.  This I do know.  The 48 hours after the 19th, I felt sheer panic. 

Maybe it was because I never wanted to be put in that situation again, or maybe it was because I didn’t feel my prospects at jumping into corporate America at age _____ were very good, but I decided shortly thereafter to form my own company.  I love books, newspapers, and magazines. I love learning about businesses and seeing them grow.  So, I launched a magazine in the spring called Profiles in Business, a second different type magazine will come out at the end of the year, and a couple more are in the works.  I also now have a new love and respect for web publishing.  (Check out the cool, sortable information in the Local Stats)

Running your own business is a different kind of a panic, a good panic.  The highs are higher and the lows are lower, but that’s what you get with ownership. 

I admire ALL people who have ever formed and ran their own company.  When the timing is right, I encourage anyone who has ever contemplated it, to take the plunge. Entrepreneurship.  It’s a complicated 16 letter word.

I recall a memorable class in business school.  It occurred on the last minute of the last class when a marketing professor named Jim Makens told everybody to stand up.  Makens was the kind of a professor who did not take kindly to anyone showing up in his class unprepared or worse, anyone who waffled on an answer.  He made sixty executives look under their desks, then get down on their hands and knees and look under their chairs.  He had secretly taped $20 bills under a handful of chairs.  As the hooting and hollering died down, he told the class, You have to poke around if you want to earn a buck, and then he walked out of the classroom and straight into retirement.  What a cool way to end a teaching career!

I hope I get to celebrate a 2 year anniversary.  Shift happens.


Alan Cooper