In my first novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, the main character, Cynthia, is considering making a momentous change in her life. She’s frightened of course, and she turns to her sister, Angela, for advice. Angela responds with a question:
“Why do you think there were so many empty lifeboats on the Titanic?” she asked.
I smiled. “Because it seemed safer to stay with the big boat.”
“You’re getting good at this,” she said. She stood and looked down at me. “Sometimes staying where you are is the most dangerous thing you can do. Only the dangerous choice can save you.”
I am thinking of that scene today because I am remembering the event from my own life that caused me to write it.
Way, way back at the beginning of my career, I had a good job with a company that put itself of the auction block the week I was hired.
I did wonder at the time whether I was insane not to immediately beg my old company to take me back, but starting a new job with an organization that was for sale was not even the risk-taking part of this story.
It took about a year for the company to find a buyer, and the buyer was in the business of takeovers, not actually in the business of running a business. So things hardly changed at all (except for the massive debt they added to the balance sheet).
But eventually, this takeover company did what they had a history of doing – they broke up the company and sold off the pieces.
So I had to live through another acquisition.
The corporation buying the piece that included me was concerned that during the interim between the announcement and the closing of the purchase, the old management would jump ship – find new jobs and leave the company in poor shape – thus leaving less of an asset than they were paying for.
This situation is not uncommon in takeover land. The purchaser wants the management in place while the sale is in progress (during ‘due diligence’). But the executives of the company being bought are well aware that management often loses their jobs once the acquisition is final. Because, after all, consolidation means cost-savings and the elimination of any management duplication is an easy way to achieve it.
Corporations often handle this dilemma by offering what is called a “sticking bonus.” They will often certain managers of the target company a generous bonus if they are still on staff when the sale closes. That way, the acquiring corporation can better assure that the target is not going down the tubes from lack of management, and the executives of the target company are compensated for the risk they are taking by not rushing out immediately to secure another position. They risk being unemployed but they will have the cash to defray their expenses.
Okay, The boring technical stuff is behind us (I promise) – and we can get on with the story.
The firm acquiring my company offered a sizeable sticking bonus – 50% of one’s annual salary on the date the sale closed. They offered this to all management with one exception.
The buyer called me to their corporate headquarters and offered me a job. They said they had looked at the all the management staff, and I was the only manager they were sure they wanted. I would not be offered a sticking bonus because I would be guaranteed a good job instead.
I was a single woman who had just recently bought a condo. I had a mortgage. The economy was not in the best shape. And this corporation was well run and well respected – I was flattered they wanted me. I accepted the job. I was told to keep it confidential because they did not want any other employees to know that anyone had been offered a job yet.
Months later, the sale was finalized. All the other managers got their huge bonuses.
And guess how many of them were offered jobs in the parent company?
All of them.
Every manager but me received a big bonus AND a job.
I got just the job.
I called my old boss (who got his sticking bonus and kept his job) and his new boss. I stated furiously that if I was the only employee that they had been sure they wanted, why had they treated me so badly?
Because I had a sure thing and the others took a risk that could have come out poorly for them.
But they knew – they knew – that I had been wronged.
And so they offered me a promotion. I got a big new job with a raise and a company car and a trip to Bermuda. All this did not add up to the 50% bonus I would have received, but it was a start. And I still had a mortgage. I accepted.
And I hated the job.
My promotion was to the general manager position of the worst-run location in the area. I had no clue as to how to make conditions better. My life became one huge complaint. My staff was never happy. My customers were never happy. I was never happy.
And I finally took the risk.
I went on that very enjoyable trip to Bermuda, and came back and quit the job.
Without another job lined up. No bonus, no severance, no savings. With my mortgage to pay.
I put my condo on the market, sold it for considerably less than it was worth, got a cheap rent, took a temp position to pay said rent, and started my career all over again.
And was much happier.
The moral of the story is this:
I felt lucky to take the safe choice at first.
When I found that the riskier choice would have paid off after all, I was angry – with others and with myself. But I was compensated with another safe choice.
And all these safe choices would have been okay – would have been absolutely fine – had I been happy.
There’s nothing wrong with being safe until it makes you miserable.
Don’t stay with the Titanic when it’s sinking.