June 2003

Volume IX  Number 2         jimborland@att.net

Waiting for the Run


In an editorial in Cook’s Illustrated, Christopher Kimball writes powerfully about taking his daughter trout fishing.  He comments, “If you spend much time in the country, you are used to waiting. Nothing is immediate.  Everything is in the process of becoming.”


I had a number of reactions to Kimball.  Growing up in upstate New York, I remember the first corn of summer, the opening of the county fair, the day in June that was warm enough to swim in the river.  Yet the skeptic in me who has lived over thirty years in NYC said, “Wait a minute!”  We do some serious waiting here in the Big Apple:  Waiting in traffic on the BQE, waiting for an off-hour F train, waiting in line for TKTS … and those are just in the last couple of weeks. 


Webster’s defines “wait” as both a transitive (meaning it requires a subject) and an intransitive verb.  The first is “to stay in place or remain inactive or in anticipation until something expected happens.”  The second is “to be, remain, or delay, in expectation or anticipation.” 


The active nature of waiting intrigued me as I talked with a friend who is eight months pregnant.  She said her son-to-be was very active.  “He doesn’t want to wait,” she commented, perhaps speaking more for herself.  Expectant parents have eagerness for a clearly defined outcome.  Other waiting times are less clear. For example, when you stand in line for tickets at TKTS, you will likely have a choice, but you may settle for Say Goodnight Gracie instead of Hairspray.


There has been a spate of articles in the past few weeks about executives unable to find jobs, some unemployed for months. These are people waiting without a time frame, as in a pregnancy or on the subway platform. No train is coming for them.  These are people like Kimball, who was the only person of the father-daughter dyad, not to catch a fish.  Kimball says, “It was worth waiting [because of] the look of encouragement Caroline gave me when she thought I might be disappointed by the poor fishing.”


I never thought of myself as a fishing guide for career continuation, but I guess I do now.  Looking for a job is a bit like fishing; you need both faith and patience. 


We have had to do more “campaign reviews” at G&S than we have ever had to do in my almost nine years with the firm.  Last week, Andy Sherwood, Fred Ball, and I talked with John, a handsome Ivy League MBA’er with a commanding presence, who has been out for over a year.  He has networked diligently, but his functional area -- commercial real estate -- has been very slow. John is not “remaining inactive,” as Webster defines waiting, but is actively pursuing contacts, going to professional and networking meetings, and following up directly.  It will happen for him because he is still “on the water.”


Tim and Kara both “landed” new jobs last week.  Tim is an international logistics expert who started with a major apparel importer; Kara relocated to a large Southern bank from an investment firm here. Tim's search took six months, Kara's over eight. 


Like the fishing guide, I’d like to say “They’re biting,” but the economic climate is as hard to predict as a fishing stream.  We see some good economic indicators, but it’s still not easy pickings.  Every day, I try to go to the job stream with, as Webster says, “expectation and anticipation.”  As you meet people like John, I hope you will also be encouraging. As Kimball says, at the end of his piece, “We just have to learn to be patient, to know that our time is spent in transition… I guess we had better learn to enjoy the waiting.”


Be Nice to Momma, and Momma Will Be Nice to You


Although G&S focuses on executives, we occasionally help others, including support staff.  I recently saw a receptionist the Monday after her job was eliminated the prior Thursday. (Her company had merged and was closing her location.)


Gladys said she already had two offers and would like help choosing.  Knowing the company had not revealed the job elimination in advance, I asked how she had gotten two offers after only one day of looking.  Gladys looked me right in the eye and said, “The UPS Man.”


It’s the opposite of the Chicago song.  She said, “I treated every person who came into the office with warmth and respect, whether it was a potential million-dollar customer or the UPS man.”  Smart move, because when he heard about her loss, he know four places on his route where they needed a receptionist. He set her up, and before the end of the day --  two interviews and two offers.

As I said in my last newsletter, “Ya’ Never Know!”  (P.S.  Gladys took the offer from a post-production company rather than a bankruptcy law firm, partly because she thought the people she’d be greeting would be happier!)


Father’s Day Musings


I was reflecting that neither of my children will be home for Father’s Day this year with one of my clients who has been at home with his five- and eight-year-olds since losing his position with an engineering firm. His wife is an executive with a large bank, and he candidly admits enjoying some of the tasks of fatherhood.  He accepted being the coach for his son’s little league, something his work travel schedule wouldn’t have allowed, and he used his engineering skills to make a dollhouse for his daughter.  Larry’s kids have both told him they like having him around, but he is concerned that it will look bad to prospective employers. 


Our society seems to be allowing increasingly for househusbands, yet the old roles will not entirely die.  In a time when two parents working has become the norm, having either parent not working frightens or brings out resentment in others.  When I talk with clients about interviewing, we must figure out strategies to market these personal options most successfully. 


Women in the workplace have had to deal with these issues for a long time, and I suppose we will all continue to do so, since we cannot, in spite of laws, avoid differences in perception.


Books I’d Recommend


Built to Last  by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Harper Business Essentials, 2002, $17.95.


Growing out of a six-year research project at Stanford Business School, this book looks at eighteen pairs of successful companies.  The study did longitudinal research, starting with corporate beginnings, to find exceptional companies.


“The fundamental distinguishing characteristic of the most enduring and successful corporations is that they preserve a cherished core ideology while simultaneously stimulating progress and change in everything that is not part of their core ideology.”  The book cites Sony, the only Japanese company in the study, as having a ten- to thirty-year “Big  Hairy Audacious Goal” to become the company most known for changing the worldwide image of Japanese products as being of poor quality. 


The concrete examples and non-academic writing makes this a business bestseller.  I am indebted to my colleague Fred Ball for recommending Built to Last. It is perhaps more relevant today than when it was first published in 1994.