Friday, December 31, 1999

the moment of truth

[Originally posted on January 17, 2023, at 11:45 p.m.]

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I guess my boss got really desperate.

I worked a 14-hour day yesterday, which pissed me off; the boss worked a 17-hour day because of a computer fuckup that cost him an important PPT file. The file needed to be rebuilt from scratch (he was working with a Korean assistant at the time, and her computer crashed while she was trying to back the file up—not really her fault). Neither of us was happy about the situation: the boss had been given a pile of work by the CEO, much of it for use the very next morning (my stuff, too), and we had little time in which to finish the work after our nighttime meeting. The CEO had decided to give us the day off, so I've had nothing to do today.

The boss has been very disappointed with my decision to leave. He's a good guy, but he's underhanded when he wants to win an argument, always resorting to emotion, so over the phone earlier this afternoon, he started guilt-tripping me about abandoning him. I chuckled in response because I will not be guilted. Plus, the boss is a big boy. Many times, he's said, "I've been through this before," i.e., periods when the CEO gets nutty, and everyone is loaded down with too much work. Which made me wonder why the boss would feel abandoned. As he said, he's been through this before, so he knows it comes to an end. (It also begins again, though, which is the thing that has been worrying me.)

But then, the boss started talking about an eleventh-hour conversation he'd had with the CEO. He apparently laid it all out, telling the CEO: you're losing a valuable worker in Kevin; you now see what he's capable of producing; this has been the caliber of our team all along, and you broke us up at Christmas last year. The CEO apparently listened to this while nodding. The boss then told the CEO that Kevin's the kind of person who works best under certain conditions, i.e., regular/reasonable hours, no killer-length days, no constant meetings, etc. The boss drove his point home: he doesn't want to lose me; he also wants his other team members back, and he wants us to continue working in the Mido building, away from the CEO's direct purview. We'd still be producing materials, but now it'd be directly for the CEO. These materials would be a combination of PPTs for the CEO's lectures (but with advance warning given as to each PPT, and enough time to do each one right without having to rush) and various textbook projects. The books would be revisions of ones the CEO had already had made years ago; my boss has been talking for a while about how those books can be improved, and the CEO is now listening. And the CEO apparently said yes to all the boss's conditions.

So the boss put all of this to me as his final offer. His second-to-final offer, made earlier, had been to entice me back in with extra salary. (He'd gotten the CEO to agree to paying me more.) I was almost insulted: if this were about money, then of course I'd be tempted by a 20% raise. But this has never been about money: it's been about my sanity, and I had laid out, several times, the conditions that would bring me back into the fold: keep things as they'd been before last Christmas. When I heard the second-to-final offer, I rejected it outright. Then the boss came back later describing the conditions noted above, and I was interested. I peppered the boss with questions about how much of this language (re: work conditions) would be in the contract, what this really meant in terms of stupid meetings and time pressure, etc.

After the boss answered my questions, I told him I'd call back in an hour.

The boss had basically managed to finagle all the conditions I'd wanted—all the conditions necessary for me to continue working at the Golden Goose. So I spent an hour thinking. I pondered, cogitated, digested, hemmed, and hawed. When I called the boss back after an hour, I told him I would continue in the company. I mentioned that I wouldn't be exercised if I didn't get a raise, but please don't tell the CEO that. So it could be that good things come of this: if I stay with the company, my current contract (which runs until the end of August) will be nullified, and I'll sign a spanking new contract. I get the feeling that this new contract—which will classify me as a freelance outsider (i.e., the company will no longer pay my insurance), might be a good thing. I have to confirm this, but I think the company will continue to support my housing, which means I'll continue to pay just an admin fee instead of needing to lay down a deposit and pay my own rent (which makes me wonder about the extent to which I'm a freelancer versus being a regular employee—does a company typically pay for a freelancer's housing? I'll find out more tomorrow). If that's all true, then I get to keep 100% of the severance coming my way. But if I now have to pay a rental deposit and monthly rent, then a million-won raise in salary will go mostly to rent. Not much of a raise, then.

Otherwise, though, I'll be back to working quietly in a cubicle, and if the CEO were to call a meeting (as I know he'll do because the man can't help himself), I'd be okay with attending it during my regular work hours. My boss has promised to take the burden of sitting with the CEO for all the meetings that run long. This makes me wonder if he'll burn out in a year.

Speaking of "a year," the boss's plan is to start his own company and have it running by 2024. Once he gets it going, the idea is for us team members to jump over to the boss's company, completely out from under the shadow of the CEO. We would then be free to contract independently out to the Golden Goose and other institutes. The boss warns that, at first, we might have to work from home, but once we got a modest office somewhere, we could transfer ourselves to that spot, and Bob's yer uncle.

For the moment, there are still some immediate questions that need to be answered, but overall, I think the boss pulled an eleventh-hour miracle out of his ass. I continue to have questions, of course, and I made it clear to the boss that if the CEO started trying to monopolize my time again, I'd be out. Always have an escape plan.

The most ideal situation would be for the company to continue paying for my housing while also giving me 100% of my severance, which I'd keep and maybe start investing (I have the Acorns investing app, but I haven't started using it yet). I look forward, in the meantime, to getting back to working quietly in my work station, surrounded by the old team (yes, even the over-talkative member). As for churning out material for the CEO instead of making other material: I'm actually glad that we're remaining his adjunct because that means he will see, directly, the quality of the material we can make. It also means we won't get any more bullshit requests by other departments to make material for them—material that just wastes our time, and which almost never gets used, anyway, because Korean department heads share our CEO's tendency to be wishy-washy and to not know what they want.

Some of my more interested readers might be disappointed to know that I'm sticking with this company after all my resistance. I hope I've made clear that (1) I seem to be getting everything I wanted, and (2) I'm still going to walk at the first sign of grasping tentacularity from the CEO. If he tries even a little to monopolize my time because he thinks he can, I'm out, and I might not even bother with a 30-day warning this time. What I did this time was only partly planned: I was perfectly willing to walk because I've never had any loyalty to the company—only to certain people within it. One of Donald Trump's rules of negotiation is that you have to be prepared to walk out. Negotiation only works from a position of strength. If you're unable to walk away, it's because you're weak and needy. But if you have talent and know you've got other options, then walking is easy. So I credit my willingness to walk with prompting my boss to get desperate and wring concessions from the CEO. The boss did the actual negotiating with the CEO, and he claims to have argued his case with a directness bordering on rudeness, so I'll gladly give my boss credit where credit is due.

I think it also helps that the CEO very suddenly decided to fly to Vietnam tomorrow. (The boss says the Vietnam trip had always been in the works, but I gather that leaving tomorrow, specifically, was more a spur-of-the-moment thing.) The CEO's own decision to leave the country put pressure on him to make crucial hiring decisions before leaving. Easier to wring concessions from someone when they're under pressure because of an imminent departure.

If I didn't make it clear before, a major concession was getting the old team members back. The boss is determined to have the band back together again. (And frankly, the two other team members both deserve raises, too.) So we'll once again be R&D, but working directly for the CEO. And if the CEO wants to come by now and again to look at our progress and inspect our work, I think that's only fair. The understanding is that we're doing all this to make the man look good (so that hasn't changed), but if we enter into an agreement to work for the guy, then making the CEO look good is one of the conditions of employment.

Have I sold my soul? Ask me after I find out (1) my salary and (2) what's happening with housing. And keep in mind that I can still walk if things go tits-up.


John Mac said...

Kevin, there is no question in my mind that this is outstanding news. If those conditions truly do come to pass, you have a dream job. If you took a new job somewhere else, who's to say it would be better than this one appears to be? I'd call this a huge win.

The best part is that the company, or at least the CEO, recognizes your value as an employee. Working for a living is one thing, but having that work appreciated, respected, and seen as something no one does better is a form of compensation that is all too rare.

I hope the details are worked out to your satisfaction. I was worried that your new job wouldn't allow you that annual block of time off work for a hike to Busan. Working for the CEO will be a change, but if he keeps his word, it might prove to be a change for the better.

They need you more than you need them. That's power!

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, John. Much appreciated.

John from Daejeon said...

Some things happen for a reason. Glad it all worked out for the better even though it took some short-term suffering, but now the CEO knows both your value and limits.

Kevin Kim said...

John from Daejeon,