A Midsummer Dream
Late on Friday afternoon, Acey Trey took a break from his farewell party to check his home answering machine for messages. After quitting his current employment that day, he was looking forward to a pleasant visit with his friend Tim from California, who was expected in New York in the morning.
In one of the odd coincidences in life, Acey had been hired by the company that Tim now worked for, to step in as Chief Architect of the New York office. Acey and Tim had met many years earlier while Tim was a contract employee to the U.S. Postal Service reviewing plans for a new Post Office in Sun City, Arizona. Acey, at the time, was an Associate with a well-known architectural firm in Phoenix, managing the project. Job changes, divorces, and cross-country moves had somehow not broken the friendly connection. Although Tim was uninvolved in Acey’s hiring, they were both happy when things fell into place.
After entering the code, there was just one message – from Tim. It was brief: “Acey, sorry to call at the last minute. There’s been a change in plans. I won’t be in New York this weekend after all. Also, there have been some developments at the company you should know about. Call when you can.”
With his box of personal belongings in hand, Acey eventually made it home – early enough to catch Tim still at work in LA. After apologizing for the unexpected change in plans, there was an awkward pause before Tim eventually asked, “Have you heard?”
“No, what’s up?”
“I’m not sure if I’m the one who should be telling you this, but let me read from a company-wide memo that we all got today.” The company President had announced a consolidation, and the planned closure of the New York office. In a flash, Acey realized his new job – the job that he hadn’t actually started – was clearly being eliminated. “Well Tim, I’m not sure what to say. I’ll try to find out what’s going on.”
By now, it was long past business hours, so none of Acey’s contacts was reachable. (Clearly, this all predates cell phones and e-mail.) Eventually there was a call from the headhunter who had facilitated the hire. Tim had beaten him to the punch. He said to expect a call from Bob, the Regional Director and V.P., who had instigated Acey’s position and hiring.
Bob was the polar opposite of self-confident as he explained the company’s predicament. While there was no question, the New York office needed Acey; other factors finally led the corporate management committee to decide that the trend to stress and deepening red ink was irreversible. Every staff member had been given a generous termination package – a nice cash settlement. Positions had been offered in Minneapolis, LA and Kansas City, although those offices were expected to go through a formal interview/job offer process. Bob assured Acey that he would be “taken good care of”; and asked him to come in Monday as expected, to plan the next steps.
Acey was actually quite calm through all of this. He figured that he had definitely decided to leave the old firm, and wasn’t interested in turning back. If the new firm was not able to satisfy him, he had a slam-dunk winnable legal action to fall back on. “Hey, Tim likes the place. Why not go for a ride. At least for a while.”
Monday was interesting. Bob explained how the immediate concern was the completion of design and construction for a Big Eight accounting firm’s new corporate offices in Connecticut, the build-out of a practice office in Atlanta, as well as an operations center in Nashville. The CD’s of the corporate offices were due in a month, and the DD had just begun. Acey was asked to help get the job out the door. In the meantime, he would be flown to Minneapolis and LA to pursue positions they wanted him to consider there.
The Office Director would be leaving the firm, the Operations Manager was moving to Kansas City, the Design Principal would report directly to the President, the big hospital team with its joint venture partner would stay on in its downtown location, and everybody else had been offered cash if they stayed until their projects were completed.
The corporate office job was a mess. The Design Principal had empowered his coterie of architecture students to play with the design. It was a treasure trove of deconstructivist ideas. Assemblies of metal and glass eminated from all surfaces, and structural elements were configured to challenge the laws of gravity and physics. Only two people had any CD experience. No cost estimate had been done, and there was no established budget. Maybe this was why they needed a Chief Architect.
As Acey ramrodded changes to the design, he took breaks to tour the country. Minneapolis was command central. In addition to Corporate, there were two practice units: one for Health Care, and one for Corporate, Commercial, and Institutional work. Each had autonomy and an org structure that fit their business concepts. However, in spite of Bob’s indications, they really weren’t looking to add another senior manager.
LA was very different. It was the former home office of the recently acquired high profile design firm. Elegant and spacious. Tim had worked there. “Had” was the operable word. He had just chosen to leave and hang out his shingle. He just didn’t like the new Design Principal, who had landed there after shutting down his firm in North Carolina.
The LA office, following the tradition of its old company, was divided into two groups: Design and Technical. They wanted the position of Chief Architect to lead the technical group. The Design Principal was keeping the Design group for himself. Acey was offered the Chief job, but he responded by saying that he would only consider it on the condition that the separation between Design and Technical be eliminated, as it was in the other offices.
Meanwhile back in New York, things were moving along. The accounting firm had a practice of throwing work to its clients, and brought in a local contractor. Acey had done his own cost estimate, and got the client to commit to a budget. Consequently, about ½ of the feature elements were thrown out. The remaining ½ had to be simplified or otherwise changed to make them buildable; and with the Contractor’s help, the CD’s were altered to become a hybrid of conventional construction drawings and design/build elements. Help was enlisted to meet the CD deadline, and the construction contract was eventually negotiated.
Elsewhere, the corporate management committee was having a change of heart. With the on-going hospital project as a foundation, maybe, they thought, there might be hope for New York after all. Bob, as Director of the Washington, DC Office, was willing to take New York under his wing. They just had to make some changes. One of which was the vacating of the expensive mid-town offices. Before he could go to Kansas City, John, the Operations Manager, was assigned the task of finding a sublet tenant.
Less than two months into the new job, a plan was outlined for Acey: New York would not be closed after all. It would, however, be demoted to a position below Washington. Acey was made part of a three person management group reporting to Bob. New tenant space was found for the remaining New York staff on the other side of the firewall from the hospital team offices, and Acey would lead the build-out and relocation. Business opportunities and design competitions would be pursued, and the situation would be reevaluated in a year.
But then, it really got crazy …
This tale – if you believe it – is not fiction. They say that wise counsel is based on experience. Sometimes that's true. Ya think?
Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:
May 2012 “Are you Virtually Working?”
March 2012 “Your Huddled Masses”
January 2012 “Observing Observations”
October 2011 “I Want What I Want”
August 2011 “A Beach Read”
May 2011 “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011 “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011 “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010 “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010 “How do we choose?”
July 2010 “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010 “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010 “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”