“Let me see if I got this right. I can continue to do my job – I just have to pay myself with my own money?”
But let's back up a a year or so, and see how we got here.
Having survived the potential closure of his practice unit, Chief Architect Acey Trey was now absorbed with the challenges of staffing, quality control, and mentoring. Many former staff members who had been given severance offers were now gone. Those attached to the big joint-venture hospital project were kept safe.
One other group, which chose to hang on, was an ongoing challenge. The Design Principal’s coterie of acolytes was uniformly inexperienced and hard to assign. Some refused to be counseled, while others were anxious to grow.
With his followers at the ready, the Design Principal scoured the globe for design competitions to test their mettle; and they typically responded with their own metal – no joke. The model-making area was a scrap dealer’s heaven. Brass, copper, stainless, aluminum, chunks, shards, strips – you name it. Add to this various bits of plastic and glass, and you had the makings of what they thought might be award-winning designs. If they could create a sculpture out of the dross, and take a picture before it fell apart, it would go into the submittal
The firm was selected to collaborate on a major renewal project in Toronto. The designers reasoned “Zoning requirements can be ignored if the solution is creative”. Suffice it to say, others thought differently.
Watching Acey's challenges from afar, and anxious to spread the collective good, senior management invited him to attend a two-day management training exercise at the mid-west mother ship. Sitting in with another practice unit, he was learning about ‘team-building’ and ‘collaboration’. One exercise called upon the other managers to tell the Director what they appreciated about him. About two thirds of the way around the table, one senior member offered, “I really appreciate how you have assembled such a diverse group of staff members”. Acey looked around to count 16 middle-aged white men and one white woman (the interior designer). As far as he could tell, the nearest thing to diversity was the one Hispanic surname. “These guys need to come to New York sometime” thought Acey.
Back on the job, there were modest achievements: The accounting firm headquarters that was published in Architectural Record; The completion of the national Operations Center and a practice office for the same accounting firm; The sensitive design and construction of an Alzheimer’s and dementia care facility; A therapy pool facility for developmentally challenged individuals. Acey’s efforts were rewarded with a stock offering and Vice Presidency.
Then came the selection of the firm for the Master Planning and design of expansion for a prestigious long-term care and nursing facility north of New York. This project was held by one of the mid-west offices, which made its preferences clear: the only person they wanted the client to see from New York was Acey. With the perception that things might be turning around, the management committee was encouraged. The New York office would be reinstated as a full practice unit. To ease the burden for New York – given its small size – the Design Principal’s salary would be carried by one of the company’s other practice units. Now, there’s a break!
Acey, too, was encouraged. The New York office would need a Director – maybe this was his time. After the formal announcement of the office reinstatement, the hunt was officially on. Acey knew he had two potential competitors in New York. Others from different practice units might be interested, he thought. Acey wondered if the Operations guy, who had fled to the Kansas City office on the first announcement of the New York closure, would try to come back to regain his position; but it was later made clear that he would not.
Eventually the somewhat predictable, ‘safer’ choice was made – the Director of the big hospital joint-venture project was named as the New York office Director. He, the other potential candidate, and Acey were asked to form the management committee of the re-formed office.
One of the first orders of business for the new Director was to give Acey his walking papers. Clearly, even though there was plenty of work to do at the time. Acey was ‘peeved’ to say the least; and the mid-west office was at least equally ‘peeved’. They had not been consulted in the dismissal, and they saw the move as potentially losing the retirement community client with its important project. The new Director was pummeled by the mid-west people and others from within the company.
And this is where we came in. The new Director offered Acey a way to stay on for a while. His proposal was that Acey would be allowed to cash in his stock, continue working, and accept the stock proceeds in lieu of salary. Acey asked, “Let me see if I got this right. I can continue to do my job – I just have to pay myself with my own money?”
The mid-west folks had a more conventional approach. They offered Acey a half-time contract for one year, to be their man in New York; and they got the New York Director to agree that Acey would be used for his other on-going assignments for the other half time. So there Acey sat at the same desk doing the same job he was doing the day before. Except, now he was being paid by two offices; and had a one-year contract to rely on.
How long will this last?
Non-fiction life experience is good training for consulting. Acey is far from done.
Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:
January 2013 “A Swamp Full of Alligators”
October 2012 “Plan to Live Forever, Part Deux”
July 2012 “A Midsummer Dream”
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?”