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Tickling the Dragon's Tail
Old 03-12-2014, 07:48 AM   #1
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Tickling the Dragon's Tail

Turning around and gazing out my office window, the 6am darkness is strangely appealing. For someone with a hundred-mile-a-day round-trip commute, Daylight Savings Time is a wondrous thing. It’ll still be light when I get home.

The streetlight at the end of the alley casts a pale glow. The side street the alley abuts to is quiet. If I sat and watched for a few minutes, I’d see the odd pedestrian wander past, another early riser on their way to whatever work awaits them. A hundred feet south is K-Street. Further down, the White House is a few blocks away.

I don’t wait that long. I ponder the question for a moment, turning it quietly in my mind. Swiveling the chair back to the PC, I read the message one more time.

Then I hit Send.


One of the tragedies of corporate America is the periodic dysfunction of managers – the political intrigues, the intimidations, and occasionally the outright bullying that gets exhibited. You can’t work at a megacorp and not experience it. And it becomes more prevalent the further you climb the corporate ladder.

Our CFO is generally a good guy. I like him, mostly. But he’s a big, hulking guy, physically. He’s assertive. He’s quick to anger. And he casually intimidates nearly everyone around him.

One of his directors pinged me the other day and said his boss – this CFO - wanted me to formally sign off on a particular report. A report that is internal to the IT department, but which we share out of professional courtesy. The CFO wanted to make sure I was properly “invested” in the process.

It would be a trivial thing to do. Thirty seconds, once a month. But given that IT does not report to him, it was an inappropriate request. So I politely declined. The message I sent this morning said that, with all due respect, it was beyond his purview.

I can imagine I might soon be the brunt of his infamous wrath.


The backdrop, of course, is that I can. I haven’t yet inked the ‘RE’ part. But the ‘FI’ is in place. My plan – unbeknownst to anyone at work - is to leave in September, giving ten weeks of notice in late June. But if things get ugly in the meantime, knowing that I can give two weeks’ notice and be perfectly fine… is huge.

The reciprocal to that first tragedy is that most people are stuck. They need their jobs. There is an undercurrent of quiet desperation that lies just beneath the surface. And so they do what they must. They suck it up, absorbing the drama and the politics and the dysfunction. They live with the ever present anxiety of potential loss.

The notion of being able to take a principled stand is a luxury very few have.

We mostly think of financial independence as simply the near prelude to an enjoyable retirement. It’s more than that, though. For those still working, it is perhaps the most liberating thing they can possibly experience.
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Old 03-12-2014, 07:54 AM   #2
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We mostly think of financial independence as simply the near prelude to an enjoyable retirement. It’s more than that, though. For those still working, it is perhaps the most liberating thing they can possibly experience.
Yes indeed! I felt for those at my last job, which I left when thing were clearly headed south, who did not have that option.
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Old 03-12-2014, 08:06 AM   #3
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Nicely written Jager. Truly, no substitute for knowing that exit at any time is possible with impunity.

I recall having my resignation letter in my pocket for nearly a year, just needed to fill in date and sign it. One fine day of maximum annoyance it was presented to the boss. In a meeting.

I pulled it out, put in the date, signed it and haded it to him. It was a bit crumpled, yet readable. The dropped jaws were priceless.
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Old 03-12-2014, 08:38 AM   #4
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Yes, very well put and very well written.

Whereas in my job I can't get away from the fact the boss is a borderline incompetent egomaniac with an at times tenuous grasp on reality who even follows me home from work ! (ie: i work for myself, lol) I have the same appreciation for "FI" since it helps me deal with the occasional overdemanding customer that is to lucrative to "fire" while I still figure out how to "RE"
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:05 AM   #5
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Sorry to hear about the commute.... I went to an interview with a company 40 miles away and said I just did not want to drive 80 miles a day to work...



As for the request..... let me give you a counter to what you wrote... knowing that I do not know anything about the report you speak of...


The CFO is responsible to cover risks per Sarbanes/Oxley.... not just in finance, but throughout the company.... If the report has something to do with risks.... it IS in his purview.... He is making sure that the head of a dept (I am assuming here) is actually reviewing the report and agreeing that it is correct... nothing to to with a power grab if this is what he is doing....
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:22 AM   #6
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Great post- it reads like a novel. Yep it's a great place to be when you can pull the RE trigger at the slightest annoyance.
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:27 AM   #7
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Nice writing!
My story: I was one week away from giving my resignation when my boss (CEO) surprised everyone and announced his departure. He and I were close and I knew for sure that his successor would move to 'retire' me.

Sounds bad, but I had an employment contract and it was VERY well worth it to pocket my own resignation, wait six months, get moved out and take the contract payout!
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:39 AM   #8
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Excellent and well put.

Many years ago, 1960's, 1970's ... We referred to our corporation as "Mother". It was in the age of "personnel departments" and not Human resources.
Being "there" long enough to see the transition, Some empirical, personal insight:

-Employees at all levels were treated as assets... good enough to be hired... good enough to be trained... good enough to be mentored... good enough to be kept... and good enough to be watched and guided to the highest level of responsibility to which he/she might be capable. "Mother" indeed, engendering a comfort level and loyalty that is becoming more uncommon today.

-The change came with a takeover of the company by the world's second largest corporation. Former president immediately replaced by the president of the fastest rising corporation in the industry. This new president brought along 25 or so of his young "rising stars". This shift of management turned "hard"... and instead of improving the sales and profits, led to a 10 year ride to destruction of what had been the third largest company of its' genre.

-Inter-office cooperation dropped and the general mantra became "dog eat dog". This worked, by causing jealousy, sabotage, and discontent... encouraged by highest level management to bring the "hard" managers to the top.

The self destruction and breakup resulted in the upper management group buying out the remnants and squeezing out a few hundred million in personal profits, in the aftermath.

Obviously there is much more to this story, and of course this does not represent all companies.

Two of my sons work in very different professions. The first,in a relatively small company that started with 7 employees, growing to 55 today. Employment within the comany is stable, and the workplace is cooperative and growing.

The second is in the legal profession... a medium size company but with employment concentrated at high level positions and managed by a nepotic oriented president. Backbiting and interoffice squabbles are becoming more acute... several senior members are considering ER, not all because of money, but because of the unpleasantness.

Nothing is simple, and there are two sides to every story, but from my distanced view, I wonder if "hardness" will continue to be the mien required by the boards of directors, and profit at all cost.
What happened to the 5, 10 and 20 year plans that were a once major part of the Corporate Prospectus.

In a way, it's heartbreaking to me, to see people in responsible positions, who should be enjoying the rewards of accomplishment and looking to the future of their companies as a personal responsibility and goal...
... seeing them worn down, frustrated and uncertain of their future.

I wasn't always that way.
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:41 AM   #9
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I am a CFO - Chief F*** Off...

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The CFO wanted to make sure I was properly “invested” in the process...
Ack, "corporate speak"...
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:45 AM   #10
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Thanks for sharing Jeff. You have a way with words.

For me, your commute would be far more toxic than your CFO. But you already have your plan mapped out, so I'm sure all will go well for you.
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:55 AM   #11
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Excellent post. Congratulations on FI, RE is just around the corner!

I can relate to much, the commute, mine was 125 miles, I'm sure yours is more time. Just cause someone is a C level, they can control their temper. Not sure why Megacorp's tolerate that type of behavior from leaders, behavior that an individual contributor would get written up for.

Get ready for a great new chapter!
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Old 03-12-2014, 11:30 AM   #12
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Nicely written Jager. Truly, no substitute for knowing that exit at any time is possible with impunity.

I recall having my resignation letter in my pocket for nearly a year, just needed to fill in date and sign it. One fine day of maximum annoyance it was presented to the boss. In a meeting.

I pulled it out, put in the date, signed it and haded it to him. It was a bit crumpled, yet readable. The dropped jaws were priceless.
I think I'm going to do the same, as I get closer to my "give notice" date. I get pulled into a lot of meetings where I'm right on the edge of voicing my real opinions about things, but I bite my tongue because I don't want to rock the boat just yet.

But as I get closer to giving notice, it sure would be nice to be armed with a resignation letter ready-to-go, and I wouldn't hesitate to fill it in and hand it in in front of a meeting full of people if I got pissed off enough.
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Old 03-12-2014, 03:23 PM   #13
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Ack, "corporate speak"...
Heads up, on the same page, due diligence, skin in the game, blah blah blah.
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Old 03-12-2014, 03:42 PM   #14
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Nicely written, but there have always been CFO's, managers, lobbyists, etc. - even in the 'good old days' or Megacorps. What changed them?
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Old 03-12-2014, 04:00 PM   #15
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Agree on your points. Having FI enables you to change your perspective and be able to say or do things that the wage-slaves can't.

A funny related story. At one of my old jobs they had the "years service plus years of age" of 85 for retirement eligibility. Some people were working past this point, and referred to the meeting the 85 points as the KMA day. If they had a bad enough day they would tell the boss to "Kiss My Ass", I am out of here!

I have also said to many friends and acquaintances the retirement for me does not mean i will never work, it means I can work because I want to, not because I have to.
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Old 03-12-2014, 04:22 PM   #16
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I have also said to many friends and acquaintances the retirement for me does not mean i will never work, it means I can work because I want to, not because I have to.
^^^
This!
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Old 03-12-2014, 04:29 PM   #17
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To the OP, nicely written.

To Midpak, IMO A great question and one that has probably inspired whole business books ... but IMO the short answer being a C-Level person in a large-ish public Co is shareholder/stakeholder/analyst/wall street/mkt expectations.

I see this every quarter as our CFO and CEO work diligently with our VP Investor Relations on how to describe what's going on in the business and how it all translates into potential profit, future growth, etc. for those constituencies.

Most companies live quarter to quarter and they are measured and managed/led in that way b/c it is the way board members and external constituencies keep score. It is often grossly unfair and has many unintended consequences, both internally and externally.

Have seen it at all of my megacorp jobs with public companies - and the more senior one gets the greater the exposure to all of that and the associated pressure.

More recently in the press we also see the rise of so-called activist investors who can in some cases make it even worse (b/c they have even shorter time horizons and conflicting interests).

There was a thread a couple days ago on the cult of shareholder value that also contains good comments on the point.

The bottom line, IMO, is that most companies can no longer afford the time or investment to train, retain and groom people or programs if the pay-off is not short term.

And its a big reason that once DW and I are securely FI I will RE to lesser roles in lesser businesses and w*rk how and when I may want to .
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Old 03-12-2014, 04:47 PM   #18
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Nicely written, but there have always been CFO's, managers, lobbyists, etc. - even in the 'good old days' or Megacorps. What changed them?
When I started out in the engineering world, it was the normal thing for managers to yell at whoever they thought deserved it. That went out of fashion in the early 90s. IMHO things were much better without it.
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Old 03-12-2014, 11:25 PM   #19
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Nicely written Jager. Truly, no substitute for knowing that exit at any time is possible with impunity.

I recall having my resignation letter in my pocket for nearly a year, just needed to fill in date and sign it. One fine day of maximum annoyance it was presented to the boss. In a meeting.

I pulled it out, put in the date, signed it and haded it to him. It was a bit crumpled, yet readable. The dropped jaws were priceless.

That is freakin awesome!
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Old 03-13-2014, 01:11 AM   #20
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Jäger, that post was so well written that I think you have a future as an author. The visual imagery of the early morning is highly evocative. Even the title is intriguing!

A long time ago, when I was just getting started, I stuck up for my principles at work, putting my career at risk in the process. Fortunately, I was not alone, the problem was addressed, and I suffered no consequences. Later, when I was FI, I took a principled stand again. On that occasion I became a target. But I could hold my head high knowing that they could FIRE me, but they could not hurt me. That is power.
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