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August 25, 2005
Walking Barefoot on the Katana's Edge Part II

Power Corrupts, absolute power...

You know the rest of the story. I have always had the opportunity to lead. From the days of my youth when I led my little gang of guys, to the Boy scouts where I was Junior Assistant Scout Master, and all through High School and College, where I held various positions of power, I have almost always been out in front. But I got my real first taste of Power while working for one of the World's top computer manufacturers during the early 90's. I started at this company as a Technical Support Rep, part of a massive hiring of a hundred or so of us. Within 90 days of joining the company I was promoted to Team leader with a Team of 12 other Techs working for me.

My Team was the 5am-2pm shift and within a couple of months we were producing the highest productivity and customer satisfaction ratings in the Service Group. The key to our success was Teamwork. We focused on working as a team and working to develop our individual skills. I created the first teams of specialist within the group, investing my own money to build a library of technical manuals and commissioning one of my team members to create a knowledgebase of technical issues and solutions. By creating specializations and passing complex calls off to specialist in the area of the problem, everyone was able to respond to routine calls more rapidly.

We had a tradition of taking lunch (in our case breakfast together daily), and every morning I bought in donuts for the whole team. That our team produced better results was a direct result of these efforts, and people began to take notice. We called ourselves "The A Team," and our slogan, published in flyers posted around the company was, "In War it is the Marines who are first to hit the Beach, Here it is the A-Team. The highlight of that Period was when the Company President held a company wide meeting, and during his speech, declared himself a member of "The A Team."

Within another three months I was promoted to Supervisor of the Technical Support Groups with 75 Employees and five teams. I appointed five of my original Team members as leaders of the new teams, and my Group continued to outperform other groups within the Service Organization. It was the beginning of what became known as, "The Anderson Way." Six months later I was promoted to Manager of Technical Support, which was followed a year later by promotion to Director of Technical Support. My boss at the time had a Mantra, "You can get anything you want in life, as long as you are willing to help others get what they want." I practiced what he preached religiously. Every time he was promoted, a promotion for me quickly followed. He was a mentor, a father and a boss all rolled into one, and I loved and respected the man.

During my nearly 5 years of working for him, I helped him build a global network of call centers and built a Technical Support organizations all over the world. My personal staff at its hight was close to 1000 technicians and service people. During the same time I led the development of one of the first Knowledgebase products in the PC Support Industry, conceptualized the first "Third Party Desktop Interface for Windows," and created the first 900 number for Software Support.

I also grew arrogant and reckless. My list of indiscretions is as long as Rip Van Winkle's beard, so I wont go into detail here. Suffice it to say, I was a party animal, a power freak and a Superstar in a young industry. I flew all over the world First Class. I founded Call Centers in Amsterdam, South Africa, Australia and Mexico, and I partied like it was 1999. I contributed to the destruction of two marriages, and I dated whomever I wanted, whether they worked for me or not, sometimes more than one at a time, and sometimes on more than one continent.

In 1994, the Northridge Quake destroyed the Support Center and Nearly the company. In perhaps one of my finest hours as an Executive, I moved the entire Support Operation to Utah from California in less than 30 days. In Salt Lake City I was a minor celebrity. I got a chance to meet NBA star Karl Malone, who... get this, counseled me on what it was like to be a Black Man in Mormon Country. I attended concerts and basketball games in the Delta Center, as the guest of the head of Utah's biggest bank, and I lived like a prince. Such a lifestyle did little to put my expanding ego in check. I had went from being one of the best and most innovative managers in the business, to being a mini despot, rewarding those loyal to me and ruthlessly punishing those who I perceived as not. Despite this, I was one of the most popular managers in the company, and this was proven when I left the company by the huge turnout at my farewell party.

I will never know what I really did to deserve a lot of the love I got from those people, the ordinary grunts who worked in the trenches, but it was real, and it is something I will never forget. I suppose that even as an occasional ass, I always appreciated what my team did, and never failed to reward them for their hard work, or take a few minutes to praise someone, regardless of their position on the food chain. I treated my front line personnel with respect and dignity, and always rewarded good performance.

Some would say that those who I slammed deserved it, but with 11 years to think about it, I can see where and when I was out of control. It was a learning experience and a heady one for a 34 year old child of the Ghetto who was suddenly earning a six figure income, partying with NBA stars and celebrities and living like a, "player," before the term was even invented.

At one time I had a budget of several million dollars a year, and met frequently with the President of the company. Once I was dating a person from Human Resources, despite the disapproval of the Manager of HR, probably more than anything because she was afraid of what inside information I might get access to, but likely also because the woman in question was married when I started seeing her. We became like the royal couple of the company, with her decorating my office with a ton of confetti and Hershey's kisses on my birthday, and me serenading her in front of half the company on Valentines Day. When we broke up, the President of the Company called me to his office to console me and give me a bit of fatherly advice about love. I will never forget that meeting, or what it meant to me.

It was four and a half years of the most exciting time of my life. In that time I learned everything I would ever need to know about what makes a good manager... and what makes a bad one... unfortunately I often did it at the same time....

Posted by David A at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | 1225 Words
August 24, 2005
Walking Barefoot on the Katana's Edge Part I


Walking barefoot on the Katana's Edge

Life has always been for me an adventure. As I near 50, I find myself more and more reflecting on my life, and what it all means. I have not done much personal stuff lately, and thought this might be a good outlet for me to blog about things in my life. I call it, Walking Barefoot on the Katana’s Edge.

Part One
I worked in Silicon Valley for eight years, and have worked in High Tech for almost 20. When I see the success of Google, I am amazed. Previous to founding Grupo Utopia, I worked for several startups. Two of them had in excess of 100 Million Dollars in startup funds, all of which they pissed away in a little over a year. Both companies were run by young, white Stanford Grads with almost no real world experience, and who with nothing more than a canned business plan and a PowerPoint Presentation, convinced some of Silicon Valley's top Venture Capitalist to bankroll their dreams. Both companies had proven CEO's at the helm, but were actually ran by young PM's (Product Managers in Silicon Valley Speak), who didn't know shit but considered themselves "Masters of the Universe." And that they were, at least as long as the money lasted.

At one company I had a GOLD American Express Card, in my name, with absolutely NO controls whatsoever on it. In fact, I never even saw the bill. It went straight to accounting, who paid it without even asking me about it. Once, we an executive photo shoot was planned and I was not told in advance, I came to work dressed in Jeans and a polo shirt. My boss, The President, sent me to San Francisco and told me to buy a couple of changes of clothes for the shoot, "something executive..." I spent almost a grand that day, and no one blinked.

Then there were the Friday Beer and Pizza bust. Every Friday, the company fronted for beer and Pizza for everyone on staff. This wasn’t much when the staff was a dozen people, but when it reached 100, you can imagine the weekly cost. There were also the fridges stocked with food and drink, and the morning bagel and donut runs. People regularly took six packs of soft drinks home with them, which were promptly replaced. This was all before the company saw a dime of revenue. The first day the company went live with a product, they took out TWO full page Ads in The Wall Street Journal. This despite the fact that at the time the product was only being sold in California. Another Million was spent on a commercial featuring animatronics dinosaurs... One that never even aired. The founders of the company were a bunch of guys in their early 20's that all knew each other. The company folded in less than a year and a half, I left about 8 months in, asked to leave by Management that "did not like my style," They paid me $60,000 for the privilege of getting the hell out of there. In the hot times we lived in, I was employeed again in two weeks.

The next company I worked for, (and the last), was run by a couple of veteran medical sales types. The idea was to get Doctors to use a handheld computer to write prescriptions for patients. The handhelds were given to the doctors free of charge, with the idea of getting access to statistical information on prescription writing, which would be turned over to the pharmacy companies, who would in turn pay a fortune for the information. The program was also supposed to help doctors avoid drug interaction problems by keeping information about other drugs the patient was using, and keeping the physician from prescribing something that could cause a dangerous interaction problem. The program was complicated and slow, and there were major problems with syncing the information with the companies computers back in Silicon Valley. The idea also relied on the Doctor's assistant sticking arround after work and initializing the sync, which worked "sometimes." Many of the Doctors ended up using the $500 handhelds to keep their golf scores and girlfriend/boyfriend's numbers.

There was also massive waste at that company as well. Weekly gourmet lunches for the entire staff, poor logistical planning that led to trainers having flights booked to far away cities at the last minute for training classes, resulting in thousands in unnecessary travel expenses. In other cases, units had to be shipped Federal Express overnight, instead of Ground, again because of poor planning. Favoritism ran rampant in the company, and the young Product Managers were running the show, despite not even being in accord on their own plans. After blowing through $300 Million Dollars, the company was sold after a year and a half. I again walked away with a nice parachute, this time about $40,000. Most of my time at Company Number II was spent just scratching my head trying to figure out how a good product, and a good idea, could be so royally fucked up by people smart enough to talk some real heavyweights into putting up $300 Million Dollars.

It was an interesting couple of years. Years that taught me a lot about what NOT to do if ever I got the chance to start a company. I unfortunately did not get $300 Million to start Utopia, but I have made the best of what investment I did get.

During my last years in Silicon Valley I kind of lost it. I worked for egotistical idiot after idiot. I made shit loads of money and spent it as fast as I made it. I lived an extravagant lifestyle, had affairs, partied my ass off, and started to believe the hype. But that is all it was... Hype. I attended parties in Million Dollar homes. I drove a $45,000 Dollar SUV. I spent thousands on computers and toys. I cheated with the personal secretary of the most powerful politician in the Bay Area at the time. And I enjoyed a lifestyle that like the Dot Com bubble could not, and probably should not, have lasted. To be honest, I probably would not be married if it had.

I was walking the knifes edge. Coming to Costa Rica did not at first help (But that is another story). What has helped me to settle down and get a sense of priority in my life, is for once having to struggle for something, and having my wife and family right next to me as I did it... Before I was a cowboy, a Digital Gangster/Celebrity, living large and enjoying the benefits of power and money. Take away those trappings and start all over again and it brings one a sense of perspective. I have found it.

UPDATE: This post has been picked up by CNet's

Posted by David A at 09:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0) | 1156 Words
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