Tuesday, 19 October 2010

End of an era, end of an error

It’s strange to see a ‘To Let’ sign suddenly sprout outside the house where you live – it feels slightly as though the ground is being cut out from under your feet.

The reality, of course, is just that we’re moving. Last weekend was my last as a resident of Stafford, and like most last weekends, it was dominated by cardboard boxes, being filled one by one and clogging up our living space.

What shall we miss about Stafford? One place, certainly: magical in its wildness, Cannock Chase with its deer and foxes, with its wide open high ground in contrast to its lush wooded valleys and gentle streams.

Far more than that, though, we shall miss people. Stafford was a surprisingly friendly place, where people you meet almost aways seem to have a smile and cheerful greeting. At the office, I enjoyed the company of colleagues who as well as being competent and hard working, were friendly and fun. And we were extraordinarily lucky with our neighbours. We shall miss them badly, and I very much hope that they meant it when they told us they would take up our invitation to visit us in our new place.

For us it’s the end of an era. For me, professionally, it’s also the end of an error. It’s received wisdom these days that mergers and acquisitions don’t do much for businesses, often being little more than a way for the acquiring company to show its virility and adding little or nothing in the way of value. Sadly, that seems illustrated by my stay in Stafford.

Some years ago I was working with eight other people in a tiny little company in which, when we weren’t fighting about how badly we were doing commercially, we had a great deal of fun. We had customers we enjoyed knowing, products we were proud of and projects that gave us exciting challenges. Unfortunately, the rows kept getting louder because the one thing we didn’t have was anything like the number of sales we needed.

Then we got a call. An old friend and former colleague contacted us from a company that might be interested in acquiring us. It was as though the 6th Cavalry had just come over the hill. Within a few months we had been absorbed. The acquiring company got six of the nine staff, with whatever skills we had, our thirty clients with their maintenance payments and some reasonable products.

Unfortunately, it all started to unravel within months. The first blow was that the old friend who had launched the acquisition process was made redundant. Then the users we had brought with us began to wake up to the fact that the new company was not going to be doing any work on the products they had bought. They began to drift away.

Next the attrition on the six staff started. One by one, voluntarily or pushed, we left. It was my turn when I was made redundant this summer, most courteously but nonetheless firmly escorted to the exit.

That still left one of the six in place, but I did a reference for her last week. Since I rate her highly, what I wrote isn’t going to make her new employer review the decision to take her on.

So in a few weeks none of us will be left. A handful of clients have stuck around, but the products have vanished. A chapter will have closed.

Not that I’m complaining. The acquisition gave me over four years of a good salary and my severance terms were more than fair. The sad thing is how little I was able to contribute. Thanks to a talented team, I was involved in the launch of one new application of which I’m really proud, but so many other things I got started and had to leave unfinished.

So this was another acquisition that delivered far less than it might. An episode that started with great hope left me at its close with a lot of regrets. The end of an error indeed.

These are thoughts I need to put behind me. It’s sad to move away, but it may be the only way to move on.

For me, it’s time.


Awoogamuffin said...

All this will come out in your gripping fourth novel, right?

David Beeson said...

Ah, you know how my mind works