Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Gift for My 40th Birthday:
Massive Lay-Offs Announced

May 2008

I woke up on my 40th birthday knowing it was going to be a shitty day. GSK had a global R&D Town Hall meeting to reveal what the reorganized company would look like. Our department managers let the word out about the depth of the cuts: “It’s a deep cut.” Sure enough, the budget for R&D was cut in half. It didn’t take a mastermind to figure out that most departments would be cut in half. What was noteworthy about that day was the size of the audiences in RTP, Pennsylvania and France. Even though the announcement was in RTP, the meeting was simulcast to other GSK sites. The audiences in NC and PA were standing-room-only and in good sized auditoriums. However, in France, the video cast was in a conference room with only a half dozen people in it. Were the French not interested in the re-org? No. French laws make it damned near impossible to fire or lay-off people. Their jobs were safe; they knew it and couldn’t have cared less about the carnage we were about to face.

The execs got down to business and didn’t sugar-coat it. Once I heard the size of the budget decrease, I would have stood up right then and there and went back to my lab, got out my butter and jam because I knew I was toast. Unfortunately, I had accepted a ride over to the north campus instead of driving myself. I had to listen to the details of how our jobs would be outsourced to other companies, including ones in China.

Later in the day, we had another meeting just for our department to give details of what to do next. HR gave details about the severance packages. We had to “reapply” for jobs in the reorganized company. The company required us to fill out a particular form to reapply for a job and if one didn’t, then a severance package would not be offered. Too bad we had to do these electronically or else I would have filled my form out in crayon. That would have been passive aggressive, a “weapon of the weak” giving me great pleasure. HR said we had an option on the form to say “Give me the severance package.” Several people did that. I thought long and hard about doing that but decided against it. I thought to myself “Why make their jobs any easier?” I was going to make them go through the uncomfortable process of telling me I wasn’t offered a position. When the day did come, I would act sad upon hearing the news but deep down, I didn’t give a shit. It was an undignified end to a not-so-happy chapter in my life.

I also had to act with dignity because I needed references. Word gets out about people who acted like jack-asses during the notification procedure. I heard one guy basically cussed out a manager when he was let go. A couple of months later, a few positions opened up and that guy would have likely got it except for his outburst. The short-term gratification wore off eventually and he was left with a damaged reputation.

Besides, I needed to be on the manager’s good side. I had a paper I wanted to publish and needed his sign-off for approval on this matter. He would approve of my paper for publication without any hardships or acrimony.

What I did worry about now, on my 40th birthday was what to do. If I stayed in the industry, I would have to move hundreds or even thousands of miles from NC. Some guys did just that. Some guys ended up in Tennessee, Florida, Massachusetts, Washington (both DC and the state) and even Canada. The jobs in NC were not there. I even thought of asking Aventis for my old job back but my pride got in the way.

I worried what I was going to do with Andy. He was an old guy by then but he was doing well. He couldn’t run anymore because of his arthritis but he could walk well. I didn’t know how he would handle a big move like that. I worried I would have to leave him behind in NC like I would Abby. It broke my heart.

I thought about going to law school. I had been thinking of that for almost ten years. I didn’t love my job as GSK but the benefits and pay were just good enough making it hard to leave. This time would be a good opportunity for me to go. The window was closing fast and this would be my last chance. Of course, I’d have to take the LSAT. I didn’t know how I’d do on that. I even thought about being a patent agent. One of the senior scientists, a guy in his mid 50’s, took that route.

I also thought about working in a different line of work such as teaching. That idea didn’t last long. I’m not particularly fond of kids.

All day, the one thing I kept thinking of was “What am I going to do with Andy?”

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