Friday, March 31, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: The Day Of Long Knives

One of the things that I have made a habit of since 2009 is doing my best to be aware of what is going on at any company I work at - not just the mechanics of the company at work, but the actual status of the company as it functions - "making the sausage" that almost no-one cares about.  Mostly this is a defense mechanism:  I was caught unawares that "all is well" when in fact all was not well, and a number of events were precipitated by my trust in my management, including ultimately the relocation from Old Home to New Home.  And so, beyond my regular job, I pay attention to things like who is leaving and what organizational structures are doing and the quarterly finances. I spend a far amount of time in relationships with other employees - because no-one person has a view of everything that is going on.

So when one of my work friends reached out with "Did you see the e-mail from HR?" and I in fact did not have an e-mail from HR, I was not terribly surprised.  Something was up, something that would be manifesting itself in the next day or so.

I have been somewhat open here that I have had some ongoing concerns about my employment for awhile.  This is not unusual in the start-up Biopharmaceutical world:  I have likened it before to a roulette game where one hopes that one hits the number before the wheel stops spinning (e.g, runs out of money).  It is just one of those things that one accepts:  Higher reward, higher risk.  And so I have been eyeing our quarterly financials and our project progress and where we are spending our time and our energy.

And so, my friend letting me know there was a meeting involving HR was not surprising. And the fact that apparently bad news was forthcoming was not surprising either.

There is nothing worse than knowing bad news is coming and not being able to talk about it.    One waits, watches e-mails transit the system and requests for information that all of a sudden seems not as critical as it once was.

The day - yesterday - rolled around.  I knew the meeting invite was coming but it did not appear and did not appear and did not appear.  E-mails slowed down to a crawl, and then to none at all.

Finally, at 1300, the invite came out.  Mandatory company meeting, 30 minutes, no agenda. The proverbial cat was out of the bag.  E-mail, of course, slowed to a crawl.

The meeting itself was a mere 4 minutes:  all cameras disabled, all microphones disabled, not chat.  Short version:  Terrible times caused by the financial markets, major restructuring and refocus.  50% of employees (over 100) to be laid off.  Communication by e-mail and then by managers.  And...done.

And then the waiting.

My little pod of PMs waited.  Did you get an e-mail?  No, did you?  Meanwhile my phone keeps buzzing as I am responding to a different discussion with work friends, to the same end.  Did you hear?  No, did you?

The "it sounds like e-mails are coming soon" stretched into 1.5 hours, until finally the President reached out to me.


The letter came right after that, of course.  Effectively 8 weeks (60 days) until D-Day, during which we are expected to "turn over" our responsibilities to new people - whom, I have no idea.  My entire department was laid off so there are no Project Managers to turn it over to.  Last day 29 May 2023, last day of insurance 31 May 2023.  PTO to be paid out, which may give me another three weeks of income.

I have no idea of the total spread, but over 100 people will adversely impact almost every department.    Who will be doing the work we used to do, I have no idea.

Frankly, I no longer care.

How am I doing? Okay.  This did not come as a total surprise.  Perhaps I had some small hope that I would be spared this round - I have been spared others - but this was not the case.  And frankly, I am a little burned out at this point.  Last month we got the main thing I had working on for the last 22 months through; this month I am dismissed. A career of projects that do not go anywhere wears on a person after a while.

We are in a far better position than we were in 2009, when I was last laid off:  The Ravishing Mrs. TB has a full time job, the last child - Nighean Dhonn - will graduate from high school in a month and has at least the first two years of college covered - and we owe far less on our house than we did (and no other debt).  For sure there is a complete re-examination of the budget going on as we speak.

A funny story to close this out:  when speaking to folk months ago about this possibility, I said that my biggest hope was for my current position to last through Nighean Dhonn's graduation from high school as I would have liked (if possible) to let her attend all four years at the same high school.  My job "ends" on 29 May; she graduates on 25 May.  

God's providence or God's sense of humor are on full display.  Or perhaps, both.


  1. I confess that the title of this post gave me an immediate "oh oh" feeling. You've been wise to pay attention to company details, especially with so many of them laying people off now. It's disconcerting when something big like this catches one off guard. Even so, the timing is a display of God's sovereignty, and there's comfort in that.

    1. There is Leigh, there is - which is likely one reason I am not overly stressed about it. It could have been so much worse. But yes, still a little disconcerting to actually see it come to fruition.

  2. Anonymous6:13 AM

    As Leigh said you have wisely been preparing for this. It makes it hurt no less. So glad for Gods perfect timing I this. Praying for you and your family.

    1. Thank you very much - and yes, no matter how ready you are, it still hurts. I am confident that the next door will appear in God's good time.

  3. Anonymous6:29 AM

    Man, I am so sorry. I'm glad you already had this possibility of happening in the back of your mind. You weren't blindsided by what happened as I'm guessing some of your coworkers were. The ones who have outstanding debts that require payment are especially vulnerable.

    I've had that feeling too, as the main leaders in our firm are older and probably thinking hard towards retirement. Both are in their 70's, and the game has changed for the worse. More wrangling client's feelings then our actual job. So politicized.

    They have in the past hired people who appeared to be in training to takeover when they leave, but the candidates instead moved on to other locations. The junior partner I'm not sure wants to continue the firm as it is. He is intelligent enough to do it all and doesn't require a full staff to get it done. An office opened from home is probably a good option.

    The end of April, I will be starting my 30th year with this firm. We are family, but all understand that Time waits for no one. The only constant is change.

    I hope you land on your feet sir. Hopefully, this will be an open door to new opportunities.

    1. Thank you. Yes, the possibility has been in my mind for over a year - and the young ones, new to their careers or young in that they have never gone through this, are the ones I feel bad for. Being laid off does something to a person.

      Sounds like you are potentially in the same sort of situation - and aware of it. To your point, time waits for no-one and an ugly surprise is something no-one needs in this economy.

      I appreciate your kind wishes. Best of luck to you as well.

  4. I'm not sure what to say to you TB. I don't think I am truly sorry that you lost your job because it didn't appear to me that you were happy there and I don't like to wish unhappiness on people. Everyone should work at something that they enjoy and makes them happy. You are fortunate to have been let go in a time of very low unemployment so I hope you are able to capitalize on that and find something you do like. (My first hammerfall happened less than a week before 9/11 when all job hiring stopped for months!) You have two months of heads up and I'm assuming with unemployment benefits and COBRA, that can be extended to many more months if needed. It seems as if you have been looking to get back to Old Home and this may very well be that kick in the pants to do so.

    I've been through a hammerfall twice so I know the run of emotions it does to a person. I am sorry that you will have to go though those emotions and feelings of uncertainty about your future. But being and optimist, I know you will come out on the other side of this better than you were before. So take a week to decompress, get that resume polished up and start looking for that better future we all want and deserve!

    1. Ed - As always, thank you. The role of Site Optimist is a valued one (sadly, though unpaid - as you may have heard, we have had a recent change in the site finances that precludes any sort of actual remuneration..)

      I think your assessment is the correct one - I am sorry, but not overly sorry as I was certainly not fulfilled at the position. It paid well and it enabled a lot of things to happen, but it was not - certainly for the last three years - something that was highly desirable. Something broke in 2020 when I changed positions, a culmination of a number of years of high stress, and things were never the same again.

      It is a good market at the moment (although if companies insist on continuing to lay people off, perhaps not quite as good) and with our change in life status with more of Na Clann gone, it opens up possibilities. I am not in a hurry to get into anything right at the moment (in theory, I still have a 60 day commitment) and to be honest, I do not know that I want to go back to either.

      Oddly enough, giving myself time to decompress is the biggest challenge. I feel like I should be doing something "right now", but know that immediate unthinking action is never the best thing.

      Given (literally) the timing of this and what I had originally hoped for from this job, I achieved everything I had hoped from the change in 2020: I kept the job through 2020, 2021, and then through 2022, and it allowed the youngest to graduate from the same high school she started at (by four days). I really could not have asked for more - and the timing of this almost to perfection suggests the next thing is out there for me. I just need to find it.

  5. I admire your attitude. Life is full of hardships. You are sailing with courage and class and fortitude and professionalism.

    I pray that I shall confront and walk through my hard-times as well as you appear to be dealing with yours.

    1. Thanks ERJ! I really appreciate it (to be fair, I may also feel like I am faking it to a large degree).

      If I am fortunate in anything, it is that I have been down this road at least twice before and each time, was a little better prepared than they last. Hopefully even more so this time.

    2. STxAR9:38 AM

      I read that if a man knows he HAS to keep his head, he probably WILL keep his head. Keep up the self-encouragement. That ain't faking it.

    3. Thanks STxAR. I am doing my best.

  6. Your writings before this post indicated you were eyes Open and well aware of the storm clouds ahead in your employment.

    So many choose to pretend all is well and are gob smacked when "IT" occurs.

    I suspect the loss of near free money from the Fed (AKA rising interest rates) to the whole economy made Biotech a noted cash burner was the catalyst of this reduction of work force?

    It's not just you friend. Secondary effects are showing up as forced selling of "Toys" has reduced the value of them. I watch Craigslist for deals and lately more jet skis' and snowmobiles and such are showing up. Right now for "Good Times" pricing.

    Suggestions are obvious. Serious reduction of outflow of family money. Done BEFORE it's forced works a lot better as both my personal experience and that of many of my friends.

    Selling off of "Toys" while there is a reasonable rate of return to "Optimistic Folks". I one mercy bought from a friend a treasured "Toy" of theirs at a serious discount, with the agreement that they could buy it back at the same cost in a year or two.

    Didn't want the "Toy", shared it between our families for the two years. They bought it back as agreed. Kept that friendship, the most IMPORTANT thing.

    Small savings now is better than forced BIG Cuts later.

    Small actions done early like the small rudder on a large Cargo Ship changes things smoothly.

    Meat is expensive and will get even more expensive.

    I do a white bean pot every Sunday. At a buck 69 a pound of dry white Great Value beans I get two weeks worth of bean pot.

    A scoop of white beans as a side dish means meat is more a flavoring than main calories. White beans blended into the spaghetti sauce means less ground beef or Italian sausage needed to make a nice high protein, high satiety filling meal of spaghetti. White beans are so mild they blend in literally every dish including soups, stews and casseroles.

    You know your skillsets. You'll do well as your pro-active. Remember that free money is done for years so plan that in your job search.

    1. Michael - The official reasoning was "unexpected markets which made raising cash a difficult option and the banking crisis". The banking crisis was unexpected, at least in timing; the difficulty in raising funds has been true since 2022. That part could have been foreseen. The reality is that hard choices made much earlier would have changed the outcome yesterday - maybe not completely changed them, but at least mitigated them.

      The Ravishing Mrs. TB has already started with her first pass at the budget and both of the younger two that are with us are looking at things as well - more for the fact they will need to have more money for college.

      I would say I do not have "toys", but I am sure I do. I need to do an inventory of what is to be let go. Fortunately all our cars are paid for and in good repair.

      This weekend, the grocery chain the two younger ones work at is having their periodic discount for store employees for in-house brands. We are building a list of staples to stock up on.

      Appreciate all the suggestions. I am confident we will be fine and come out stronger - and yes, the era of free money is over.

  7. I'm sorry, TB. Our world is becoming a strange place.

    1. Thank you srbrgirl. To be honest, it could have been far worse. I really feel bad for those who are left behind - not only will they have survivor's guilt, they will have the sword over their heads of it happening again at any time. That is a terrible burden to deal with and I suspect more than one will be bailing in this intervening time period. No-one wants to be the last one on the Titanic.

  8. As Ed said, you didn't appear happy, and you were wisely planning for the outcome.

    Although my only layoff resulted in a forced career change that turned out OK, it wasn't my choice.
    It was a very hard lesson that sometimes, or always?, we are smacked in the face with how little actual control we have over parts of our lives.

    You and yours are in our thoughts.

    1. John - I was not, at least about the job (lots of great people though). The single biggest need was paying for college and getting the youngest through high school, and that has all been accomplished.

      I got to my current role in Project Management through an enforced career change and to be fair, I never need to go back to Quality Assurance or managing people again - not the change I wanted, but the change I needed. I have learned a fair amount about myself in the last 3 years that should serve me in good stead (including the fact that I can work from home far more effectively than in an office).

      The thoughts are very much appreciated.

  9. Nylon128:13 AM

    Over half the company let go, indeed as Leigh said the title foretold news. Sorry for this firing, you did well to follow what was happening within your company and getting your financial affairs in better order. Thoughts and prayers to you and yours TB. Your offspring get another real lesson in the bumps of life.

    1. Nylon12 - To be honest (and maybe this is indicative of who I really am), the very first thought when I heard it was happening was "What is the title for this post going to be?" Because, of course, the most important thing is to document it...

      My paranoia comes both from my own small business failure in 2005 and my other layoff in 2009 - in both cases the signs were there, but I was caught "off guard", mostly through my own negligence. We are in a far better position than before - not ideal, but better. And we have a timeline.

      You touch on an important thought: it does matter how we handle such things as we are the example to others, both those we know and those we do not. I am consciously aware of the fact that people will be watching how I (and others) respond to this. This is where the power of our convictions and how we claim to manage our lives really matters: do we act in adversity as we have said we would? Are we the people we claim to be when things are not going well?

      (This has Stoicism implications all over it).

      Thanks for the thoughts and prayers - they are very much appreciated.

  10. I got let go from my final job in technology in August 2016, a day and a half before my wife and I embarked on a 3 week cross-country RV trip. We went on the trip anyway because most of it was already paid for. I got them good in the end though, because I held the contractors license required by Kommiecticut for the company to do business in the state, and at my exit interview I reminded them of this fact which they kinda blew off. When I returned home, I notified the state department of consumer protection that I was downgrading my license from contractor to the less expensive journeyman, and that the company no longer held a contractor license. The only mechanism to do that was to file an actual complaint, which I did happily. According to my former co-workers, my email notifying them of the license situation went up their asses sideways. Too bad, they were NOT going to continue using my name and license number to perform business, which is exactly what they were probably going to do. They ended up selling off my division and customer base to a competitor that did hold a proper license.

    1. G_D: Oddly enough, the same thing is going to happen here. We have a two week vacation paid in June, a few days after my now-impending departure date: to not go means to lose the deposit, so we are going. Later that month the head of my sword school is coming from Japan - and I am certainly not missing that. I was going to be out most of June anyway; now I just am unencumbered by the need to catch on e-mails upon my return.

      The law of unintended consequences (to which you refer) is likely going to play out here as well. There will be knowledge that disappears without anyone else knowing it (no matter how much a company tries, things are never always in the cloud). I have been there almost seven years and have e-mails archives going back that long and in some cases am the sole recollection of events; that ends in 60 days. It is not that I will delete anything; it is just that no-one will know where to look.

      I feel for the those left behind that have to try and deal with this. It will be a nightmare.

  11. Anonymous8:52 AM

    Prayers for you and your family. I have been Fired a few times, never "Laid off", once I deserved to be fired and learned a lot from that, the other two I did NOT deserve to be fired and learned from those as well.
    I Love the line about God's humor and Providence...
    I have benefited greatly from both, God is Good.
    God Protect you and Strengthen you.

    MSG Grumpy

    1. MSG_G - Thank you very much for the kind thoughts and prayer. This is my third go round, two by companies and one by failing my own small business. I learned a lot about a lot of things, including God's timing (the move that brought us here in 2009 included a job that started two days after my last severance ran out, and this one ended 4 days before our youngest graduated from high school). If there is anything I have seen in these situation, it is God's providence.

  12. Anonymous8:55 AM

    Continue to keep your wits about you TB. Yes you have your youngest out of high school now. Blessings is that. I was laid off in 01’ with two elementary age children still at home. There were dark times then and these are dark times now. The intervening years were stunningly great for me but a shift in technology norms made my old skill set (Unix admin) obsolete 21/2 years ago. I’m not adjusting well to my new win-ders role. But I’m of retirement age with everything prepared except the money, part thanks largely to a recent term of a 40yr marriage due to divorce. Whatever happens the news from eternity is this:
    God is still on patrol.
    He knows all that happened to everyone yesterday.
    He knows all that is happening today (including all joys, cares, and troubles).
    He knows all that is going to happen years from now.
    He’s waiting there in that future time for us to arrive.
    God bless

    1. FNB - Last time this happened (in 2009) we had three elementary school children, so we are already ahead of the game in that aspect. That said, it was a terrible time to look for a job (we ended up moving as a results). The market is okay now, but may shift soon.

      "God is still on patrol". I like that and am going to borrow it. He has shown us to date His timing is perfect, and I fully expect Him to do so again.

      The prayers and blessing are very much appreciated.

    2. Anonymous9:45 AM

      I did the same 40 years, FNB. Just ended in January. God bless you brother.

    3. Anonymous5:34 PM

      The Israelites followed Moses in the wilderness 40 years. I figured that was enough. Thanks whoever you are.

  13. Filthie9:46 AM

    You’ll be fine, TB. I worked for The Man for most of my life and when I found myself out of work… I discovered that I actually enjoy the minimalist life, and I’m not in any rush to sell what’s left of my soul back to the establishment and run their stupid fricken rat race. Age changes things… I was astonished at how many things I could cut out of my life and still be perfectly happy.

    Take some time, go for long walks with the mutt, play with the animals and read. You earned it. A hammerfall? I think not…you’re just turning the page on a chapter of your life.

    1. Glen - Your experiences in these matters have actually given me both confidence and a sort of road map to follow. To be completely honest, I am loathe to just "jump right back in" to applying - after 25 years in this field I am tired of a great many things of it. To your point, most of my "things" I want I already have. The time is the thing.

      While not quite a Hammerfall to me (reference, of course to Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven's book of the name), it has been to a lot of people. Entire departments have almost been wiped out and the few people left will have to work under the stress of less individuals to do the work and trying to pick up the pieces. My predication is this will change how they look at employment a great deal.

  14. Anonymous9:57 AM

    Everything is changing. First slowly, then all at once. You are an encouragement to me. Much better grounded than I am. Don't minimize your skill set, and consider consulting. I do that with anyone that wants it. My network is very small. You have a high performance history and wide reach, so utilize it. I'm praying that doors will open, paths will illuminate, and Arthurian swords will rise from the soggy spots. Also, that God will make known your direction soon.

    I went by my old place uptown on Monday. I had a good time visiting with my old customers. One told me that back in December, they let go 10% of our upper management. They let go all the old guys with the knowledge, to keep new folks that were more politically diverse. They are rolling smaller locations into cross-opco cooperatives to survive. Unfortunately, they got used to free money and bought and built like it would never dry up. That company is a canary in the coal mine. They already knew the writing was on the wall last fall.

    God bless you real good. He has this in hand. ALL of it.

    1. It is funny how literally one day everything can be "normal", and the next day everything is not at all the same. It is odd, honestly, to hear those who are remaining trying to plan as if everything was still as it was. It is like a war happened and everyone is acting as if nothing had happened.

      I often struggle with underestimating my abilities and skills, so the reminder is a good one. Fortunately, I have plenty of folks who keep reminding of such things. And yes, swords arising from soggy spots would be most welcome.

      We had a similar problem: acted like we were a much larger, well funded company while not being that. It was built on easy funding, which was true five years ago but not so much now. I am sure I am not the only one in my cohort that will be facing this.

      Thanks so much for your kind comments.

  15. Anonymous12:56 PM

    There is noting to say that hasn't been said. You'll be fine, you've laid a solid foundation to withstand the storms. And you know that God walks with you.

    1. Thank you. In a way, everything that has happened before prepared us for this (as it usually does). I am sure God's door will open - in His time.

  16. Anonymous6:04 PM

    Sorry to hear this news TB. It is happening in Australia too. It's pretty much confirmed as global from my perspective.

    I survived yet another department-wide restructure 18 months ago. The dust from that has not even started to settle and its happening again.

    I have watched as my mentors were overwhelmed, and reduced to tears in meetings. Men in their late 50's & early 60's. . . Senior project managers with decades of experience, who are delivering three-and-five year, multi-million dollar construction projects have had their major projects transferred to another agency with only months to completion.

    The constant restructuring shenanigans I have come to expect and find mostly amusing and predictable. But to watch these seasoned men reduced to tears in meetings - I've never seen this in my life before.

    The same senior executives who assured us that our projects were fine, and no changes were going to happen for the last eight months are now assuring us there will definitely be no job losses . . .

    I'm amazed they can keep a straight face. I'm updating my CV and jumping ship as soon as I can. I've always found it easier to find a better position while still employed.

    So much has happened the last few years, I've often joked that we survivors are the "stainless steel rats" of Harry Harrison's kids books.

    Best wishes to all,


    1. KA - Great to hear from you, even under such unfortunate circumstances!

      The breakdown you are referring has been told to me as well, although I have not been in the meetings. The reality that no-one can say is that is not good and it is not going to end well. Even now, management is acting as if we are simply going to carry on. The reality is that those leaving are looking to their own future and those remaining - they, too, will likely look to their own future. What remains now to hold them there?

      The position while employed is indeed usually easier. Best of luck to us all.

  17. ...very first thought when I heard it was happening was "What is the title for this post going to be?"

    I have thought that same thought many times over the years!

    1. Ed, we writers may be a horrible bunch after all. Even in the midst of tragedy, we are already thinking about what we are going to write...

  18. Anonymous5:26 PM

    Take my dear old Mum's tried and true admonition: Don't sell yourself short. You have skills and knowledge that someone needs. You might find something else you really enjoy.

    A few years ago, my lawyer cousin semi retired and spent a lot of time fixing up a summer home in a nearby mountain town. He became well known in the local hardware/lumber store and the owner (having no idea he was a practising lawyer) offered him a job. My cousin was flattered and kind of wistful that he couldn't accept. He still thinks it is something he'd like to do - no high pressure to produce 'billable hours'. Instead, helping people that do manual labour building or fixing things of value and then going home feeling he's done something productive. And not having to be available via email 24/7.

    1. Dixie - Thank you. If you ask the people who know me best, they would (inevitably) tell you I sell myself short and I lack self confidence. So you are right on target.

      Productive really matters. That is something one misses with a great many office and desk jobs: we "create" electrons instead of anything real. There is something to working with one's hands and having a created a physical "thing", be it a garden or a house, which leaves one satisfied at the end of the day that nothing else can. I am certainly keeping my options open at the moment.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  19. Reading this a few days late, I hope you're still doing as well as this post sounds you are, TB. I know you've anticipated this for some time, I wonder if that makes such news easier or harder? Not that that probably matters now. Prayers up as you finish your job there, and move on to what is next, handling the myriad emotions and thoughts such a transition surely encompasses.

    1. Thank you Becki.

      I am doing...okay. I have bouts of wild abandon at the opportunities and disturbing darkness at the fact of the impending darkness. While it was expected, nothing really makes it less painful than it is.


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