SHE SAYS:

Are there many differences in the way they operate?  From my perspective, probably not.

 Working in state government for 20 years, there was an element of professionalism in my office, but it seemed that no one could make a move without 10 people ‘signing off’ on that move.  Of course, this sometimes meant that something you wanted or needed done yesterday would actually be done next month. .  I exaggerate some, but there is a ring of truth to this.  Maybe this contributes to the poor reputation of government workers.

When I came to USFSB and began working with some of our national corporate vendors, I experienced some of the same patterns. In many ways, working with large corporations was more sophisticated than state government, but in government, one big difference is that staff usually had the same job for years so at least there was consistency with the players.

In large companies, staff can and did change so frequently at times it could make you feel like you were starting all over again.  Sometimes the transition was handled well however, usually a person would just be gone without warning and a new person answers their phone or I would just get an email from someone who introduces themselves as my new account manager.

Other times, I got a courtesy phone call or email to say “I took another position” and they provide contact information for the new person who is taking over or “we’re not sure who is taking over my accounts yet so just wait to hear from my boss in the next few weeks”.  No matter how the transition happens, the next question from the new manager is usually “So, what is it  that we do with your company?”

It can be very frustrating to work with these national vendors.  We have set contracts with them but the new staff person almost never took the time to read the contract or learn about the program and become familiar with it before contacting me.  This inevitably led to us having to defend our program, thus starting over again.  This was especially true when upper management or VPs changed and the account manager and USFSB would have to defend our program together.

For the last few years, I have also been working with the health, dental and vision insurance carriers.  This is a similarly frustrating experience.  Insurance is a regulated industry which is in constant flux with their changing rules and regulations and includes time constraints when informing the ‘insured’s’.  Many times, we are left to scramble at the last minute to create and mail notification to our members.  This is particularly unnerving during open enrollment periods because large numbers of members need to receive information all at once.

All of this brings me to an appreciation of being a small business owner. Joe and I ultimately make all the decisions so  when we do, implementation is swift.  Sometimes, less is more.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

This week, we will be exploring the differences between our previous professions and working in the corporate world.  Owning and operating a small business is a big change from working as an attorney or in state government, and presents a different set of challenges and opportunities.

HE SAYS

I have practiced law for over thirty years and during that time I handled many litigated cases including personal injury, contested divorces, and, even, contested estates.    This can be some of the most acrimonious and emotionally charged areas of the law; however, with rare exception, every attorney that I opposed was honest, direct, and reliable.   Yes, in my experience, the vast majority of attorneys understand that the legal system demands and expects that we fulfill our duty to make that system work even as we zealously represent the interests of our client.

In addition to the code of ethics and rules of civility there also is, in some sense, an unwritten bond among attorneys that allows for a level of respect and cooperation not found in many other professions.  In almost all cases, attorneys will extend courtesies such as agreeing to reasonable adjournments and extensions of time in order for the process to run smoothly and in an effort not to be unduly harsh to the other attorney.   Attorneys work under the premise of “what goes around comes around”.   In other words, if you are unyielding to your fellow attorneys, you will be given that same treatment the next time you need an accommodation.

All in all, even though I rarely agreed with my adversary (it is litigation after all), I almost always was able to count on their honest pursuit of the law on behalf of their client.

When I started to operate USFSB, I was plunged into a new world of inconsistency, unreliability and, sometimes, outright misrepresentation that can be large corporate America.  Many times, I have found that the large corporations we have had to deal with would give us inconsistent and unreliable feedback as we worked our way up the corporate ladder.   You could never count on the agreement or plan of action you made with your contact being endorsed by his boss such that you could never rely on anything.   I actually have had corporate representatives come to my office and strike a deal with us only to have them deny it once they are back at their corporate headquarters.

It was very difficult to operate our business when the corporate players changed frequently and we often found that we would need to pitch our successful programs all over again to a new set of decision makers.   We were always put in the position of having to convert what we thought were the already converted.   As these corporations, including national vendors and large insurance carriers, reinvent themselves every few years, the inconsistency becomes unbearable at times.

Give me the world of attorneys over the world of corporate management any day.    Attorneys may have a bad reputation in some circles; but, in reality they are a lot easier to work with than your average corporate executive. 

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

SHE SAYS:

             When I finally did agree to join Joe, at first it was part-time.  I got approval to work part-time at my job, so that just in case it didn’t work out at USFSB, I would be able to go back.  During the first few months, Joe asked me to work with each employee to evaluate their job duties and assess their efforts.  Of course, the employees did not like the scrutiny.  I was respectful of their feelings, but I was met with so much animosity  that it made it difficult for me to fit in to some aspects of the daily office routine.

             Joe established his position with the employees easily, but by the time I arrived, I was met with some resistance, which did not make it easy for me to adjust or enjoy being there.  I believe, at first, the employees just assumed that I wouldn’t stay.  Maybe, they didn’t even believe that Joe would stay, but who knows.  I think they just thought, “Oh, well, Joe’s wife is here for a while”.  In addition, as Joe said, he was used to running his office as a ‘dictatorship’ and I was used to a large office where consensus was a usual process.  This was going to be a challenge!

             Challenge or not I believe that the reason we can work together successfully can be summed up in a few words.  While we both have common goals, we approach them differently because of our unique and sometimes opposite personalities.  Joe may win most of the debates, but maybe that comes with the territory of having been a successful attorney!   Can I ever win??

             Despite the resistance from the employees, I soon became involved with one of our large vendor programs and liked the idea of the marketing I could do on behalf of USFSB by traveling to their field offices and train them on our program.  This part of my job became very appealing to me.   Within a few months, I got approval for a leave of absence for one year from my job and I came to USFSB full-time to run this program.   

            Eventually, I was doing quite a bit of traveling, training, and meeting with corporate executives.   I liked what I was doing, but I still tried to be independent of the office and the staff.  As I established my own ‘territory’ in the office, it became easier and I began to enjoy my new career.   I isolated myself from the insurance side of USFSB and became less and less involved with the employees.   This would later change, but at the time, it worked for all of us. 

             In terms of the office dynamics, I still was part of the staff and when we met, weekly, on different programs, Joe and I, on occasion, would have different ideas on how to approach the vendor program.    Although, I became the face of USFSB at these field offices, Joe orchestrated our moves with them and, sometimes, I resented it.   Neither of us had much experience dealing with the large corporate world, but I was the one meeting with them and I felt I had a better perspective than Joe when it came to some of the decision making.   That is not to say his decisions were bad.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I was somewhat taken aback when Annemarie exhibited some reluctance to leave her career to come to USFSB.  At the time, all I could see was that USFSB provided a great opportunity for financial security to our family and I could not imagine that anything would be more important.

In hindsight, I can understand that this was a lot for her to take in all at once and it would be a difficult decision for her to make a career change and come to a business she still did not know very well.   After all, I came to USFSB out of necessity in order to help my brother and it only gradually became a career changing opportunity for me.

After much discussion, possibly, heated, at times, Annemarie agreed to come to work at USFSB.   Even then, by way of compromise, she first came to USFSB on a part time basis and was able to also maintain her public employment part time.   This proved to be unsatisfactory, at least, for me and we worked out a further compromise where she would take a leave of absence from her employment while she worked, full time, at USFSB.   I guess you could say that Annemarie did not want to burn her bridges behind her in case working with me at USFSB proved to be a bad idea.

As soon as she started, I could see that it was going to be a difficult transition for Annemarie.   Working and interacting in a small business is vastly different than working in a very large office with its layers of bureaucracy, compartmentalized duties and responsibilities, and many more social opportunities.

When you are operating a small business, you become responsible for everything, you are in charge and no longer just part of a team which means that you need to lead rather than follow.    Even though challenging, it can also be unnerving and uncomfortable if you are not used to the idea of working without the safety net of being just a small part of a large office.   It is a little scary when yours is the only vision for the future.

Come back on Friday to hear Annemarie’s side of the story!

WHAT DO YOU SAY?