Corporate World
and Lessons Learned
by Michael Dunne

I have always had a tinge of wanderlust in my soul. Therefore, I have traveled a significant amount in the 23 years that I have lived and had the opportunity to sample a variety of people and places. These experiences have been both positive and negative. I have panned for gold in the outback of the Mojave Desert, experienced the thrill of white water rafting on the Salmon River in Oregon, and spent a soulful weekend hiking and backpacking along the coastal highway in Northern California. Conversely, I've been caught in a blizzard, which resulted in my being trapped in my car for a day and a half while trying to traverse the Rocky Mountains, and I've also been stranded in the desert outside of Yuma, Arizona, for 12 hours due to a malfunctioning vehicle. While I have gained valuable insights from all these experiences, insights that I believe will be the foundation of wisdom, none of those experiences affected me as much as the eight months that I spent working for Babel Communications.

When I received the offer of employment from Babel, my initial reaction was joy; I felt as if the gods had examined my situation and handcrafted this opportunity for me. When I received the offer I was employed as a telecommunications technician; the company that I worked for contracted me to MCI and they in turn sent me all over the country to design and test fiber optic networks. While I enjoyed the responsibility inherent with the position as well as the opportunity for travel, I was growing a tad road weary and was looking forward to a position that allowed me to enjoy permanence in one specific place. Babel was offering me that, as well as a generous salary, a relocation package, and to quote the recruiter who initially contacted me, "The chance to live in a rural setting right out of a Norman Rockwell painting." Suffice it to say that I was extraordinarily excited by all of this, but my initial eagerness was dampened by my arrival in the town that I was to live and work in.

Winchester is a small rural town in northern Pennsylvania, located about forty-five minutes from the New York-Pennsylvania border. The rural, isolated aspect of the town is evident in the area's sparse economy. Babel is the only major industry; hence it employs 90 percent of the town while the other 10 percent is employed in secondary supportive capabilities. My initial reaction upon arrival was that I felt an empathy with mid 1850's gold prospectors upon arrival at a boomtown. Winchester was reminiscent of those towns, one that was fueled not by gold, but by its modern equivalent, information and the technology required to support a society dependant on information. As I drove through the area I was awed by Babel's impact on the town. The owner of the company had recently embarked on an aggressive rebuilding project, and the evidence was everywhere, from the beautiful art deco storefronts to the luxurious neon elegance of the local movie theatre. The company's impact was also evident in its corporate presence throughout the town; training centers, corporate offices and their corollaries dominated the downtown area, all of them newly constructed or under construction. This overwhelming corporate presence also had its downsides. The amount of capital poured into resurrecting the town, combined with the unprecedented influx of people, resulted in a severe housing shortage as well as exorbitant rental prices. An additional noticeable effect was the relationship between the self proclaimed "old timers" (most of whom were retired from the logging industry, thus had little connection to Babel) and the newly arrived Babel employees. There was a palpable "Us Vs. Them" mentality as the local townspeople resented the influx of new arrivals and were openly hostile towards newcomers. Though all of these insights directly contradicted the impression given by the recruiter, I pushed my doubts aside and prepared for my first day of gainful employment.

The morning of my first day, I drove to the building that I was to work in and parked my car in a wide-open expanse of dirt and mud adjacent to the building. As I passed the security station and entered the area where my office was to be, I was dumbfounded by what I saw. The entire building was in a state of sheer chaos, managers and executives racing through the hallways screaming into cell phones to make themselves heard over the cacophony of other voices, all the while dodging and zigzagging through millions of dollars in computer equipment stacked haphazardly in the hallways.

While walking to where my office was to be, I prayed I was not one of the unfortunate souls whose office space consisted of a small desk in a hallway surrounded by towers of ancient computer monitors. As it turned out, my office was a large room that I shared with thirty other people, two televisions and a large projection screen television. The room had a vibrant, frantic energy; people were constantly racing in and out, all the while phones blared importantly, televisions screamed the latest news and weather updates, and people screamed to be heard over all of the ambient noise.

The environment also had a zoo-like atmosphere, as daily tours of the building would wind their way through the workstations. It would not be unusual for me to come to my desk in the morning and find a Kiwanis club member sitting at my workstation, surrounded by a dozen cohorts, all of whom were drinking free coffee and listening to a public relations manger speak about the "marvelous efficiency of the Babel network operations center," as well as the "stolid integrity of the company in an age of declining corporate morality." While the parade of propaganda-drenched onlookers would often prove to be both distracting and an annoyance, over time I became slightly jaded and grudgingly accepted it as part of the natural ebb and flow of my work environment.

However, on other issues I would prove less fortunate. A primary area of discomfort, one that would prove to be insurmountable regardless of patience applied, would be the ethical quandary presented by working for a corporation as large as Babel. Babel was undergoing rapid growth when my tenure with the company began. Over a period of four months, though, growth plateaued and began to wane. An immediate manifestation of this diminished growth was a plunge in the price of the company's stock. While this had little affect on me as I was new to the organization and thus without any stock holdings, a majority of employees were financially devastated by this downturn. I recall walking into a men's restroom shortly after the company's stock reached a new 52-week low and seeing an upper-level vice president standing in front of a mirror, clutching a printed stock report, his shoulders slumped, tears streaming down his face.

Suffice it to say the stock plunge contributed to an air of desperation within the hallways of the company. Desperation led to various schemes in an attempt to boost the stock price, from trivialities such as cessation of special prices on home internet access for employees, to much more extreme and ethically questionable measures. One such measure, the one that eventually contributed to my decision to resign, was a plan to charge customers for services that were planned, but didn't actually exist. Essentially, the company planned to bill customers for non-existent services rendered. My department was asked to falsify circuit orders so the tracking software would indicate that these non-existent lines were tested and accepted by my department. It was hoped that the flurry of "new" customers would boost the price of the stock. This deception flat out appalled me, and within forty-eight hours of first hearing of this plan I gave my manager thirty days notice and refused to participate. My refusal and the refusal of others contributed to the scheme's failure. Shortly after the mass refusals the managers who first propagated the idea were dismissed from the company with little fanfare. Shortly thereafter, I left the company.

As I walked out of the building that day, I felt a sense of confusion. I did not understand how a situation that had seemed to be handcrafted for me could have ended so poorly. Over time I realized the confusion resulted from the disparity of my original expectations with what I found upon arrival. I had expected a small, close-knit rural town; instead I found a town bursting with bitterness and resentment. I had expected to work in a quiet office that was conducive to concentration and focus; instead I was in an environment comparable to Central Park in June. Finally, I had expected to work for a company that I could trust not to violate the trust inherent in a consumer relationship. These disparities have taught me that, while adaptation is often an effective means of dealing with life's little disappointments, sometimes it is simply easier to accept that a situation is untenable and move on. This is a lesson that has struck a very deep chord within my being, and it is one that I am certain will prove to be a brick on the road to wisdom.

Violet Back to Essay Index