Frustrated entrepreneurs will do some pretty crazy things.
True story: Here I was, 20-something, single, money in my pocket, full of big ideas, working at a big company. I was cocky, arrogant, and immature. But, I knew how to get stuff done.
After engineering school, I spent years on the shop floor of this international company with 44,000 employees. Then I worked my way into their computer department. Somewhere along the line, I impressed the right people. I became one of six hand-picked from around the world for a six-month tour of dozens of the world’s most automated factories. This was quite an honor and quite a learning experience! Upon our return, we were to analyze the company’s divisions and implement the automation technology we learned about.
Those six months touring different factories definitely opened our eyes to the technology and system changes that our company divisions needed to make. But we also could see many other things that were wrong. Now it was screamingly obvious to the six of us that our divisions were laced with inefficient, archaic practices and too much bureaucracy — what I now call “big-company stupid.”
When I came back, I had to do something! I wrote up my ideas and wanted to meet with my immediate supervisor right away to give him the straight scoop. After all, I really did know that company division, from the factory floor all the way up to the executive suite. Why wouldn’t they want to hear advice that would help the company cut costs and save jobs? They would want to read my report, I was sure.
My immediate boss read the report, but apparently thought it was just “too hot.” And then he told me that he couldn’t meet to discuss it any further for two months. (Two months? Seriously?!) So I asked him, “What am I supposed to do for two months?”
His answer? “Find something to do.” Maybe he hoped I would forget about it.
Then I violated the first rule of big-company politics — I went over my boss’s head. I met with the VP of the division, and gave him my report. He seemed interested, and thanked me for the info. And then he promptly did nothing with it — nothing.
That’s when I started realizing that big-company inertia ruled the day. People were more interested in keeping the status quo than changing stuff, because it was going to be hard.
Layoffs were already regular events at the company. Even so, I was surprised to see the complacency that was everywhere. In my frustration, I predicted to my dad, “This place is tanking…..and thousands of people will eventually lose their jobs.”
Dad said, “What do you want to do?”
“I want to tell people! But if I give my report to anybody else at this company, I’m dead there. It would be career suicide.”
Dad said, “What do you think is the right thing to do?”
I thought about that. Then I went to a print shop, made 50 copies of my report, and walked around, handing out a copy to everyone who I thought could make a difference. “Management isn’t listening to me,” I said. “Maybe they’ll listen to you. Hope this helps.”
After passing out 50 reports, I really became a corporate “hot potato.” Mid-level managers and high-up managers avoided me. Suddenly, I wasn’t getting invited to meetings anymore. You could say it was a little uncomfortable.
By then I just wanted to get out of there, and I actually tried to get fired.
I sent an anonymous letter proposing that management offer $150 to any employee who wanted to quit before the next round of layoffs. I received no such offer.
When I’d hear my boss walking down the hall, I’d quickly grab a magazine and put my feet up on my desk, hoping he would think I was goofing off. But, instead of firing me, he gave me a raise. Unbelievable!
I even got caught printing out copies of my resume on the company printer. And they still didn’t get rid of me.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I was suffocating at this big company. I finally turned in my resignation notice.
That was 27 years ago. It turned out that I wasn’t really meant to work for somebody else — I was meant to be an entrepreneur. I started the first of my five successful companies, and I haven’t looked back since.
I’m thankful now that I took that first leap.
If you feel like I did – like your current employer is suffocating you and wasting your talents – maybe you have the spirit of an entrepreneur. Maybe it’s time for you to go rogue!
About the Author: Mike Kappel is the president of Patriot Software, Inc., a developer of online software for U.S. small businesses. In the last 27 years, he has founded five successful companies and is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs find their way to success. He shares his startup experiences in the blog, Small Business Expert. Follow him on Twitter @MikeKappel and on Google+.