How Not To Manage Your Company

I’ve had to explain this to a few inquiries, and I guess it’s time to explain the reasons for my having “parted ways” with the small biotech firm I worked for in Planegg.  

I’ve been working in IT and Software Dev for something approaching thirty years now.  What follows here is a description of the strangest, and worst-managed, situation/company that I have ever experienced – or, for that matter, heard tell of in my entire work background.  I’m not naming the company directly in this description, but I think people who know me will know where this took place.  I can certainly obtain verification from several former employees of the place who were there at the time.

First off, how did I end up here?  I had been job-hunting in Hamburg, and noticed a firm in Planegg (just South of Munich) that was advertising for a Senior IT Manager spot.  As they were a manufacturer of custom DNA/RNA, and as I had a university degree in biology (specializing in Population Genetics / Viral Ecology), it seemed like a very interesting confluence of skills required and laboratory understanding. 

All went well through the interview process, and I discovered that I was taking over for the existing IT Manager, who had started out in the firm as a lab technician and had organically grown the IT presence in the firm – which meant there was no formal training there.  Challenge accepted. 

When I started, I discovered the company had actually hired two Sr. IT Managers, with the expectation that one would work for the GmbH (manufacturing, that’d be me) and one would work for the AG (sales & marketing, upstairs).  Strange, I thought, but okay.  Two heads are better than one I thought at the time.

The other guy – let’s call him “Mickey” – started a month after I did, and it became obvious pretty quickly that Mickey couldn’t do the job, much less stay awake for the training that the exiting IT Manager was providing.  Nevertheless, he was apparently good at schmoozing, which is probably how he got the job in the first place.  (The departing IT Manager had apparently seen through his BS and had advised strongly against him.) 

It seems Mickey thought that we were in competition, and that only one of us would be kept on after the first six months.  So, since he wasn’t really capable of doing the job, Mickey spent his time slandering me, goofing off in the upstairs sales room, and on occasion sabotaging our team – and neither our HR director nor the CEO (to whom we both reported) did anything other than to advise him against that behavior.  By about month four or five the CEO was so fed up with Mickey that she couldn’t stand to see him, and when speaking about him in the third person was extremely unprofessional. 

I should have seen this behavioral sign for what it was at the time.  But that’s later.

I started taking contemporaneous notes of the situation and what was going on with the job, just to have a written record of things as they occurred.  It’s an old habit from some time I spent as a government contractor in a sensitive position.  Turned out to be a good idea here.

End of his six months, and the CEO had finally convinced herself to exit Mickey.  She almost didn’t because she was afraid that since he’d made friends with a lot of people in the Sales group, they’d “suffer a morale hit,” (I didn’t ask the obvious, which was that my team and I were already suffering a morale hit and why didn’t we matter?).  But in the end she did.  She felt so much better after pulling the plug on the guy that she had a short round of champagne for herself and several others, myself included.  I didn’t really consider this terribly professional, but that was a battle I didn’t really want to fight at the time.  I was too relieved to finally not have to watch my back.  This was November of 2017 when he finally got the boot.

But I spoke too soon. 

Within about two months, our head of sales – let’s call her “Silly” – managed to finagle her way into a “Senior Director” position (jealous of one of our GmbH colleagues who had recently been given that title, I’m sure).  She then started to echo the same BS lines that Mickey had been spouting.  As she couldn’t figure out which port the power goes into on a PC, I thought that maybe she’d taken to simply reading the occasional PC World article and being alarmed or curious about the current events scene.  I instructed my staff to treat her requests with respect and answer her to the best of our ability.    

Now don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with being ignorant about PCs.  Same as driving a car while not knowing how the engine works.  A lot of people simply don’t have the time to dig in like an IT pro, and ignorance is not a crime.  Neither is it a license to assume knowledge – and a lot of what she was doing was assuming knowledge she didn’t have and trying to attack my team and I for it. 

My wife twigged to the situation right off though, and I have to give her credit on this.  I couldn’t really believe it. 

In April of 2018, I got an email from Silly, addressed to the Mickey’s work mail (as the manager of the entire IT group, his work mail was being forwarded to me in case it was vendor or service-related).  It contained a list of projects and staff members involved in them, with her notes about them, addressed to Mickey.  I was initially confused about this, until I realized Silly had meant to send it to his personal mail. 

Which was basically a flagrant violation of data-protection law in Germany. 

I brought it to the Sr. Director of the GmbH and explained the situation.  He was equally alarmed, and we both immediately went to our HR director to discuss.

And it turns out that the HR Director knew what was going on.

Silly had apparently left her husband and child some months back, and had moved in with Mickey.  She was attempting to bring him back as a contractor to be a “shadow IT group” for the Sales department.  The CEO knew about this, and had given it the go-ahead to try. 

So…we left it in the HR Director’s hands to discuss with the CEO, and I went back to doing my job.  Flabbergasted, to be sure. 

Some hours later, the CEO sent an email out indicating that she was sorry, that her door was open in case we wanted to talk about it. 

But there was still a meeting scheduled with Mickey where he’d be pitching the deal to Silly and our HR director. 

Short story, the meeting came and went, and the company did not enter a contract with Mickey, as he brought no marketing collateral, went through the meeting scrawling notes on napkins, and trying to pitch his napkin scrawls as worth a half-million Euro to redesign the company’s internal ERP and website.  He was claiming to be the sole contact for this new company he was working for – Actugo or Actinto or something – and that he’d be issuing billings personally for their work and his own time.

I spotted this immediately as an attempt to rob our company – he’d be inflating the billings for the job, which his company would probably charge a quarter-million for (or he might convince some of the staff to work for him off-hours and his firm would never know), and he’d be billing a half-million.  I said as much to the HR Director after she came back from the meeting. 

So – no contract, no Mickey coming back, etc.

Silly, on the other hand, was infuriated that her plan went to shit.  I’m sure she’d already figured ways to spend that couple hundred grand she could fleece from our CEO, and was insanely angry that she wasn’t going to get it.

When my assistant did some work on her PC a short time later and needed to log in as her temporarily, she threatened to sue him for a variety of things.  I stepped in immediately and copied the HR Director that not only was this behavior unacceptable professionally, but it was also a form of bullying that was in violation of the law, and unacceptable on all fronts.  To have a Senior Director threaten legal action against a junior network admin for doing his job was totally out of line.

HR Director and CEO decided to have a sit-down with Silly as a result of this, something of a “come to jesus” moment.  Apparently Silly said absolutely the wrong thing in that meeting (I wasn’t in it), because she was fired on the spot and exited from the building.  I was instructed to cut off her access.

So things went on for a few weeks while the dust settled. 

And this is where it really went “Outer Limits”. 

Thinking that we could finally call it water under the bridge, I proceeded to try to get my job done.  However, it became obvious within a month or two that something had soured the CEO on me.  This would have been about June when I realized I was on some sort of unofficial “shit list.” 

Having seen others on it in that company – Mickey among occasional others – I knew the pattern:  CEO had somehow formulated in her mind that Person X was “bad”, and nothing would convince her against it.  When it became obvious that our GmbH Senior Director and the CEO’s current favorite (our head of product development) were under orders to make things miserable for me and my team, I became extremely glad I’d documented the entire business. 

Our GmbH Senior Director hired our IT Contractor to come in and basically pick apart our system, under the guise of an “audit”, to find as many faults as they could.  I had no doubt they were looking for reasons to exit me, but happily our IT systems had done nothing but improve since I had started.   

In August, I finally decided that I had to say something about the treatment I was getting, and emailed the HR Director to the effect of “I’d like to have a one-on-one with you to discuss this bullying and find a solution to have it stop.”  I was basically stuck here – if I said nothing, it would continue and I wouldn’t have anything to say about it if I ever had to.  I had to voice some form of complaint on record if I ever wanted to defend myself against what I saw coming. 

Four hours later, the HR Director and our GmbH Sr. Director terminated me.  In the meeting, they ascribed the reason to being that I had accepted a speaking engagement at a conference (which was not to occur until November of 2018, three months out still) without our CEO’s permission.  There had never been a request that I not accept, never been a complaint about it.  When I’d received the invitation in May, I had asked the CEO directly via email whether there were any guidelines or messaging I should carry with me, to which she’d only replied that she “couldn’t see any real benefit to the company” of my attending. 

So after all was said and done, it was a poor excuse.  They didn’t stick with it, either, I found later they had invented another reason (one which was laughably easy to disprove – when I heard it, I loaded the company website on a browser and pointed out that were the reason true, their site would be inaccessible). 

I can only imagine that working for a Donald Trump company must be a similar experience. 

From a psychological standpoint, I can only speculate that after 20 years in business, the CEO’s entire existence, both professional and personal, were so intertwined with that company that her emotions ran the whole show.  Having been in the right place at the right time made the business successful more in spite of goings-on than as a result of them, and it must have built a pretty big ego.  To recognize that she’d committed such an egregious violation of employee trust must have caused nearly physical pain to her psyche, and a natural response to reminder of such pain is to try to push away the thing that causes it.  Namely, me – I was a constant reminder of her colossal screw-up.  As such, she had to come up with a reason to cover that guilt with something else, or at least remove me from sight so she could forget about it. 

I’ve kept in touch with several people at the office as they departed, and apparently things have gone downhill since my exit.  Customers are falling off, and good staff are fleeing.  It is a real shame, I thought there was a lot of potential to make something good there for a while, but you can only help someone insofar as they’ll let you.  And that CEO simply went beyond help. 

I’d like to be able to say I wish her well, that I wish the business well, but I can’t do that honestly.  I can only wash my hands of it and say they’re getting what they deserve, and it’s no longer my problem. 

So that’s the end of it.  Craziest f’ing thing I’ve ever had happen in my entire career.  At the very least, I hope it’s provided someone with some humor value, or perhaps a few pointers on “how not to screw up your IT group – and your company – completely.”