Friday, July 21, 2006

The Company Move - Part 1

A story of work place absurdity in at least three parts.

Approximately five years and four month ago my company signed a five year lease on the building in which I work. The bubble had burst on the web frenzy, there was no more frantic Y2K buying to prop up the industry, my remaining stock options were under water and doomed to remain so for all eternity, and our director of facilities, in a move that some speculate lead to his being let go, managed to lock in the sky-high monthly rent on our crappy building for another five years. (With increases over the five years to be, you know, fair to the landlord.)

So while 7 of the 10 building in our complex ended up empty, we paid the internet frenzy era going rate for office space in Silicon Valley. We would hear in quarterly result meetings that the mill stone of the rent hanging around our neck was keeping us from being profitable. Occasionally some optimist would approach the land lord of the day (the complex turned over owners 6 times during our lease, although I don't know if you should really count the bank repossessing the property as an "owner") to try to negotiate some reduction in our rent, as though the owners could see some advantage in cutting off their minimal revenue stream.

Three years ago we got a new CEO. We will call him Tim. The new CEO, a former Apple Exec, hated our building from day one. He had degrees in the "science" of Sociology, so he would bemoan the lack of "warmth" and "energy" in the building. He wanted more "buzz" and a better sense of "collaboration." However, he was also pretty sharp when it came to business and got us to a point where the quarterly results meetings included a complaint about how much more profitable we would be if it were not for this 60,000 square foot drain on our bottom line, so we cut him some slack on the touchy-feely stuff. After all, not many of us were overly fond of the building at any price, and having the CEO tell us it was a bad building only built up our dislike.

About two years ago, Tim started to talk up his vision of a new building for us. While nobody was keen on his disdain for offices (a view shared by our engineering VP, who likes to sit in his huge office and tell fond stories of working at HP after college where nobody had an office) or his vague quest for more "warmth," he did also talk about better locations (which, in the end, meant closer to his home), better facilities, exercise rooms, cafeterias, and carpets that did not leave a bad smell on your hand should you accidently touch them. Basically, he wanted something that we would admit to working in with out duress being involved.

Around February 2005 Tim announced that we were going to begin looking in earnest for our new home. Tim told us how "A" level real estate was available at a fraction of what we were paying per square foot for our, at best, "B-minus" space. We were happy. We got whispers from our CIO, a very competent guy under whom the responsibility for facilities rested, about the places he and Tim visited. Some nice places in Mountain View where we would share a cafeteria and have access to a full gym, one no Moffett (north), one on Charleston (even further north), and another place on Sand Hill Road (cripes, too far north!).

Tim lives in Palo Alto (and is a neighbor of Steve Jobs) and so he concentrated on locations between his home and our current office in Santa Clara. That meant we were moving north. At the time a Dilbert cartoon ran about his company moving and the fact that the new location was close to the CEO's home was purely coincidence. I still have this cartoon in my office.

About a month and a half later, Tim said at a company meeting that the search for a new building was being postponed. No landlord wanted to commit space to a company that was a year away from moving. At the six month mark, however, landlords would begin to entertain our interests, so the search would begin in earnest in September.

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