“Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time”
In 1994 I finally woke up and realized what the birth lottery had gifted to me! I lived in the Seattle area, in the midst of the PC revolution, and we just happened to have the leader and the most profitable company of that revolution right under my nose called Microsoft!! So, when I finally clued in and figured out that PCs were going to be big, really big! I thought, what the hell, I better find a way to join Microsoft again. While I was incredibly stupid, at least I was smart enough to see that this PC thing was really starting to catch on! Add to that, my young beautiful wife had already started working at Microsoft in sales, where she had run into an old High School friend of mine who was working there as a manager in Product Support, and one thing led to another I was hired back to Microsoft 2 years after my first contract job with the company had ended.
Now I was starting over at Microsoft, with a job that may have even been worse than the first one I had started with! At least at this point, I had the good sense to quit the dead-end job I had in Aerospace and move on. It was sort of a second chance for me to make something of myself.
This was not the worst path for me to take. After bumping around in the Aerospace business for a couple years, I saw how difficult it was to grow a career in a mature industry. I was working for a sales manager who had been in aerospace for more than a decade already and had only moved up far enough to be my boss. He was a nice guy, but his spirit was waning, and he knew his boss had to quit or die before he was going to get another bump up the old corporate ladder. The environment was depressing, the old-timers at the company had that glazed look in their eyes, of a life wasted.
As it turned out, the Aerospace company I was working for was going through a rough patch of their own. The company had just lost their most important patent while I was working there and was about to lose their largest customer as a result. Unfortunately, the very day that the company’s most important patent expired, their biggest customer, The Boeing Company, called up the CEO and told him that they were now going to take all the product they had been buying from us in the past and do the work “in-house”. Boeing told the CEO that they had been waiting for this day a long time and that they had felt they were been being ripped off for the past 20 years! It was a hard day for everyone at the firm.
That very same day, the CEO of that small aerospace company called an emergency company meeting, it was just before Christmas and he broke the news to the entire 120-person company. For many of them, their careers were over, about half of the staff would have to be let go, there would be no end of year bonus, and the Christmas party had been canceled. It was a grim day for the people who had spent a good part of their life working for the company. Some were crying, some were mad at the CEO for not steering the company in a brighter more prosperous direction. It was a wake-up call for me.
I was sort of glad that the company was likely going to lay me off. I couldn’t stand the job, and I could see that whatever my future was going to hold, this job was not going to make it very bright. Also, the CEO and founder of the company was a greedy and grouchy old guy. And I thought to myself,” if this guy is the best that one can aspire to here, I really need to think hard about getting out this place”.
One of my favorite stories of working at that company was a time when I had gone to the breakroom to cook up some microwave popcorn. I then brought the popcorn back to my desk to snack on while working. As soon as I got back to my desk a fellow sales trainer/corporate slave came running up to my cubicle in a bit of a panic. He told me that the “old man” (that’s what we called the owner and CEO of the place) HATED the smell of microwave popcorn! He had a strict rule about not bringing it into the offices from the break room area. This guy was dead serious and seriously worried about me, I could be fired for eating a bag of popcorn at my desk. I laughed, I sat down and ate the entire bag of popcorn, and I thought to myself, I am not going to last very long at this place. I quit Friday of that week same week. I told my boss I planned to start my own company. But really I did not have a plan. I just knew that I could not stay at that company any longer, it was never going to go anywhere, and I did not like the work anyway.
This all made me appreciate the Microsoft opportunity so much more than I would have if I had not had this experience. I think it also motivated me to try to be a much better employee and work harder to impress my superiors when I had a good opportunity. Yes – I was slow on uptake, but the learning lesson was a valuable one.
Learning Lesson #2 – If you find yourself in an obvious dead-end situation, QUIT! Had I not had the good sense to quit what was a decent but dead-end job in Aerospace, I would never have had the chance to have my incredibly fortunate and lucky run at Microsoft. The old saying “winners never quit” IS WRONG! —winners do quit, and quitters do win. Quit often and start over when it makes sense to do so. Timing is important, and so is luck. If you are having trouble knowing if you should quit. I recommend reading The Dip by Seth Godin.
Throughout the rest of this book, many of the learning lessons I write about are meant to help you identify if you are in a winning or losing situation. And to help you find your way to areas and scenarios where you can win. Believe me, there were a lot of people who were better at timing and getting luckier than I did at Microsoft, even when I was damn lucky to get what I did!
Others I knew at Microsoft were even more amazing at timing. Those who left to join Google, as an example, just as Microsoft’s hypergrowth was ending, were particularly impressive to me. It’s hard to know just when the right time is to jump to a new opportunity, but if you really watch for the signals and ACT on them, you will be better off for having left a job that is dead or dying and take that jump toward moving to a better future.