This week I am featuring a letter/blog from someone that has a different take on the idea of paid training. He reflects on his career and the industry he spent time in acquiring knowledge; however, he recognizes that he was too committed to advancement as an employee to position himself for going on his own if unforeseen circumstances emerge with his job— which is exactly what happened.
Today’s blog contributor is Tim Trummer, a Chicagoan, a writer, a business planner, and a consultant to technology and marketing startups. If you would like to be introduced to Tim, write to me, or look him up on LinkedIn.
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In the mid ‘80s I went to work for a videocassette manufacturing company in Northbrook, Illinois, that was a joint venture between Bell & Howell and Columbia Pictures. In the ten years I worked for them we were owned at one point by the Rank Organisation of London, and then by Deluxe. More importantly, we went from making 17,000 videocassettes of Hollywood movies a day to over a million a day.
When a company experiences that kind of growth, an ambitious person who is willing to say “yes” to opportunity can learn all kinds of things, and can experience all kinds of things. This was my paid training; I wish I had looked at it that way at the time.
As a hiring experiment I introduced temporary labor to the packaging factory floor at a time when the home video business was very seasonal. That meant that 6 days before Christmas I had to tell 50 temporary workers that they were no longer needed. I learned to do hard things. They weren’t the only people that I fired. I saw two 3rd shift employees beating up a 3rd employee at an intersection one block from the factory, so I went into the factory, called their homes before they arrived, and when they got home they had a message from me that they were fired. The human resources head told me that I couldn’t do that, but he told me that after I had already done it.
I also learned that the single most undervalued thing in business is hiring. Very rarely are you evaluated on the basis of who you bring into the company, but you should be.
Because the movie studios only cared about packaging, the people in Hollywood soon discovered my phone number and asked me about stickers and box inserts and a hundred other things. I did not deserve the reputation as a packaging and engineering guru, but I got it just the same, and I rapidly grew into that role. The company promoted me out of manufacturing into the position of Product Manager, and I got on the fast track because I had a growing positive reputation with our customers.
We were a manual packaging operation that needed to be automated, so I got a free education as a mechanical engineer as I bought cartoners and labelers and tape and shrink wrap from companies who were more than glad to invite me to their facilities and educate me.
Our scheduling guy and I talked Paramount, Columbia, Fox, and MCA into letting us provide all of the labels for the cassettes, which greatly streamlined supply chain issues and lowered costs. As an English major in college I never knew what a supply chain was. We hired a print consultant who taught me all about printing presses and how to buy one. More knowledge and acquired skills.
During that time I also got an MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School, and the company gave me every other Friday off for two years and they paid some of the tuition.
Eventually I was supposed to move to Los Angeles and spend all my time at the studios. I had to choose between my job and my two young children, and I chose my kids.
Despite all of the skills I picked up over the years, I never viewed them as paid training for the future company I was going to start. If I had I would have envisioned a better role for myself, and I would have exploited my employer in the same way that they exploited me. In Hollywood, you spend a lot of time around people who are much better off than you are. As an employee, you always will be in that position no matter how well you do.
When you look at your job as an opportunity to systematically learn, you build your own human capital, and you start down the path to personal freedom and independence.
Tim Trummer is a writer and technology consultant in Chicago.
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