Bob’s Job Says Goodbye

“Your job has been outsourced to India.” I shouldn’t have been surprised — though a week earlier, at our insurance company’s Holiday Concert Celebration, the CEO had trumpeted our “three-times-the-industry growth rate” over hot hors d’oeuvres and good tidings.

Pittsburgh steel. New England textiles. American information technology. Is the last going the way of the others — overseas? Apparently. The communications revolution could mean another surge of job losses in the coming decades — maybe 40 million — according to former Federal Reserve vice chairman Alan Blinder. Is it too late to stem the tide? It is for me.

After the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, I scratched my way back into IT as a contractor. Then, on Feb. 20, 2006, I landed a full-time position. Terra firma, I thought. But signs of trouble came in May when my boss breezily mentioned the new “off-shoring” initiative. It was a good thing, he said, that would rid us of “repetitive” functions and free us to “strut our stuff.”

Soon after, the CIO had his quarterly meet-and-greet with new hires. It was a feel-good fest, so I felt like the skunk at a garden party by mentioning the off-shoring. One woman mentioned breathlessly that she’d never worked at a company where everyone held doors open for each other. Yes, everyone agreed, it was so!

So we embraced the off-shoring. What choice was there? Soon we were meeting regularly with our Indian partners in “hand-off” sessions. We (the “native team”) demonstrated, step-by-step, the “Wave 1” tasks, those to be transitioned first.

I worked with Praveen. Though I was leery of the off-shoring process (the condo hunt was on hold), I couldn’t help but like him. He managed to use my first name in every sentence in an unaffected way. “Yes, I understand, Bob!” It was like sitting with Dale Carnegie, who noted that “a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound.” Akhilesh and Pavan spoke the same.

One day, Praveen proudly clicked up a Web site showing HITEC City, the self-contained technology city in Hyderabad, India, to which Praveen would soon be returning — after absorbing the “Wave 2” tasks. And it was breathtaking, rising like Emerald City out of Oz. The first structure at HITEC city was the 10-story Cyber Towers about a decade ago. Then came Cyber Gateway and Cyber Pearl. Now there are 29 IT parks at HITEC City.

As I feverishly trained Praveen and Akhilesh to meet tight turnover deadlines, they in turn passed my “brain dumps,” bucket-brigade style, across two oceans to Maitreyee back in Hyderabad. Things moved swiftly, and soon I was tapped dry. The day Praveen flew home was awkward. “Goodbye, Bob.”

A week after the Holiday Celebration at Mechanics Hall in Worcester — built in 1857 to support manufacturing workers — the CIO gathered us to review the budget. It was true, he said, it’s been a “terrific year.” Fourth quarter is looking good. ROI is double-digit. We are exceeding plan, he said.

But the company was moving into “softer” markets. A lot of business is in slumping Michigan, and we over-invested in technology in 2006. Storm clouds are gathering. Yes, he admitted, the timing could have been better on last week’s $2 million corporate gift to restore the downtown theater, but we’re “committed to the community.” His voice choked when he announced 53 layoffs, more than 10 percent of the American IT staff.

Back at our desks, everyone was white-knuckling it. When my phone rang, I was directed up the escalator into a plush office and the door was shut. “Is this for my new promotion?” I joked lamely. No one laughed.

What happened next was a blur. Outsourcing. Changing directions. Not performance related. My manager didn’t use the word “expendable,” but it’s all I could think of.

The sharply dressed woman from the Office of Talent Management went over the “Separation Agreement,” typed on letterhead, addressed personally (“Dear Robert”), and listing 22 bulleted items. As she moved down the list, my throat caught momentarily. Just then, pugilist-philosopher Mike Tyson’s words after his last bout raced through my head. “I’ll take my beating like a man.” I didn’t want them to see me cry.

Oh, they held the door open for me on the way out.

By Bob Muldoon ’81 Illustration by Marty Braun

Bob Muldoon lives in Andover, Mass.

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