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[P]
What to do About Oppressive Parent Companies?

By tzanger in Culture
Tue Mar 20, 2001 at 01:58:35 AM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

I've been working at a great company for the last six years doing embedded hardware and software design. The management is great, the work challenging and rewarding, the money is pretty decent and the people are wonderful. Add to this otherwise perfect barrel of wine a drop of manure: the parent company. As the old saying goes, this single drop of manure ruins the whole barrel. Their management is closed, the communication horrible and the environment oppressive. Being on the design team but in a satellite/child company pretty much stinks.


I'm by no means a genius but I have brought about two dozen "real" new product ideas to the table and about 50 more "what if" ideas and product enhancement ideas to light. (Yes we really do keep track of this in the development department.) I'm given (by the parent company) certain projects or parts of projects and move forward on those instructions.

Now here comes the problem: I'll be into the project and I'll ask the parent company about certain aspects of the design or how I should proceed when I have multiple options which they need to hear about. I'm told (email or phone) that I'm no longer on the project and that I really haven't been for weeks (or even months). Yes we have design reviews and a weekly meeting about the status of various projects. I'm never told then or even warned that the project has been dropped or reassigned. The parent company will just randomly pluck the projects from me and I'm told "You're no longer on the project."

Now if I were a poor designer or simply incompetent I'd have been fired; it's happened to others so I am fairly sure that's not the problem. The managers of the company I work directly for are equally frustrated with my particular problem as well as other aspects of the parent/child company relationship. We've been trying to slowly and diplomatically change things for the better but it just doesn't seem to be working.

As I've stated: I love the company I work for. I just can't stand the parent company. Is there any way to seperate the two?

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Poll
If I were in this situation, I would
o Stay, the local company is great 4%
o Stay and continue to try and change the parent company 15%
o Leave and try to work contractually for the local company 17%
o Leave and do my own thing 10%
o Leave for another company, this ain't worth the hassle 32%
o Quit whining 18%

Votes: 91
Results | Other Polls

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What to do About Oppressive Parent Companies? | 25 comments (22 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
no win (3.00 / 3) (#1)
by alprazolam on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 12:00:43 PM EST

you're in a no win situation it sounds like. talk with your bosses some. maybe they can get some more authority. i know it sounds stupid/unethical but theres the possibility (maybe) of competing with them, in another company or as a start up.

Tough call. (4.00 / 3) (#2)
by Kugyou on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 12:10:10 PM EST

I actually have an idea of what you're going through on a slightly lesser scale. I work for a company that is currently contracted directly to DARPA (The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration) - but I won't get into the problems we face with them. What I will mention, however, is a problem we faced while our contract was still through another company. There's just about only one word that can be applied to this less-than-desirable situation: Politics. Sounds like the management at your direct company is having a political clash-of-the-titans with the parent company, and nobody's winning. But since the parent company is larger, it's able to do more damage without having to win. In my previous situation - being contracted through another company - there were always political conflicts. The president of the company (well, we're all of five people, we're just about a 'firm') I work for would try to say something about the project, or aspect of a project, that we were supposed to be doing - and would get totally silenced by the manager from the 'parent' company. Completely shut down, unable to say a thing. The biggest problem arose when some of the things my boss had said were being brought up by our domain experts, and we were asked directly why we hadn't thought of the same thing, when we already had. And, quite frankly, we had no recourse. So the problem here becomes a question of what the management is willing to do. If the 'child' company thinks they can do it on their own, then all that needs be sown is a single seed of mutiny, the desire to do it for themselves. Perhaps, if things go well, the child company will split of its own volition and tell the higher managers what to go do with themselves. Or maybe the parent company will shut everyone up by firing them. On either side, the problem is yours, but the solution has to come from those above you. How unfortunate.
-----------------------------------------
Dust in the wind bores holes in mountains
Start your own shop (3.66 / 6) (#5)
by rebelcool on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 12:29:02 PM EST

and crush them with innovation.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

This can only get worse. (4.40 / 5) (#6)
by marlowe on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 12:39:47 PM EST

You need to distance yourself from the developing disaster. Working as a contractor is one way of splitting the difference. You'll get to watch the company you once loved slowly sink, without getting sucked down into the vortex. Then you can grieve, and having grieved, move on, with your sanity and self respect intact.

But ultimately, you can't separate the two. It's not up to you. The parent company will either change its ways, or, more likely, it will ruin all that was good about its new subsidiary.


-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Support anti-trust investigations (2.66 / 9) (#7)
by The Cunctator on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 12:43:09 PM EST

As I see it, your only option is to collect as much information as you can which would support an anti-trust investigation of the parent company and eventually break it up.

You've highlighted a problem which is only going to get worse. The world's businesses are being consolidated at an amazing rate: in 1986 there were only 50 companies that controlled 90% or more of the U.S. media market (TV, radio, print, film, music: production and distribution). Now there are six, and they control more than the 50 did. This is going on in every industry. So we're all screwed (statistically speaking; there probably will always be 3-10% semi-independent companies eking out a living at the sufferance of the big boys).

Help me out a bit? (3.66 / 3) (#8)
by dice on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 12:51:16 PM EST

I may be missing something completely obvious to everyone else, but why is this a problem?

I really honestly don't see this.

Is this supposed to be bad in the same way that people being rich is bad?

Or how is this bad?

Corporations don't opress. They can't. I promise.

Every single one of your dealings with them is voluntary. (Unless it's all government sponsored, and the like, which I don't really want to get into now.)

[ Parent ]
Voluntary (4.75 / 4) (#12)
by Spendocrat on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 01:25:32 PM EST

At this point interactions with corporations are to a certain degree completely voluntary, but I think you completely understimate the abilities of corporations to cause harm (directly or indirectly) to us without us having any say. Environmental and safety issues come to mind. Also, free trade agreements in the future might go a long way towards giving international corporations almost as much power as sovereign states. Imagine if something that you actually needed to survive was only available through a corporation or consortium that had a monopoly. Potable water, for instance. The reason a lot of people focus on corporate ownership of media is because media is supposed to be our public information watch-dog. If a company, government or other organization were doing something potentially wrong, you'd expect to hear about it in the media. What chance do you think you have of hearing on NBC about anything bad that GE has done or is doing? What chance do you think you have of hearing about said bad thing if the major media outlets are all owned by the a few very large corporations with mutual board members?

Project Censored plug.

As for this:

Corporations don't opress. They can't. I promise.
Aside from making you look like a patronizing ass, what's the point of that statement?

[ Parent ]
Welcome my brother... (4.00 / 2) (#9)
by theboz on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 01:06:40 PM EST

I know how you feel. In all seriousness, I have been looking for a job but realize that I may not want to do that. If I can increase my salary I should stay put. I am trying to work on projects but the corporate standards that go for a telephone company only cause trouble when applied to an internet company. This was once a more independant company that had a nice environment, but now that the bigwigs from the parent company have moved in, they are tightening a noose around the neck of the company. Also, a lot of people have quit as a result of this. That says a lot, because it's basically impossible to be fired from this company, even if you do no work. That gives me the opportunity to learn new things while my projects are tied up in approval hell. However, it sounds like your case may be worse. The problem I have is that I am given such an opportunity to slack because nothing can be accomplished due to the beurocracy. I have been coming in to work late and leaving earlier, and not doing much while here. I hope to find a higher paying job soon, or just stay here and retire as a slacker...we'll see what happens but good luck on whatever you do.

Stuff.

hm (2.00 / 1) (#11)
by 2400n81 on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 01:20:06 PM EST

throw a temper-tantrum maybe?

damn parents prob won't disown you unless you make a fuss in the grocery store. so maybe it depends on how big your company is.

if it is global, it has a lot more to lose and more muscle to spank your ass with.

Sounds like you're about to be dropped. (5.00 / 2) (#13)
by Sheepdot on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 02:13:19 PM EST

Since no one has bothered mentioning this yet, it really sounds like the parent company has no interest in the child, which could be a sign that you are all about to be dropped.

I hate to incite fear like that, but it is definately something you'd want to look into. Especially since you sound like the kind of person that they simply cannot fire or else people will start wondering about what they parent is up to.

If they drop you from a project without mentioning, it could also be a situation where funding is tight (God knows with a pending repression we've all been experiencing similar issues) and they simply drop things on a whim to save for a time when they can start investing in small stuff again.

Anyway, I'd look into if this is happening to multiple people in the child company and see if you can't get some good contact in the parent company to give you a heads up on what is going on.

If all else fails, just ask what is going on. Maybe they will tell you. (And yes, like the others say, this is a Diary entry, but it can't hurt to try and help out, so I wrote this)


We would *so* love to be dropped. (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by tzanger on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 04:49:44 PM EST

Since no one has bothered mentioning this yet, it really sounds like the parent company has no interest in the child, which could be a sign that you are all about to be dropped.

We would love for that to happen. About 10 years ago they funded us starting up when the banks here wouldn't. So they own a majority share of us and, while we're allowed to do things differently, development is a different story and I don't think they like the fact that we do some things better. I've been asked to work for the parent company three times now but there's no way I'd work there.

If they drop you from a project without mentioning, it could also be a situation where funding is tight (God knows with a pending repression we've all been experiencing similar issues) and they simply drop things on a whim to save for a time when they can start investing in small stuff again.

Trust me this was a VERY small project. Anything I can initially fund at home and by myself is small. :-) We're talking $25 worth of parts. They didn't drop the project, just my participation in it.



[ Parent ]
Suggestion, Then (none / 0) (#24)
by Matrix on Tue Mar 20, 2001 at 09:32:55 AM EST

I'd suggest talking to others in your company. See if they feel the same way, and have had the same things happen to them. If they have, try and co-ordinate things so you all quit at about the same time and look into starting up another company and competing with your former parent.

Not sure how feasable this is, though.


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

Time to change jobs. (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by mindstrm on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 03:39:04 PM EST

You have a few choices, and they are all simple ones.

1) Decide if you are okay with how things are working (I'll guess you aren't)
2) Demand an explanation.
3) Barring an explanation, tender your resignation, and use the unsatisfactory explanation as your reason. Ensure that higher-ups get it in their email, or better, written, just in case the real problem is a mid-level manager or something who will keep it hidden.

4) be professional at all times.


I'd just like to add (none / 0) (#16)
by jesterzog on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 04:09:09 PM EST

In my mind this is a near perfect way to handle things, as long as there's no definite reason not to resign if it comes to that. Just be ready to give up your job before you start, but don't go without stating formerly to the managers why you're going.

I'd like to add that as mindstrm said, I think putting it formerly (and politely) in writing is a very good idea. Keep a copy to wave around if and when you go for a job interview somewhere else. Don't forget to make sure the letter and copy are both signed and dated.

It'll say a lot for your integrity to be able to explain why you left your previous job, and you can show them in writing if they're interested. If you end up getting fired by the parent company before you can resign for some reason (hopefully they're not that silly though), it'll demonstrate the grounds you were fired on. It'll also let them know how you want to be treated, and what to expect if they don't live up to it.

Most employers I know tend to prefer people with integrity over people they can easily push around. The ones who don't think that way usually aren't worth working for. Who knows? You might even be able to convince some of your coworkers to come with you, depending on the situation.


jesterzog Fight the light


[ Parent ]
breaking up is hard to do... (none / 0) (#20)
by tzanger on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 04:56:18 PM EST

In my mind this is a near perfect way to handle things, as long as there's no definite reason not to resign if it comes to that. Just be ready to give up your job before you start, but don't go without stating formerly to the managers why you're going.

As I wrote to mindstorm, I think I'm ready to go but I'm waffling on the idea, as it's not the company I work for which is causing me this grief and I'd like to stay with them. I know it's not possible though.

Who knows? You might even be able to convince some of your coworkers to come with you, depending on the situation.

Actually there's a growing number of people at the parent company who keep asking what the housing markets are like around where we are. :-)



[ Parent ]
I think I have my answer (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by tzanger on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 04:53:23 PM EST

Barring an explanation, tender your resignation, and use the unsatisfactory explanation as your reason. Ensure that higher-ups get it in their email, or better, written, just in case the real problem is a mid-level manager or something who will keep it hidden.

I've pretty much done this. Back in November I wrote (well typed) a letter to the COO asking what his short and long term plans for me were and specifically asking "for an opportunity to fail." I didn't threaten leaving at all and I didn't ask for more money, just an indication of where I was headed in the company. It brought immediate action but it seems to have been a blip on the chart.

As the subject says, I think I have my answer already, I'm just waffling on accepting it because it's not the company I work for which is causing me so much grief.

be professional at all times.

That's the plan. :-)



[ Parent ]
What? (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by KeckOS on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 03:56:39 PM EST

If you want people to suggest appropriate courses of action, then you need to explain the problem in a little more detail. Are these internal projects, or are the projects of the parent company to which you've managed to get "included"? If the latter, then is this your whole job, or do you also have internal projects/responsibilities? These details have a strong bearing on how much power you should have to change things.

More details. (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by tzanger on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 04:43:38 PM EST

Are these internal projects, or are the projects of the parent company to which you've managed to get "included"?

I'd consider all projects as products -- i.e. anything we develop we sell. And the particular project which I just had removed from my task list was one I had started doing at home, on my own time because I was sick of non-action with regard to problems with the existing product (parts were VERY expensive and very long lead times)... So I decided to do it on my own and brought it to a working prototype before I decided to show anyone at work. (Remember the company I work for I like so doing a bit of design a few weekends in a row without getting paid isn't a big deal).

The company I work for loved it because I created it out of a direct need... The original design we had was bad on several fronts and this solved it without costing us an arm and a leg and it used no parts we weren't already procuring. The parent company was indifferent about what I'd made until about two months ago, when suddenly it was a great idea and put it on my list of things to do when on company time. Hell they even wanted a few more features which was great news.

Today I wrote an email asking whether to continue to research a specific part or if I should use the less optimal but cheaper part I had originally designed in back when it was a personal project. The response came in a single sentence:

Stop all work on this, Mr. X has written a hardware requirement spec and is proceeding with the design.

Great, huh? I stared at the email for a good three minutes and wondered if that sizzling noise was my brain bubbling with anger and disbelief or if I'd just grabbed the wrong end of the soldering iron. I decided to go on a nice long drive for lunch to try and figure it out but all it did was cost me a few dollars in gas.

This was only the most recent rau. There have been about three other projects which went almost exactly how I described this, a couple more which were just concepts which were scorned until it was suddenly someone at the parent company's idea and there are countless ideas which were shot down without an explanation (even if asked). Most ideas for design (or ideas to enhance a design) are discounted and then, months later (when it would require a redesign to implement cleanly) are asked for and are, of course, "top priority."

It seems like it's big office politics coming in to a small (150-person including sales and manufacturing) company.



[ Parent ]
Solution (2.00 / 1) (#21)
by ksandstr on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 05:50:34 PM EST

Fire'em. Not in a position to do that? Doesn't matter, you can still fire your whole company. While you're at it, you might want to take a bunch of your coworkers with you and try to get headhunted as a group.

(that is, of course, if you can get headhunted in these times.)



Fin.
Well (2.50 / 2) (#22)
by /dev/trash on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 07:12:30 PM EST

That's life. Parent companies do that and they do it well.

I am in a small office of a big company and had similar things happen. Thought it was bad. Til I talked to people from the parent company who are my counterparts. They have it 1000 times worse. So I count myself lucky.

Oh and I am looking for another job too.



---
Updated 02/20/2004
New Site

Excellent (2.33 / 3) (#23)
by Bob Abooey on Tue Mar 20, 2001 at 09:25:32 AM EST

This is a topic which promotes discussion, well done. A tip-o-the hat to you, my good sir. Now then...

I would say to you, with all good intentions and no sarcam intended, to do one of two things:

1) Suck it up and stop being such a whiner. Your employer pays you and therefore your job is to do what your employers wants (within the limits of the law). Plain and simple. Your employer is the one at risk so they get to make the decisions. Your employer doesn't owe you a darn thing. Welcome to life in the big city pal.

2) Quit your job and work for yourself. Then you get to make all the decissions. This isn't all it's cracked up to be, let me tell you. But if you are willing to take the risk and put everything you have and put it into a business then you get to make the decisions. Pretty simple.

Yours,
Bob


-------
Comments on politics from a man whose life seems to revolve around his lunch menu just do not hold weight. - Casioitan
I agree totally. (none / 0) (#25)
by tzanger on Tue Mar 20, 2001 at 10:12:15 AM EST

1) Suck it up and stop being such a whiner. Your employer pays you and therefore your job is to do what your employers wants (within the limits of the law).

I agree. That's why I am "on the fence" so to speak, about whether I'm going to just accept it or if I've had enough and am willing to move on.

2) Quit your job and work for yourself.

Easy to say, not so easy to do, as you've already outlined. I already do some contract work on my own but I think I might just take a job at another company and build up my personal skillset a little more, then step out into the cold cruel waters of self-employment. :-)



[ Parent ]
What to do About Oppressive Parent Companies? | 25 comments (22 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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