In the early chapters of my book, machete Moments, I recount my experiences of successfully leading turnarounds of three manufacturing organizations. After the third one was completed, I was burned out and depressed. In Chapter 2, I explain the genesis of the term Machete Moments. Let it suffice here to say that to me it was a euphemism for a success with actions that were usually not conventional.
THE DECISION AND PROCESS OF MAKING A DRASTIC CAREER CHANGE
As I mentioned in the Burnout section, I was sitting on an offer to become vice-president of operations for a Japanese-owned company located in Vienna. Because it was another turnaround, I was dragging my feet. Deep down, I knew that I didn’t have the fire in my belly to go through that again. One positive characteristic I had always possessed was the ability to get up for a big challenge. That was not the case now. I believed I was certain to fail.
On the other hand, those recruiting me for the United Way job emphasized the need for a turnaround in that organization. The annual fund raising campaign had stagnated from years of weak leadership and from a scandal three years earlier when the president of the national organization had been caught with his fingers in the till. That never sets well with contributors to a charity.
It’s strange that while the manufacturing turnaround scared me, the need for a turnaround at United Way was an exciting possibility. I think the difference was that the manufacturing challenge was just too similar to my Thursby experience. On the other hand, the United Way task would be a whole new adventure. There was another compelling factor that tipped the scale to United Way. I was told that the non-profit sector did not “have a seat at the table” in our community. Vienna and Sierra County have many initiatives for which local leaders from the business, government, and education sectors gather to discuss various subjects related to local quality of life and to develop plans for improvement. Successful results of such activities are essential, especially to the big companies in the area that recruit from the Ivy League, Stanford, Duke, Notre Dame, and other schools of similar stature. Those companies know very well that their recruits have many choices. In order to be competitive in acquiring their share of the top talent, Sierra County has to be an attractive option.
Over the years, there have been scores of task forces, committees, focus groups, panels, and about any other handle you can put on people coming together for a specific purpose. Some of the issues have been the development of a community 10-year strategic plan, making the community welcoming to a diverse mix of people, revitalization of the downtown, expanding the arts and other cultural resources, economic development by recruiting foreign based companies, and more. There you have the foundation of why Vienna is often referred to a quintessential community. Many important issues are addressed by a cross-section of leaders, and yet, in 1995 no one was invited to represent the human services sector.
I took the job as president of the Sierra County United Way on the condition that I would be there for two years to lead the turnaround. Then, I would turn it over to a non-profit professional and go back to the manufacturing world where I belonged. Within a few weeks, I must have heard a dozen people comment about how much more relaxed I seemed to be and how they had been worried about me as I showed the strain of my former job. The time to return to manufacturing never came. In the mornings, I was never tempted to crawl back between the sheets. Every evening as I drove home, I felt that I had done something worthwhile. In short, I had found contentment. My manufacturing career was over just like that. A huge MACHETE MOMENT.