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rumor central
are they selling the farm?
by ellen marsh

The company where I work is approaching the end of its 25th year. Twice in the past three years, our elderly owner and chairman of the board has come to the brink of closing a deal to sell the company, but he has backed out at the last possible moment. The company continues to be financially successful--so successful that it operates on a cash basis and has no debt! In addition, we own licenses for technology that, though much desired, is not widely available in our industry. This year we're showing profits approximately 30% over what they were last year--an amazing phenomenom in the current frigid financial climate.

There is talk of a major celebration for our 25th anniversary. This year's profits are spoken of with pride. At the same time, though, we've had no major new products for the past three years. The new things we've introduced have been extensions of existing product lines and, without exception, they've come to market much later than planned. In the past two years, our owner has installed his son-in-law as a company officer at the same level as the company president; we've become a two headed monster. What's more, the two competing heads manage flat organizations with many direct reports and few, if any, opportunities for advancement. Only now, after 25 years, are the original 14 people, who started the company and who now make up most of the senior management team, starting to age. Most are in their early 50s.

Despite the talk of an anniversary celebration and our unprecedented profitability, there is an undercurrent of rumor. And, as I talk to people in across departments, the rumors appear to be based on some recent and unusual activities. First, the company president and CFO have had visits by men in suits. The president also spent 6 hours in a conference room with the CFO, the PR Director, and the VP of Operations tweaking his external presentation on the history, products, facilities, human resources, and other aspects of the company.

At first I thought the rumors might be a function of generalized fears about the declining job market and the poor financial climate. However, there has been an unusual amount of reporting and information gathering across departments. HR has been asked to provide an updated profile of staff characteristics, including levels of education. Our regulatory person has been asked to provide reports on the status of our products with various regulatory agencies. Financial auditors have been in at an unusual time of year, and the CFO has been gathering information and visiting with the external company counsel. How do I know about all of these activities; the very nature of my job requires that I be acquainted with and work with people across the organization. And, they talk!

In the meantime, everyone is wondering if some upcoming event will have an impact on our normally lucrative year-end bonuses. In case the company is being sold, there is speculation about the intent of the prospective buyer. Will they buy us for the whole operation? Will they buy the company for the technology and not the people (with the possible exception of some of the scientists whom they might "cherry-pick")? Or, is the buyer a competitor who wants to buy us to shut us down?

Unfortunately, this uncertainty comes at a frightening time financially and right before the holidays. Nonetheless, all we can do is wait for the proverbial other shoe to fall, and, while waiting, tighten our financial belts.


Ellen's recreational writing relieves the stress of working at an insane biotech company. She has too to do (and re-do) every week, because of the knee-jerk, fire-fighting mentality of the management team.

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russ carr
11.10.08 @ 8:33p

Polish your resume. Start networking with others in the industry, particularly at companies where you'd like to work. "Twice in the past three years...the brink of closing a deal to sell the company." Yeah. Because THAT'S reassuring.

You're for sale. Period. Get out. Drag your feet and try and snag that year-end bonus, and then tell 'em Jan. 2 that you've accepted a new gig.

The writing was on the wall at my last job, but I stuck with it, telling myself that surely there was no way a buyer would simply dissolve the company. Looking back, I'd happily trade the severance check I got for being employed for the past year and a half.

tracey kelley
11.11.08 @ 8:28a

It's pointless to worry about the rumor mill. Just make a plan. If the company doesn't sell and you're still happy there, then stay.

But we are not a gold watch generation. It's imperative to have a plan in place and know when a door closes, a window opens...somewhere.

ellen marsh
11.11.08 @ 9:57a

Update: Top managers have been off site for a "retreat" to talk strategy. VP of Ops came in after 5 pm--white shirt, dark pants, clearly had just removed his tie. His usual attire--sport shirt and jeans or biker gear. I got a call 40 minutes later--15 strangers in suits arrived for a tour of the facility.

By the way, I have a plan. I'm 64; can get Medicare in February. Will get Cobra 'til then. Have some special skills that make me valuable as a tech writer in a specific market, so I will send me resume out to companies in that market. I'm willing to work as a contractor, and contractors usually get more work when organizations are downsized. I'm not worried--just watching the whole thing roll out in front of me. Many people are in denial; they're the ones who will be in trouble.

If the company is kept intact, which I doubt, I'll just hang in until I'm 66 and can get SS.

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