"Heads are Rolling! What Should I Do?" - 09/29/21 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen,

It is starting to happen.  The company I work for was acquired.  I work for the “conquered” company.  It was announced last week that a number of positions are being eliminated as “like” products and overlapping job functions from our two companies and subsidiaries are combined. 

Both brand names, especially for the contract furniture segment, are strong with our A&D customers and end users.  Our dealers can now sell both products.  My guess is it just makes sense that as we merge more and more of the organization, and beyond operations positions being eliminated eventually field sales may catch up. Why do we need two showrooms in every market?  Two regional sales managers?  Field salespeople take longer to evaluate, and there are never enough good ones, so there is a false sense of security among some of them, and then there are others running around like their head has been cut off (alarmists or realists?). One of my big bosses recently quit, just quit… “for personal reasons” - code for “give me a great package and I’ll sign the non-compete and then I’ll take a hike, but not to a competitor”.  By the way, some of those people who have taken severance packages have said they are very generous. 

As you can see, I’m sending this question from my wife’s email so I hope you will read between the lines, and get all the inferences.  I am in field sales, a regional sales manager in a middle market. Many RSM’s and a few RVP’s lost their jobs last week, I did not.  I like my job, yet I am also getting calls from recruiters, competitors, directly from friends, and word of mouth through dealers pushing me to other manufacturers.   I can see on LinkedIn, and reinforced by your weekly BoF column, that everyone is hiring - Haworth, Allsteel, Steelcase, all the usual suspects.  Recently I interviewed with another big company and the job was good and the money was good but the premise of the job is that they want me to “flip dealers” like Haworth did with WB Wood in NYC, and eventually flip my sales team members.  I hate the idea of signing up for such a tawdry task, when my passion is working for and selling these iconic brands.  I am a great sales manager but not a “disturber” and I’m not willing to turn my market upside down for a new employer.

What are you advising people in my position to do right now?  Heads will be rolling, what should I do?

Maybe XKE!

Dear Don’t Be An XKE!

Stay put.  The number 1 rule people know who read this column is that you should always have your resume ready.   The number 2 rule is to take almost every interview you are offered. Interviews are just your time to learn about other companies and other people.  You seldom hear this advice, but it’s good practice and you will make good connections that may prove valuable in the future.  An interview is not a job offer.


I have received many emails and phone calls from people I know from the two big companies that merged and also from the subsidiaries, and I understand the reasons.   But guess what?  We receive as many resumes from people at Steelcase, Haworth and HNI and no one bought those companies.   You name a company and there are always employees “out looking”, some restless and some just never happy. 

You used an interesting term that I do not think is fair for your own situation, I really don’t think one company is acting like they “conquered” the other company.  That is not in the vocabulary or the culture of either one of those companies. 

Heads rolling? Really?  I think they’re trying to manage this transition gracefully, with no massive bloodletting. It makes business sense to combine positions where there is duplication.  When you work for a publicly traded company and the CEO has to answer to the shareholders, this is par for the course. I feel bad for the field sales executives.  The RSM’s and RVP’s are caught up in this, but a smart combination of products, brands and jobs is in order.

More dramatic, I would say, is the dealer situation to come.   That is what to watch.  They’re having an identity crisis and as a result, as one dealer told me, they will be “eating each other alive”.  They’re “out-discounting” each other which is an unstainable business model.  So many will be out of business or more likely forced into consolidation.  Most Herman Miller and Knoll dealers love the status of the brands they represent.  It is up to the new RSM’s and RVP’s to not allow another “WB Wood syndrome” to erupt. If another dealer flips, someone’s job should flip too.  (This is another story for another time, but you get the idea).  One other important point, I see the logic of holding up on changes to the field sales force until things settle out and the dealers are calmer. 

Back to your question, if you are such a nervous nelly because you feel like you are in limbo, I suspect you may be with the wrong company.  Bosses can tell when employees gets spooked so if you like your job, calm down and keep a poker face. My advice to you is to stick it out.  If you survived the cut, you’re in.   Let’s face it, you are talking about a newly merged company that is still the premier brand for our industry, so why rush a career changing decision? I would wait it out.  Chances are one of the reasons you went to work for one of these top brands was because culturally they were the right fit, correct?

Readers if you are one of those who recently lost your job I’m very sorry… but guess what?  Coming from the premier brand is like having a Ivy League degree.  Everyone will want you.  Sometimes change is good. There is rarely a good time to be unemployed but if there was a good time, this is it.  You will land another job. And keep an open mind - I love the furniture industry but it is not the be all and end all of where to find work. 

Do not let the static and gossip of the marketplace guide you to your next job. Take a deep breath and get back to work! Than on weekends update your resume and have some faith that this will work.  If at some point you want to make a change, you will land a great job in a new organization, and it will be on your own terms. 

I will see you at NeoCon. And always happy to see your resume!


Stephen Viscusi