It has been a while since I have posted an update, and this one has been about three months in the making. Honestly though, the last four months have been nothing short of a circus for us. So bear with me as I write this. No doubt their will be grammatical errors and spelling isues (haha get it!).
Also, this is not meant to be a platform for me to attack or berate any individual or entity that is mentioned. This is meant to be more of a brain dump of the thoughts I have been churning on for these past few months. So, grab a coffee/soda/tea/popcorn and enjoy this brain dump.
First, to understand the past you must know the present. In case you did not know, I am no longer with American Athletic (AAI). Before I disclose where I am at now, I want to cover the complete timeline of my tenure with AAI/Fruit. Why the slash and Fruit? Well this will help.
In 2004 Russell Corporation purchased American Athletic and Huffy Sports. Both were under their Spalding group (purchased in 2003) to create the world’s largest basketball company. In 2006, Fruit of the Loom was interested in Russell Corporation, and acquired Russell Corporation. At the current time of writing, it went AAI > Russell Brands > Fruit of the Loom > Berkshire Hathaway.
So through the rest of this writing, when I use AAI I mean American Athletic in Iowa. If I use Fruit, I collectively mean corporate out of state.
It all started in 2005, while I was working at Unity Point (then Iowa Health System). At the time, I was pretty happy working as a Server Administrator in the data center during the second shift. Looking back, it was a really good gig for us at the time. For whatever reason, I thought that I’d like to get back on days. Due to an unfortunate turn of events, a day Server Administrator spot opened up, so they started to look for a replacement for me, as I planned to take the day spot. Once I moved to days, pardon the pun, but it was literally night and day difference.
Working the second shift, I worked 3 PM to midnight. Which is to say, after 5PM, I was by myself. I was able to get a bunch of stuff done, and there was plenty of idle time where I could read and learn new things if I wanted. When I moved to days, there was no time to do anything and I was there will the entire team. It was not what I had hoped it would be.
It was about that time that I decided if I was going to work on days, I wanted to work in a smaller IT environment, or better yet, be a one man IT shop. Enter AAI into the picture. It was perfect! A small local company where I had complete ownership of everything IT.
I was excited to start at AAI, and hit the ground running day one. I remember I had a two page list of stuff that needed to be done. Some of it was stuff that had been a problem since the previous IT guy left, some of it was some new stuff that the temp could not figure out, and there were some new requests that my new group of users wanted. To top it off, I had to learn everything. Not just the new faces, but the entire environment.
There was no knowledge transfer and very little help from the users. There were a handful that knew the ERP system, but no one knew how anything else worked. The first and most scary thing was the software they used to print custom pages. Not only that, it was broken and a high priority item to fix.
Along with all of that, we had to move from our apartment in Melbourne to within 30 miles of Jefferson. We looked at houses but didn’t find anything we liked so we elected on an apartment in Boone (side note, I could write a whole book on that apartment and the issues we had with it).
I was pretty busy those first few months. Learning the systems, learning the faces, learning the business model, learning the layout, fixing the open items, fixing problems they didn’t know they had, and planning an few upgrades.
About six months in, corporate wanted to collapse our email and domain into theirs. It made sense, so I went along with. Once I did, all of a sudden, I no longer owned items. I was handcuffed on what I could do, and I had to get the attention of someone in Alabama to get things done. This was quite an adjustment that I had to adapt to.
With the Fruit purchase, things didn’t change a whole lot. Especially for the first few years. I still had to call someone in Alabama, plead my case, and hope that I could get what I needed done in a timely manner. I kid you not, it took hours to get a user account unlocked. I started to “sell” myself to the IT department at Russell. I told them that I have the training and knowledge, I can help from afar. Thanks, but no thanks was their repeated response (my summarization, not their words).
Early on in the “getting to know your neighbor phase” of the Fruit acquisition and as I was approaching my first year of completion, I was selected to take Six Sigma Green Belt training. At first, I was a little apprehensive about it but then it started to excite me. To the tune of I actually believed I would be making a career move from IT to Process Engineering.
Quite a bit was happening in my life at that time. We resumed the house search, and actually purchased the house we live in currently. We had a big family shake up that really changed things. The Six Sigma training was going to cost me three to four weeks of travel from September to December and we we’re planning our first Bengals trip. In fact, if I recall in November, I had my most states visited in one month at nine. Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri.
Where was I? Oh yea Six Sigma training. One of the first things Fruit did was to kill the Russell Six Sigma program right at the end of the program. So myself and another coworker we’re left high and dry with our projects, and because we could not proceed, we could not take the certification test and get our Green Belt designation. Huge bummer and let down. Later, a few industrial engineers at Fruit came to me and asked me for help on my “dead” project. It went over like a brick through a window.
Eventually, things started to get better though, but not before a bit of a scare. Fruit started to take over the IT assets and ownership of Russell and as they did they pretty much gave the ultimatum to people. Move to Kentucky or find a new job (my summarization, not their words). Fruit left me alone for the most part. I again tried with them what I had tried repeatedly with Russell, I have the training and I have the knowledge, I can help from afar. As with before I got a similar response, but they were better at getting things done and better at following up on items.
I had my first onsite visit with them in 2009. Since I didn’t report to anyone through the Russell chain of command, I had a dotted line to the then CIO. As such, she (the CIO) felt it would be a good idea for me to visit and meet with her team (mostly VP’s). I remember this especially because the car that was issued to me while I was driving from Nashvegas to Bowling Green (that’s where Fruit is) was a PT Cruiser.
What was a bit annoying about this trip was that I showed up on site with an itinerary of who I was meeting with laid out with times and places, but magically, everyone was not available during those times. So I got parked in an office in the “IT Executive suite” and literally sat and stared at the wall for a few hours. I had caught up on all my work, so I literally had nothing to do. I did eventually meet with the group, but it was in a much more group setting less of a one on one.
The takeaways from this meeting were; they are there to help, things will be changing, your job is safe. I actually believed it because they truly seemed genuine about it. I left a bit encouraged but for the most part, nothing changed.
It was around this time, I ended up with a lot free time on my hands. Mostly because everything for the most part was running smoothly and there were minimal issues. To my benefit as well, there was a large training fund for me to tap from. The problem I had however, was that I was a bit shy about utilizing it. I did not want to take classes and courses that I could not make a business case for taking, or rather, courses that were clear resume builders. I did take quite a few between 2008 and 2015, but I can honestly say now, I wish that I would have used it a bit more.
My next trip to corporate was in 2011 with my manager and her manager (the local GM at AAI). Side note here, I could write as much on just the logistics of this trip alone. The flights and layovers would make for a great short story in themselves.
I wasn’t asked to go, I was told I was going. Fruit at the time was in the process of a major reorganization of leadership and IT had quite a bit of a shake up as well. The setup was the same as my last trip, I was going to meet with the then CIO (was a temporary thing, the old CIO was still on but on her way out), the team (this time SVP’s and VP’s). I again had an itinerary with times and places.
I felt at that time I would be interviewing for a position in Bowling Green due to the leadership shakeup and the IT reorganization. So I dressed very nice as if I was interviewing. Once we arrived on site, the three of us got a conference room to ourselves. Immediately I checked in with my first appointment, and found out that they were busy. So I went down the list to see if I could move any up. Same story.
I didn’t want to be stuck in a room and bored out of my mind, so I went and started to walk around. My goal at this point was to get some face time with the actual people I worked with frequently, albeit over the phone. Part of the fun was trying to locate them as they shuffle landing spots for people there pretty frequently. The few that I had remembered from my previous trip, were not in their same spots.
I did ultimately meet with the CIO and his staff. Once again, the message was; they are there to help, things will be changing, your job is safe. They also went on to add that they are grateful to have me in that particular role. Once again, I asked about helping them out. Once again, for better or worse, I was pretty much denied.
Within a few short months, the now current CIO was named CIO and some things changed. I was granted limited access over our users in our organizational unit. Which allowed me to maintain servers and groups better. Additionally, it allowed me to reset/unlock passwords. Not the full access I was hoping for but it was a start. From a business standpoint though, it was pretty much all that I needed.
Things pretty much continued the same over the next year or so. In 2012, I made another trip to corporate for a discovery meeting. Fruit was in the process of moving toward one system verses three major systems and countless other sub systems to manage their business. I was actually a bit delighted about this because I went with a group of coworkers to talk about our systems and each of us were scheduled to be together to meet with the design team. This meant I wouldn’t have to entertain myself or have to sit outside someone’s office while I waited for them to be available.
I believe that 2014 was the turning point for everything. Fruit had committed to updating our network and our phone system, so I got some extra attention from them in 2014 and 2015. Also, in 2014, I made the choice to enroll with Georgia Tech in an attempt to gain a Master’s Degree in computer science. It was a noble attempt on my behalf, but ultimately the timing was terrible.
I had my final visit to Fruit in 2014, and it was completely on my dime and time. I was driving to Tennessee for something Waffle House related (yea, I did that). The nice thing about it was that I told no one I was going to be there and I caught them all off guard. I even managed to meet with the CIO in gym shorts and sandals. Part of the reason I did this though, was to meet and give farewell wishes to the SVP of Infrastructure. With his retirement, I thought it would also be a good time to maybe start the old “hey I can help the team from afar” movement again.
At the beginning of 2015, I drafted and sent a new request to the VP that took over that position. Once again, I got pushed away, but I was also told that their direction is to centralize everything. This is something I knew unofficially was going on, but I pressed the issue a bit. I came to find out that their plan was to have everything possible managed out of their onsite IT staff.
Up till that point, I had tried a few times to make a career hop. There were a few failed interviews between 2009 and 2012. I do recall I had a solid interview in 2012, which I felt was the right move until they told me they decided not to fill the position. In 2013, I had an offer from a community college that I would have accepted if not for the insurance being ridiculously higher and their offer that made no sense. Actually come to think of it, I can think of at least three positions I shot down because the move just didn’t feel right.
That’s key. Up until that point, the move just didn’t feel right. After that last communique with the VP, I felt it was time to really take it serious. I absolutely loved working at AAI, and the people I worked with. I even loved the fact that I worked as part of Fruit of the Loom! However, I had become stagnant and my career path at Fruit either took me out of state or was just plain stuck in a rut.
I upped the ante a bit, instead of looking for stuff that was local to where I live, or back “home” where church and family are, I started to look elsewhere. I prayed about it, as I did in the past but this time, I was a bit more specific. I prayed for a role that would challenge me, get us close to family and church, and that the net pay was equal or greater than what I made at AAI.
I had a few hits in the Omaha area, a couple in the Twin Cities area, and even one from Texas.
The titles ranged from area’s I was completely comfortable with such as Server, Network, Exchange or VMWare administrators. To things that were not my specialties (Sharepoint Admin? What’s that?). I even had a few for Director level positions.
Deep down, I knew I needed a change, but management was not exactly something I was ready for. Those companies saw it too and both were eager to have me reapply for upcoming Admin/Engineer positions.
So I kept hunting, meanwhile still serving and doing the best I could for AAI.
In June of 2016, I applied for a position that was near where our family lived (mine as well as my wife’s), and closer to church. The company was (and still is) a well-respected, smaller Iowa company. I remembered I had applied there around the time I was looking in 2005ish.
It took about two weeks before I had a phone interview. During the phone interview, I remember thinking, wow! This place sounds great! All these crazy free perks, closer to church and family, and in an environment where I can grow my career. To top it off, it was also doing something that would be more in my area of specialty.
I did some more research after the phone interview, which only made me more excited about the position. It wasn’t long afterwards, I got a call back asking if I could come in for a face to face interview.
It was an interesting process, I first met with the hiring manager for about forty minutes, and then I went with him to another room where I interviewed with the whole team (save three people). Most people are intimidated by this, as I was at first. I settled down a bit by pulling an old DJ trick out of my hat. I broke the ice first. I then owned the session. When the group was done “grilling” me, the AVP of the area came in and met with me.
When it was all done and said, I left the campus feeling I nailed it. I felt it could not have gone any better than it did, and I felt for sure that I’d at least make it to the next level of interviews. I was told that the next steps would probably come in two weeks as certain decision makers were out on vacation.
Turns out, they made their decision pretty quick as I had an offer in less than a week!
I don’t feel it is appropriate to share the details of the offer, counter, and the process I went through. At least not in this public format. I will say that after the going back and forth a bit and my struggling with the decision, God was in it and it was clear to me that it was His will to accept this.
After I had accepted, I had the next hardest thing to do. Resign from AAI. I have tendered resignations before, but this one was extremely difficult to do. Partially because I had spent 11 years of my life there, partially because of the great sense of pride I have for the products that are made there, but mostly because the people I worked with had become family to me.
It was not just a job change either. With the acceptance, I’d be committing to selling our house and purchasing a new house. Something that had deeper impact now that we had two kids and had to consider schooling among other things.
I spent the better part of that morning in my manager’s office. It was difficult for me to find the words. Once I finally got them out, it got better. She was excited for me, but at the same time a bit sad to see me move on. She will be the first one to admit that she knew the situation and was equally frustrated that I was essentially underutilized. We then talked about my exit plan and I shared my views on what my replacement should be. We both agreed on what AAI needed.
My exit plan was basically to work my tail off and ensure everything was in good standing order, any outstanding open items were dealt with, and a clean slate for my ultimate replacement. I did not want my replacement to walk into a mess as I did. I also planned on leaving a few parting gifts for the users.
There was a bit of concern however, given my position, if I would be allowed to finish out my time or if I’d just be sent home and paid for the next few weeks. In hindsight, the time off would have been nice but, fortunately Fruit agreed to let me work out my remaining time.
It didn’t take long before a bit of a firestorm erupted at Fruit. This is another area that I don’t think I am going to share the full details of in this format, but basically they we’re surprised by it. I will say that based on what I found out, if I would not have made the move, Fruit would have made the decision for me as they had a plan they were planning on executing in a few weeks. It was just fortunate I played my hand before they were completely ready to play theirs.
I did tell Fruit that they would be wise to get some people up in Iowa in the next few days for a knowledge transfer, which made my last two weeks just the more chaotic. I didn’t care though, I was concerned enough about the people that worked there, that I wanted to ensure that they had some sort of level of support until they could find a replacement.
The day that the Fruit visitors left, was the day it hit me hard. The reality of what I had just done, the last eleven years, and the glimpse of what was to come weighed heavily on me. My coworkers took me out that day. No doubt I seemed a bit distant and even cold. Not because I was upset or anything, mostly because I was trying to process everything internally without breaking down.
I’m serious, this was not an easy thing for me to deal with. I found solace in prayer, my wife, family, and friends who encouraged me about the whole situation.
My last day there was July 31st. It was a joyful day, mostly because I think I had dealt with everything two days prior. I came in early as I always did, I had my office packed up and took my effects to my car before anyone showed up. I had just what I needed available to deal with anything that came my way. My coworkers gave me a great parting gift and made it memorable for myself.
On August 1st, I started on the next step of my career.
Finally, at about 3800 words later, I am happy to announce that I have been a Systems Administrator at Grinnell Mutual in Grinnell, Iowa for the last three months. I feel quite a bit better having typed this all up.
I have more to share, mostly about the first three months, the house hunt, and so on. However, I believe that I will put that in another post as this one has gotten out of hand. So look for part two… maybe.