In the business world, Karma is a rare commodity given how competitive it can be. This is a story about one person’s selfless decision that helped someone stay employed and the reciprocation that took place on the backend.
When you’re told you have four days to either find another job at the company or pack up by Friday, it’s a rather unsettling experience.
The timing of this story took place in April of 2006, smack in the middle of a booming economy and during the final innings of the magazine industry’s heyday. CARGO Magazine launched two years prior in the Spring of 2004, a highly-anticipated event. The investment, resources and manpower Conde’ Nast designated towards CARGO were on par with all of their recent launches; no expense was spared. At one point, management told the sales team, which I was a member of, “…do not stop spending on travel and entertainment until we tell you to.”
The inaugural national sales meeting, which included a dozen sales reps (from across the country) and the entire New York staff, took place in Conde’ Nast’s Times Square headquarters. The legendary Tom Florio, a lion from the old days of print and the company’s CEO, told the team, “There’s nothing… like working… on a Conde’ Nast launch. Nothing!”
The subsequent presenter of the day was Richard Beckman, a heavy hitter whose reputation proceeded him. He provided a visceral and bird’s eye point of view about where Conde’ Nast stood in the competitive landscape. Based on how rival magazines discounted ad rates, he summed up Conde’ Nast portfolio as such: “We are the virgin amongst the whores.”
Until the Great Recession unfolded, Conde’ Nast never discounted their ad page rates.
Take the combined aura of these two men, package it with slick graphics, visuals and packaging and the result was a hyper-amped salesperson chugging the Kool-Aid at terminal velocity… on day two of employment no less!
The ROI from that sales meeting, and the following 58 business days we had to close the first issue, was impressive. The debut issue was packed with fashion, grooming, electronic and automotive ads from cover to cover and almost every major category of business was accounted for. The magazine launched on a bi-monthly basis, and with six issues published in 2004, over 700 ad pages were booked. The launch and effort made by the ad sales and marketing teams had generated, ‘heat’ behind CARGO, an old-school publishing term. This referred to how hot the printing presses would get after printing so many pages to create the magazine itself.
We had garnered serious traction in the marketplace – yet only two years later, things went south… fast.
Alan Katz, the talented and charismatic launch publisher, was replaced by someone who introduced himself to the staff with the Sex Pistols song, God Save The Queen, when he strolled up to the microphone to introduce himself at a national meeting. To make matters worse, the international fashion category went belly up on account of currency valuations. Simply put, European fashion brands, the lifeblood of Conde’ Nast magazines, collectively could not afford to buy five-magazines deep in the men’s category. They bought three or four at most – GQ, Details, Esquire and perhaps Men’s Health or Men’s Journal. CARGO represented the fifth rung on the totem pole and the result was…
… a mandatory team meeting at 11:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, sometime in April of 2006. Chuck Townsend, the recently minted C.E.O., emailed the magazine’s entire staff.
Of course, I got the word when I was in a 10:00 sales meeting downtown and entered the conference room at 11:10. The appearance of those on my team was disturbing, akin to entering a room where a wake was occurring. I asked the cheeky Publisher what was up and he groaned about having to repeat everything. He wrapped it up in seven words. “The company has decided to fold CARGO.” After a brief appearance by Chuck Townsend, who noted his condolences, the sales reps were told to look for opportunities elsewhere within the company.
Come Friday, if you didn’t have a gig, you got a cardboard box as a consolation prize.
A scramble ensued! Reps called their friends in the building… old bosses… potential bosses… resumes were updated the day of the announcement. When eight reps vie for three open sales positions it makes for quite a spectacle. Who do you know? What’s his deal? Is that publisher a headcase? A headcase I can manage, unemployment, I cannot!
I made calls but also received a few. It just so happened there was an open position at Wired magazine. That was fortuitous as I was calling on the consumer electronics category – the cash cow of Wired’s ad business. A few internal conversations took place and I found myself face-to-face with the Publisher, Drew Schutte.
They had a candidate, ready to hire, but anyone that knows Drew Schutte knows what kind of manager he is – an outstanding one. I liked him immediately and his Associate Publisher, Jay Lauf, was charming and highly respected. In these circumstances, one tends to be a bit biased given the looming threat of unemployment but a dozen internal folks vouched for Wired’s management team. Still, they were ready to move forward with someone else. They managed my disappointment in a professional manner.
Meanwhile, my wife worked at a newsweekly magazine and was as shocked as I was to hear about CARGO’s fate. Her coworkers learned from her that her spouse would soon be without a job.
And that’s when the seeds of Karma took hold.
One of the reps she worked with was the finalist for the job at Wired. She was the preordained sales rep who was about to be hired.
She made a selfless decision as my wife and I were friends with her… and, she had a job.
She picked up the phone, called the managers at Wired, and told them to hire me. Regardless of her desire to find a new job, she had one. On Friday, I would not. That was her rationale.
I never experienced anything like this in my career, nor have I since, and I repeatedly thanked her when I was hired and in the years that followed.
Then, Karma presented an opportunity to return the favor.
Six months later, one of Wired’s reps resigned to take another job. Who jumped into the Publisher and Associate Publisher’s office a minute after the announcement? Me, of course. Whom did I recommend for the job? The preordained rep who bowed out so I could stay employed!
She was hired at Wired several weeks later, which I take 0.05% credit for as she was an outstanding salesperson. It was an honor for me to return the favor.
When a moment like this arises in your career, and you have the opportunity to espouse altruism, embrace it…
…because Karma will find a way to reward you down the road.
Previously published on LinkedIn.com