Thursday, February 28, 2008

Full Circle

Life can be so deliciously ironic sometimes, friends. To illustrate, I give you a short summary of the events of the last 2 weeks.

Last Tuesday:

After developing a super plan with Ahmed and Paulo for turning around the local banana sales operation, I became increasingly incredulous regarding what Hugh Marlboro had asked of me. Just to refresh your memories ('cause it's been a while since I've blogged, I know...), on the heels of telling me he had no intention of extending me a contract or offering me a decent salary, and that moreover he simply "didn't know how to put me to good use in the Empire", Hugh Marlboro proposed that I be put in charge of restructuring one of the key areas of his business. He wanted an operational plan, a management plan, standard procedures...EXACTLY the kind of work that I do well. And yet, he expected me to perform this massive task in 30 days on a salary that barely covered my living costs, all the while thinking that at the end of the month I'd hand over my reports and recommendations on a silver platter, and be content to walk away?? Mmmm, yeah. I think not.

I told the boys that my work, just like theirs, had a price, and that I intended to secure fair compensation before embarking on such a project. Ahmed and Paulo agreed completely.

Before presenting the proposal we'd put together, I went in for a private meeting with Hugh Marlboro. I told him that the boys and I had a sound plan, that we were a super team, that we could definitely turn around his local banana sales. However, I explained that my leadership and skills now had a price significantly higher than what I was willing to work for before our big talk the previous week.

I asked Hugh M. if he had a proposal for my compensation in this project, and his eyes practically bugged out of his head. He was totally not expecting me to stand up for myself. After quite a pause, he said he had no idea about a proposal, and did I have something in mind. You bet I did! I'd spent the last day figuring out an amount that was reasonable in terms of the work being performed, yet high enough for me not to feel like a sucker. I did a quick calculation on Hugh Marlboro's calculator, then turned the screen around to face him. "This is what I feel is fair for my work." He stared at that number for ages, and all the while I gripped my notepad so he wouldn't see my hands shaking with adrenaline. Finally, Hugh M. spoke. "I can't afford to pay this. It's simply not a possibility." I felt a bit disappointed, but satisfied that at least I'd brought up the issue.

Hugh Marlboro may not have been willing to pay for my work in the local banana sales, but he did have a proposal of his own. "I'll pay you 3x your previous salary for the 10 days you've worked so far this month. Come tomorrow morning and I'll give it to you in cash, and you can clean out your office. Then we'll start with a clean slate. If we want to work together on a specific project in the future, we will figure out the terms. But for now, at least we have nothing pending, neither of us owes the other anything." I accepted his proposal without hesitation.

Hugh Marlboro then asked to see the proposal that Ahmed, Paulo and I had put together. "Sorry," I said. "If you want to see the details of our plan, then you can hire me as a consultant for this specific project. Otherwise, you are free to move forward with Luigi heading the operation, or whomever you see fit."

Before I left his office, Hugh M. offered me his hand and said, "You are a hell of a businesswoman. My door will always be open to you. It's been a pleasure."

I walked out feeling good. I was free to search for my next job, and even without my participation in the local banana project, Ahmed and Paulo would be moved up to supervisory positions with improved salaries. And, to top it off, I'd gained a level of respect from Hugh Marlboro that I certainly didn't have before, not that it really mattered at this stage of the game...

Last Wednesday:

I went to the Banana Empire headquarters and had the surreal experience of cleaning out my office, taking my pictures off the wall, and saying goodbye to my colleagues with less than 24 hours notice. Everyone was shocked to hear I was leaving. I was having serious bittersweet feelings about the whole thing...

I went home and started updating my CV, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do next with my professional life.

Last Thursday:

Rico and I have been working for the last 2.5 years developing and doing fundraising for an expansion project for Hugh Marlboro's Banana Empire. We submitted the elaborate business and financial plan last year to the Big Investing Company for consideration, and it was through this process that Hugh M. got to know my work in the first place.

BIC is known for its bureaucracy, and the multi-million dollar project had to go through analysis and approval by the institution's regional office in South Africa, and by their agribusiness headquarters in the US. Several months ago, Hugh M. lost patience and got fed up with the drawn-out process. He was ready to give up, frustrated with BIC's runaround, and basically was ready to tell everyone from the institution to go screw themselves. Luckily, he confessed this desire to me before actually acting on it, and I was able to convince him to let me and Rico completely take over the process. We were close to getting the project approved, and Rico and I certainly didn't want to abandon ship, especially since we have a success fee on the line!

Last Thursday, two days after Hugh M. effectively fired me, we got some good news: BIC's credit committee in the US had approved the Banana Empire expansion project for funding! Several million dollars would be dedicated to the project pending a final review of the company's figures and Hugh M.'s acceptance of the loan terms and conditions.

As my mom put it, the timing on this news was delicious!

5 Days Later:

Ricardo and I went to have dinner with my friend T., who manages a fund that invests in local small businesses at the Maputo office of the Big Investing Company. Rico is interested in a potential career at BIC, so he wanted to do some networking. He got some good tips on an opening in their corporate division, and T. told us about her frustrations in the division she runs, namely she's lost all of her staff in the last 6 months due to local banks offering better salaries and lighter workloads. She told us how she is desperate, doing all of the investment evaluation work herself, how she has 5 projects to finalize by the end of June and has no idea how she will manage it, especially since she can't find qualified people to hire here in Maputo.

I talked a bit about how I don't want to lock myself into a full-time job before the wedding in July, that I would likely do consulting work - but where? - until then. I fretted a bit about my professional situation, then it hit us: T. and I could easily solve each other's problems! She needs help doing investment analysis (which is right up my alley!) until June. I want to work as a consultant until June, preferrably in a position that will make me good money. T. told me to send her my CV, that she would urgently push a contract for me through headquarters and that I could start on Monday.

So that is how I came to work for BIC as a short-term consultant, doing almost the same thing Hugh Marlboro had initially hired me to do yet was incapable of taking advantage of, and earning easily 4x the salary he was willing to pay me.

Today T. said that she's been praying to God for help in her program for quite some time now, but that she never imagined that help would come in the form of such a poor decision on Hugh Marlboro's part. She said she ran into him the other day on a site visit and almost gave him a hug, that's how grateful she is to have me available to work with her on the BIC fund.

I started my new job yesterday and it is going well. It's a challenge, I am busy, and I am satisfied with the conditions of my work. It's not the never-a-dull-moment of the Banana Empire, but it is definitely a good deal.


MoziEsmé said...

Wow - everything seems to have worked out in the end! I've been eagerly awaiting the next episode (no cable here - so this kind of thing is how I get my drama kicks).

bart said...

ali, you're amazing and what you need most seems to be working itself out of its own accord because you've done most of the groundwork beforehand :-))

keep up the good work and keep well...

Safiya Outlines said...

That all sounds brilliant, I'm glad it's worked out for you.

Are you going to be moving after the wedding?

Southern Goddess said...

Ali, I have missed the last few weeks of your posts due to some things that I have had to deal with, but are coming to an end. Yet, wow. I am sorry I missed those posts. Initially, I read Feb., from top to bottom and was concerned. Yet, as I was perusing I discovered your post today, and am happy for you! Congrats on working things out for the boys in the warehouse - something only a truly exceptional manager is willing to do when they themselves face employment uncertainty- seriously congratulations on your work ethic and your character and your integrity - rare in these days. Karma is an interesting thing, and what you project, you receive, and you have recieved. Not only because you have done the right things for those who could not do them alone, but because you thought of others and not only of yourself at a time of crisis. I applaud you and hope the best - if you are ever in N. Tx I will be honored to have you stop by and spend some time. Consider that you and Rico will always have a Southern, US, (terribly stereotypical Southern and US) place to hang your hat. Again, good job

The Girl from Mozambique said...


Stacie said...

Awesome...and I bet this will work out much better for you in the long run anyway. Maybe the Banana Empire was an important test to shore up your confidence in yourself and your abilities...either handled it with professional integrity and true grit...way to go!

Alina Popescu said...

Hi Ali, I am so happy for you. This is exactly what you deserved, working with someone who can grasp your potential and put it to good use. How you handled Hugh M was great! Good luck with the new job :)

Ali la Loca said...

~Moziesmé - I totally get the no cable thing. Back in Chimoio, blogs were my entertainment, my consolation, my laughs, my lifeline...Glad you stuck it out till I could get it together to write the end of the story!

~Bart - I think you could take your own comment to heart here. You are also doing some amazing work, of the hardest kind. :) Thanks for the kind words.

~Safiya - Girl, I can't tell you how relieved I am that it all worked out this way. I had faith, but I confess I totally had a period of panic as well.

After the wedding, we're staying right here in good old Maputo!

~Southern Goddess - Thank you so much for your comment. I feel like my experience at the Banana Empire was no accident, that it was an important step in both my professional and personal growth. I never expected it, but then again some of life's greatest lessons come when we least imagne they are just around the corner.

Your offer is incredibly kind, and Rico and I will be pleased to take you up on it should we ever be in the Southern US. I love meeting fellow bloggers. :)

~The Girl from Moz - Thanks, or perhaps I should say Obrigada!

~Stacie - I think it was an important test, too. And I'm glad I can look back and feel that I accomplished something concrete that benefitted others as well.

~Alina - Yes, it is a total difference to be in an office where there are systems that function and people that recognize each other's skills and provide challenges and support to grow as a company. A "real" office also has its downsides - bureaucracy to name one - but it is a good experience as I've never actaually worked in a place like BIC!

Jody said...

Hi, I am new to your blog, but loved this story. Glad that everything worked out so well for you.

Timing is everything.

Linda said...

Good for you for standing up for yourself and not selling yourself short. You had a very interesting experience if nothing else and now you have a job already. Way to go.

Guilherme said...


I'm so very glad things turned out this well at the end, I've been biting even my toenails ever since your last conversation w/ the guy.



Abzdragon said...

Wow!! Congrats on the new job girl!! I am so proud of you!! Everything happens for a reason :) When is your wedding, June or July? I am getting married in July. Yay for us.

Masd said...

Well done!! Congrats. You have stayed firm in the time of testing. You deserve the best and it ill surly come in your way.

Ali la Loca said...

~Jody - I'm glad you stopped by. This is the end of a huge saga in my life the last few months...lots of drama in the workplace led up to this!

~Linda - Yes, it was definitely worth the experience.

~Guilherme - Well, my job situation is sorted out, but the drama is far from gone! Now it will revolve around the several million in financing we obtained for Hugh M.!

~Abzdragon - My wedding is July 5th, in Rio de Janeiro!!! I'm stressed with all the planning. How are you holding up?

~Masd - Thank you for your support and kind words. :)

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Ah, absolutely delicious. The HM-scapades started out on a good note but I think he's too used to taking people for granted. Good for you for landing a new job.

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