April 13, 2010
 

Alice in wwwLand. Episode 3.0

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By Wendy McHale

Now with the role-up/merger between the two hottest new-age new media companies on Silicon Alley - "Far Reaching Solutions" (FARS) and "People Understanding Real Evolution" (P.U.R.E) - Alice prepared to take on a new roll, no longer being the "Chief Mentality Officer" she was originally hired for. She was given a new title for the job. Her responsibilities would include acting as the "go to" person for all integration between the two companies. She was now the "Director of Organizational Alignment" (DOA).

Internally, Alice was still very much resentful of all the lightening-speed changes she was faced within just over 6 weeks at FARS. She had never managed the integration of two very different firms and cultures, so her level of discomfort grew by the day.

This next adventure in her journey into wwwLand was to take Alice into a wholly unknown terrain which she had no idea how to prepare for. Working to be as optimistic as possible, she approached this new position with trepidation, though as cheerfully as she could muster up on the outside, given the white canvas she faced. Yet, as usual she was committed to do her level best to help integrate these two different company families, to help them come together to make one larger, (hopefully) more productive and happier family.

On day one, the first difference Alice quickly noticed was that - side by side - FARS and PURE (p.u.r.e.) were clearly like oil and water. Her opinion after the first day was that they would never mix. FARS was clearly an UPPER CASE type company, beginning with its logo, which flowed all throughout its culture.

Conversely p.u.r.e. was proudly a lower case company, so much so that all p.u.r.e. documents were always lower case, even for the start of sentences, headings of papers and names of people.

To p.u.r.e., UPPER CASE represented all that was wrong with business; ego, corporate jets, T&E and perks galore, only for the fat cat big wigs at the top. PURE (p.u.r.e.) felt its role was more egalitarian. They were leading the technology revolution. Tech geeks only used lower case, so that was their modus operandi. They saw themselves as the "don Quixote" of interactive companies.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, dealing with two cultures that had already barely concealed their contempt for the other, Alice thought back to her days in drama class when she played the part of Maria in Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story; a 60's era version of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Alice could see that her college experience-enjoyment of the romanticism and music of the pre-destined, failed (yet poetic) attempt to bridge the abyss between the Jets and the Sharks was not going to be as much fun here.

With the train having left the station on the joining together of these two companies, Alice made the mistake of thinking she could talk to Sue-Mo about her first day's concerns as DOA. Inside her corporate suite she not only found Sue-Mo lacking any interest whatsoever, she was told in no uncertain terms to stop whining and get to work. Alice left the office clearly deflated, puzzled and wondering for the first time, if she would be successful in accomplishing her new marching orders. Alice did not feel well. She felt ominous about the future.

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Her hopes were that the first few weeks would be rosy, not unlike a honeymoon. Unfortunately she found them anything but. The initial agreement between these companies to be "joined at the alter" was less than romanticly embracing. It more like a shot-gun marriage roll-up, which exemplified a sign of the times.

Feeling like a planet pulled out of her orbit and thrown into another galaxy, or on a more earthly level like being thrown through a Saks Fifth Avenue glass window, Alice found herself experiencing a paralyzing free-fall.

FARS offices and culture were very conservative. Everything from the well-kept carpeted floors, to the corporate uniforms all the bigwigs wore, suits/ties, cuff-links and even suspenders from time to time. Upon the signing of the deal, Alice and her team (who by then had already arrived) were informed they were to leave FARS offices ASAP and relocate several blocks away into the p.u.r.e. offices.

Sue-Mo knew she needed Alice and her team, so following her swift kicking of Alice out of her office, she then changed gears, took Alice and her new staff out to lunch and shared once again their importance, this time informing them that they would be the new official Ambassadors of FARS at p.u.r.e.; a state department welcoming committee, a foreign service officer team if you will, who would help integrate the new p.u.r.e. subsidiary into the FARS family. Setting up shop in PURE (p.u.r.e.) offices was quite an experience for Alice and her team.

OMNIPOTENT instructed Sue-Mo that integration had to begin ASAP before the end of 1999, so that news of this move would help strengthen FARS's IPO take-out price. Everything and everyone had to work together so that all could reap/capitalize on the then-dot.com fever. Therefore, only days after Alice's new team arrived, they were instructed that they need to identify new creative, media and tech teams that should begin interacting between companies, going back and forth between the two offices still 7 blocks apart.

As compared to its new parent company, p.u.r.e. was significantly less formal, even radical to some degree. For one, the company operated out of the top floor of an old dusty downtown warehouse building loft, which had bare, noisy floors. Also sharing the space were several families of mice who roamed freely through the office desk drawers and trash cans at night. P.u.r.e.'s young staff wore a very different lower case cultural uniform vs. FARS's. It consisted of ripped jeans and t-shirts. Programmers would often come to work unshaven, looking like they slept in their clothes, with what looked like dirty unwashed greasy hair.

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Being on the top floor of the warehouse building had its advantages. Upon showing up at work, PURE (p.u.r.e.) staffers frequently went up on to the roof to "have a smoke" in the morning before they turned on their computers. Alice noticed they would all come back a little glassy-eyed with a little smirk she remembered frat boys having at parties in college.

Yet the disadvantages of the location also soon became obvious. When it rained, the roof leaked, which made the un-carpeted wood floors all the more brittle and noisy. Even with buckets under 5 or more leaks to capture from the 100 year-old drenched roof, it made the air in the office wet and yucky. Corporate it wasn't. To Alice, the p.u.r.e. staffers initially looked all identical.

With the integration just beginning in late October, colder than average winter weather had already begun. Still coming to work conservatively in a skirt and top or pants suit, Alice was startled at the shaky 100 year-old windows inside p.u.r.e.. For one, they rattled incessantly, acting as an odd, old thin barrier between the office temperature and the 20 degree weather outside.

Since p.u.r.e. was on the top floor of the building, the heat took a much longer time to reach the top-floor offices, so it was not uncommon for p.u.r.e. staffers to wear hat, coat and gloves to and inside the office, until around noon.

From Alice's initial notification of her reassignment, she felt that the integration was beginning to look like a car trying to break through a brick wall at 100 miles and hour. Even if the mission was accomplished, the driver of the vehicle would be more than a little bruised. Alice had not signed up for this tour. She was initially attracted to FARS's culture, specifically because it had a more corporate environment, carpeted floors, ties and suspenders. Alice had made a career choice to join FARS, particularly because it fit into her previous conservative packaged goods agency culture. This was not the case being offloaded and drop-kicked into p.u.r.e.. Frustration with Sue-Mo's bait and switch was beginning to bug Alice more and more on a daily basis.

At night, during her first week, getting home near or past midnight once she fell into bed, Alice's anger and frustration would be released. She found herself obsessing about small and large details and the messiness of this financially driven, mashing together of cultures, bodies, salaries, stock options and personalities. She hated the idea. She felt her insides being torn apart - due to what anyone with any insight into human nature could see - was a loveless corporate marriage.

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Then, it got worse. Beginning Monday of week two, a rumor quickly spread, not unlike a computer virus around FARS offices that the only reason p.u.r.e. agreed to be bought by FARS was due to the fact that its VCs pressured them to sell, or enter into Chapter 11.

The gloves were then thrown off, like a fight between two hockey players at Madison Square Garden, the rumor quickly turned into a boxing match. Meetings with people at both offices were often stopped when creative, production and media people would stomp out of offices, clearly frustrated with the communication and process problems they each found with the other. They each began hurling sarcastic remarks, various epithets and "pet" names each company had for the other. In return for the chapter 11 rumor, PURE (p.u.r.e.) staff frequently referred to FARS as "FARS-farts." Soon, FARS staffers periodically (every average quarter hour or so) labeled its new sister company, "pure-bulls**t".

While these two "colorful" cultures were initially positioned as the sure-thing; at OMNIPOTENT and in the MadAve/Silicon Alley trades... sort of the Yankees/Yankee Stadium of dotcom teams if you will, Alice couldn't help but instead see the two companies coming together more prone to a Mets/Shea Stadium-ness match comparison.

The art directors from both companies were stunned at how difficult their job was to tweak them into a "one true god-like" integrated corporate logo. This was hideously apparent when trying to merge their corporate colors, FARS's subtle deep IBM-blue in contrast to p.u.r.e's blaze hunter-orange-colored logo. They joked that blue mixed with orange was the "new black."

Deep IBM blue flowing softly with radiant shag-carpet orange made an unusual color scheme to say the least. While Alice found this internally humorous, her presence in the middle of the corporate culture battlefield between these two companies was anything but humorous given the problems and arguments the logo clashes symbolized.

The weeks quickly became months. The difficulty of integration did not let up. It wasn't getting any easier. No matter what Alice tried to do, either FARS or p.u.r.e. continuously had a problem with the other. There was no satisfying either of them. Yet, she couldn't help but feel from time to time that each side used her to sharpen their nails on her. taking advantage of her due to their own pathetic lives. She saw that they would willfully ignore the situation she was in; that she was just the messenger, not the message. She thought of the old axiom, "no good deed goes unpunished." All her career she had succeeded by using her nurturing skills to get the best out of people, yet in the war between FARS and p.u.r.e., no one was interested in getting along.

No matter what she did, they threw mud in her face. The war-zone environment made her own neediness for love and affection a higher priority than ever before. She had always preferred to keep her private life out of the office, though her defenses were weakening. She began to look for love in all the wrong places.

To be continued...

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