Thursday, February 27, 2014

Back from the Brink-or How I worked for a year for an offshore company

Many businesses were affected with the downturn of the economy in 2008. My design business was not an exception. After 20 plus years in business I contemplated closing up and moving on. I enjoyed my hobby of carpentry but could I turn that into a new career? With an ex-wife and two kids of almost college age I was in a tough bind. And what about the workers who were still with me? I owed it to them to try and stay afloat as well.

I work in the textbook field and over the years have gotten to know my "competition"well-those other studios that I am usually bidding against for work. I saw several fold and others merge with offshore companies to try and stay afloat. These mergers basically panned out as keeping only a handful of people working stateside and having the bulk of the production work done overseas where the costs were cheap. Publishers embraced this notion and were now only willing to pay for jobs that could only be done overseas.

With things spiraling down I was called for a meeting by an old friend who had been let go from a large publishing house. I thought he wanted to meet to talk about job leads. Rather he wanted to see if I wanted to merge my company with the offshore group he now worked with. They needed someone to run their NY office as well as maintain a new office here in Boston. I jumped at the chance. It meant I could not only keep my business and my people working but I could generate an income for myself again.

Working as part of an offshore company is different than anything I had been used to. Luckily they had some ongoing jobs and I was able to bring in some new work myself so we started out keeping two locations very busy. And after 20 years of "running the show" I was happy to just be a cog for a while. I didn't have to worry about the electric bill or payroll.

But you find out quickly when your home office is around the world you spend most of your day justifying your existence. Since they are not here to see the daily ups and downs of the work at hand you are forever filling out excel forms quantifying every action. I went from being an art director to a number cruncher with very strict demands including expenses I could use for my state side workers. I was not bitter about this. I actually understood their needs to stay on top of the work and expenses and to try and move as much as they could overseas. I just didn't like it.

One benefit was to get to know the people overseas I was working with. In between the number crunching you had chances to talk about their lives, their families and you find out they are not very different. They were just looking for a way to earn a living and provide for their families, same as me.

The great experiment lasted just a year. The offshore office had some money issues and found it cheaper to first close the NY office and then work its way up to us. When we were down to just two full time workers I knew I had better start thinking of a new solution. Again I wasn't upset. Its a business after all. So I decided to take a chance and go back out on my own. Its what I always loved best.

Luck comes in many ways. I got a call from an old client who wanted us to work on a large project with a budget that would allow me to not only retain all our staff but necessitate doubling our size. I take it as a good sign. I enjoyed my year with the offshore company. I learned a lot and met many new people all across the world. But I am happy to be back out on my own and yes, calling the shots. I know nothing lasts forever but I am now busier than I have ever been. And that means, for now anyway, I can keep my carpentry skills just to the projects I do at home!