When I left IBM I was too young and too poor to retire. I waited until later when I was older and too poor before I retired.
In the first phase of my post IBM life I didn’t get very far from IBM. That was because the only post IBM way of earning a living that I was able to find in the short time that I had available for that discovery process was to be an IBM Agent.
Being an IBM Agent was something like being an Agent for an insurance company. The similarity was that, like an insurance company, IBM was a huge international corporation that wanted to reduce or eliminate as much direct sales expense as it was possible to eliminate without losing some semblance of loyalty from that replacement sales force.
For years that had been a work in progress.
In Screen Saver I recount a number of stories about that ongoing process, including the time that I spent getting on a plane at LaGuardia or Newark every Sunday and returning from Atlanta every Friday.
The week that that traverse allowed to take place in Atlanta had been filled with work on a three person task force which was trying to figure out how to sell new business solutions (small value-added computer systems) through some channel other than card carrying IBM employees.
It was odd that the answers that the task force came up with ended up being my third-to-last IBM job and my first post IBM way of earning a living.
Those answers were two things: independent businesses to be constituted as IBM Agent Firms and a new IBM function called the Complementary Resources Manager – an IBM employee whose job it was to provide for the care, feeding and IBM interface to those Agent Firms.
I was the first CRM in Spokane and I later became the IBM New Business Agent Firm in Seattle.
As things turned out, the Seattle endeavor probably would have been successful, both for me and for IBM if IBM had not perceived itself as being in the process of going out of business. That meant that the expense of nurturing a brand new business long enough to become successfully independent was not an option and what probably needed to be a three to five year transition plan became an aborted one year. IBM tried to dress the abandonment of the Agent Program in its best go-to-meeting clothes, but I had worked for the company for too long to fall for that artifice. So after a year of being an Agent firm with four employees I went to being a loosely affiliated IBM ally with no employees who made more money from consulting and technical writing than I made from the IBM relationship.
Ultimately we migrated to being solely a consulting and technical writing firm.
But during that start up year, the full twelve months of the non-diluted IBM Agent relationship, I had a lot of support from IBM. That support included office space for me and my employees in the IBM building, a monthly non-recoverable stipend for each of my sales territories, a variable payment for just taking the responsibility of the territory and commissions for whatever IBM goods and services we sold to our customers.
All of those payments added up over a little time to a surprisingly significant monthly payment from IBM. Those payments came to me in the form of a monthly check from IBM. For whatever reason, it seemed like a good idea to have my business bank account close to the IBM office. The closest bank was a small branch of US National Bank – at that time still a Portland business, and as an almost native Portlander I had had a US National Bank account in my previous life – so it just seemed natural to do business with them.
The branch was in a quaint, old, not many storied building that had somehow evaded the all too prevalent downtown Seattle wrecking ball. After US National, for whatever reason moved from the location it became a Starbucks. It was on the corner of 6th and Seneca.
I had two contacts. One was a dithering young woman who was, she assured me, my Personal Banker. The other was the Branch Manager. I didn’t have much contact with the Branch Manager, but since I was the CEO of a member of the small business community, a new customer, and it was turning out, a fairly significant depositor, my “Personal Banker” had made sure that I had been exposed to that level of executive bank contact.
The Branch Manager was a quiet-spoken, rather slight of build African American. In my little contact with him he seemed to care about his customers, know a lot about his business and how it might be of service to people like me and was credible when he said that if I ever needed help beyond what my Personal Banker could provide that he was ready to serve. I believed it and that was a tribute to his credibility. There are a lot of glad–handers in positions such as his; I felt that he wasn’t one of them.
But that is all told to set the stage for my short, sad tale.
One late mid afternoon I needed to go over to the bank to make a deposit. I left the IBM building and crossed over to the bank, tried the door and found that it was locked. The bank was closed for the day.
The sidewalk, being in the middle of down town, was fairly busy. As I turned to go back to IBM, and as I brushed by a few bustling passers-by I became aware of a person a little farther away from me than those that were immediately around me as I turned from the bank doorway.
I didn’t really look at him, but I must have glanced in his direction. Because I formed the immediate impression that he was a he, not a she. Somehow, because it was downtown and he was coming directly toward me, I formed the immediate impression that he was begging. As the word “no” was forming for articulation, one additional random piece of data was added to my fairly amorphous grasp of the situation. The guy was African American. Without any intervention of rational thought that apparently reinforced my readiness to say a resounding “no”.
Before I could say my incipient word he spoke. “We’re closed for the day, but the branch down two blocks is open until six.”
“Hey, thanks” I must have said. I never really knew because in that split second I recognized my “Personal Banker’s” boss, the Branch Manager of the bank.
As I walked down Sixth Avenue to the other branch I was unable to stop the instant replay of the whole just-completed encounter. And it always ended the same. And before long the only thing that remained, playing over and over and over until I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and not come out until it stopped playing was the same thing.
The only thing that remained, the only memory, the only real and tangible image being flashed by my personal screen saver then, and even now as I write this, was his look of utter and profound sadness.