Friday, July 6, 2012

Being Bained

I realized, just a couple of days ago, why Mitt Romney's lucrative shenanigans at Bain Capital, ever-so-far from being job creation, came as no huge surprise to me. It was because the company I worked for a little over a decade ago had gotten shnookered into a Bain-like vortex of its own, by a similarly predatory company, with devastating results for families and communities across several states.

At the time, I worked for a small, home-grown provider of traffic software for radio stations. No, not the automotive kind: "traffic," in radio, refers to how you schedule a client's advertisements. What segments of the day ("daypart") in which they appear, with what frequency, at what rate, and in sync with whatever sister stations might be on the same system. Like many of our competitors, the company had become a commercial concern after its owners - partners in a small local radio station - wrote a program that met their needs and realized its potential. They were one of our rural town's largest employers and attracted skilled professionals to what was otherwise a fading mill town, boosting both commerce and the tax base.

And then the Bain clone descended in 2000 or thereabouts. Slick New York suits completely out of place on the casual Oregon coast. They had a plan to make themselves plenty of money, and they dangled enough of it in front of the owners - who had heretofore taken a downright paternal and protective (if overly patriarchal, for my taste) attitude toward their employees - that they couldn't say no.

I knew that the new marketing guy they planned to install was clueless about technology marketing from the moment I met him. His idea of effective high-tech PR was to send fruit baskets to editors. It was plain to me that I couldn't work with him and wouldn't be remotely happy or effective if I tried to, so I quit, despite best efforts by the departing management to persuade me to stay.

He wasn't bothered. Because, actually, at the same time, they were in negotiations to also buy out our other U.S. competitors. Initially it was just one, even smaller than us, in Alabama. There were the usual reassurances that it would be business as usual, just two sites coordinating with one another.

Then it was the much larger competitor in Idaho. Alongside a purchase of several radio networks who would be mandated, it seemed, to purchase the new juggernaut's software: profit coming and going for the entity pulling the strings.

And then the positions began to be eliminated…the buildings shuttered…the organization centralized. The 1% rides high, the 2% immediately below who sold out retire and try to hide the shame I hope they have the decency to feel, and the 98% are left in communities with a failing tax base, probably mortgages that are now underwater, and little to no employment available at the skilled level for which they were hired.

About a month after I quit, I ran into one of the owners (the only one not a brother, but a close friend, of the co-owning family) in the market. We chatted in produce, and he told me, "You know, you were right. You saw coming what we all missed."

Let's hope the electorate sees the same in Mittens and keeps this clown a country mile from the White House.

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