Hello, dear reader!
We have reached the fourth and last chapter of the "Chronicle of an unexpected decision", where I finish narrating the history of the GDCA. It includes the last relevant events of our Unit after my departure, as well as the main conclusions I have reached while reflecting on it during these last years. Some of them will be unthinkable or surprising to you, but you may not agree with me on others. What you can be sure of is that they represent my most sincere and honest opinion about what many of us had to go through.
Just as during the first three chapters the narration of the facts was absolutely objective and beyond any doubt, in this last stage I express my personal position and subjective interpretation of what happened and I assume full responsibility for it. I do so motivated by the conviction that every painful experience that we have to live through must bring us, at least, a lesson; and that it will surely be different for each one of us.
In my case, I learned that the values and principles of an organization, no matter how solid they may seem, can mutate to adapt to an ever-changing market. If that happens, those values and principles were not such, but mere speeches to gain the overexertion of the employees. Our true north will then be the dictates of our conscience and we will have to decide whether to obey them submissively or defy them to the last consequences….
The complete version, in pdf format, will be included in mid-December in the "Books" section of my website, it will be a "living" document until that date, in which I will collect the questions and comments received to publish them anonymously and enrich the narrative.
I look forward to your comments at the end!
The sudden death
Years 2012 and beyond
The new year began with another very sad new. Carlos Menor, my faithful co-worker who, like me, had given the best years of his life to the company and, in particular, to the start up and growth of GDCA, had passed away.
I remember visiting him in his bed at the Sanatorium where he was and, upon seeing me, he sadly asked me:
"Did you see, Tony? We thought the company was ours and it wasn't. We were wrong", to which I replied, almost sobbing:
"Carlitos, if we had to do it all over again, wouldn't we do the same thing?", and he told me, with an attempt at a smile:
"Yes, Tony. We would do the same thing."
I think he left with the peace of mind of having followed the dictates of his heart, which was the same as mine, both carved with the sacred fire of what we lived in the Martinez Plant.
During the remaining of 2011 and the first half of 2012, five witnesses from my side and a couple on IBM's side declared in front of the court in charge of my file.
The first ones endorsed in great detail what had been stated so far, while the latter couldn’t contribute much in favor of the company.
At the end of the testimonies, my lawyer told me that, with the evidence provided by the witnesses and the seriousness of the overwhelming fact, if there were no new news, it was not illogical to asume that we would have a First Instance ruling in a matter of months.
We were beginning the third quarter of 2012.
In December of that year the long-awaited ruling came out, which was totally favorable to my claim and obliged IBM to compensate me with a substantial amount of money, unthinkable for me until the moment of the sad event.
As expected, the company appealed the ruling and the case was sent to a second instance court.
The result was expected in mid-2013 and the expectation was that it would ratify the previous ruling.
Thus, my lawyer and IBM's lawyer called for a new conciliation hearing to avoid a new adverse ruling for IBM.
I received a first offer from the company to be agreed by me and then a new one, with a much better amount, which I ended up accepting.
It represented several years of work and it had all been due to IBM’s clumsiness of not having wait two weeks in April 2011.
We signed the corresponding agreements, which closed the case, me with my money and IBM with an adverse ruling.
It had been two years and four months since the trial began.
The speed of the resolution was a clear demonstration of the forcefulness of my allegations.
From that moment on, sadly, several leaders and managers have followed my same path and have called me as a witness in their respective trials.
The number of times I have done so, with satisfaction, is already well over ten.
Meanwhile, in the GDCA the debacle had begun and it was happening on different fronts.
On one hand, subsequent events showed me that I had had the great and unprecedented privilege of starting a new approach, at least in Argentina, for the company to communicate to experienced professionals and middle managers that their services were being discontinued, without showing its face!!
They simply deactivated their badges to enter the buildings and when they called their managers from the entrance, the latter gave them the unfortunate news.
Those who made IBM really great, always stated in writing and whenever they could that respect for people and the best customer service were the two great pillars on which the company was built.
Those who experienced those sad moments were simply numbers of employees who were crossed off the list when they were terminated.
When I say this, not infrequently people try to refute me by saying that competition forces companies to act like this, that they cannot maintain the same attitude as in the past, that times have changed and that blah, blah, blah, blah and blah.
Let me tell you that they are all lies and I refer to the evidence.
IBM stayed true to the principles on which it was created and held a position of absolute leadership in the IT industry worldwide until the 1980s, when it began to modify them and then:
It began to give up positions to its competitors, so that today they exceed its sales volumes.
And guess what?
Well, ..... again, another surprise!
Apple, Microsoft, Google and other companies that today reach or surpass IBM in the IT industry in the international order, or Globant, in the local order; not only keep the principles that IBM abandoned, but they encourage and amplify them, inviting their employees to creatively contribute new solutions for the market. They feel they are a fundamental part of the company and are proud to have been called upon to contribute them.
That's real teamwork and not looking at monthly expense lines to see where to cut!!
And believe me. This is not my invention. Just look at the numbers and trends on the Internet and see the phenomenon.
On the other hand, the directives to reduce the size of the GDCA to the smallest possible number and without spending a single dollar were successfully deployed.
Subjecting to mistreatment those who had given up their best years of life to make the company great so that they would leave by their own free will, thus avoiding paying a few million dollars that were due to them for their just compensations and that, by a separate string, would go into the pockets of the New York executives for showing a better financial result at the time.
It all boiled down to squeezing people and making them feel more and more uncomfortable so that they would start looking for work in other companies.
I would never have accepted this objective if it had been proposed to me.
I then discovered that this must have been one of the real reasons why they had decided to get rid of me.
Obviously I could not destroy what I had just created!! Someone else could.
I had already lived through the last years of the Martinez Plant more than fifteen years ago and the difference with what was happening with our beloved Unit was abysmal.
While those who had to leave the Plant because their jobs had been terminated, received the corresponding compensation, which they were deeply grateful for; this time they received nothing and left, in search of another competitor that would recognize their skills more and consider their employees as true assets of the company.
GDCA had reached its peak with 4,500 people when I retired in April 2011 and from then on, sadly, its upward trend was drastically reversed and its slow death throes began through three simple mechanisms this was achieved:
- No new clients of the company were assigned to the GDCA.
- The person who left was not replaced (a policy known as full attrition).
- Someone made it posible efficiently
In just a very few years the 4,500 employees became just a little over 1,000 people!
Just as it had been impossible to foresee at the beginning of 2005 the spectacular growth of our Unit, the same phenomenon, but in reverse, was not in the calculations of the most pessimistic of those of us who were leading the Unit just 6 years later.
A company like IBM was not going to do that, but, that is exactly what it did!
Needless to say, the buildings leased by IBM were returned one by one to their owners, and new tenants began to occupy them shortly thereafter.
The 3,500 people who decided to leave the company due to the pressure and the lack of future, began to join Google, Microsoft, Oracle, HP, Globant and other local companies, which veiledly thanked IBM for all the time invested in their training, and then encouraged them to leave.
Something unprecedented in today's working world.
Some "GDCA graduate" professionals, I would say about 20, are also currently working in companies located in the USA, Australia, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, among other countries.
I receive notes from many of them through social networks where, in general, they highlight two themes that they remember with longing:
The first is the atmosphere of friendship and collaboration that reigned in the GDCA, which motivated them to hold various meetings and celebrate parties outside working hours, among the various groups of friends that were created.
The second is the training they received, both technically and in the English language, as well as in the creation and functioning of real work teams.
The common denominator is that this has not happened since then in the companies where they are currently working.
During these last ten years I developed and continue to do it, diverse activities that fill me with satisfaction and intimate joy.
I can share with you that I helped my son in the company he created in Barcelona, dedicated to IT support for third sector organizations. I collaborated with NGOs in different roles: implementing an application that streamlines the delivery of clothes; evaluating and prioritizing organizations that receive funds; helping high school students to put together a business plan, etc. I started writing. I already have fourteen books of different genres published on Amazon ebooks, which can be downloaded for free on my website. My last adventure was this year, creating my blog and the Trazando Surcos project, with a clear social objective.
I try to give back, now that I can, part of what I received when I was young: a free Public University where I was able to finish my degree in Industrial Engineering.
When I reflect on the GDCA and with the coldness that time imposes, I rescue some conclusions that I’d like to share with you, people, many of whom have experienced firsthand what I have described, and can attest to its authenticity.
During those years I saw the passing of seven people, to whom I reported or with whom I was working, all of them very close to me and of my deepest esteem. They were all victims of a process that was triggered and finished in less than a year. All of them were part of the GDCA project, fully supporting it, despite the lack of attention from the Head Office, which generated conflicts and continuous frustrations. Were their backpacks overloaded?
Was it a coincidence? I have no way of proving that it was, or that it was not. However, in Statistics there is a "Pearson correlation coefficient", which measures how associated two variables are with each other. It varies between -1 (if they are independent), and 1 (if they are); while 0 means neutrality. What I am convinced of is that if we were to plot the probability of occurrence of these sad events, as a function of the problems generated by those who directly or indirectly represented the HQ, the coefficient would be very close to 1.
The common practices between the manufacturing and service worlds are astounding, so I summarize the key concepts received from my leaders at the Martinez Plant, then used in the start up and growth of the GDCA: commitment and ownership of the issues; creation of work teams with motivated people who give the best of themselves; modesty, leading by example; delegation and support to those reporting, owning their mistakes; quality in search of excellence; continuous training; and customer satisfaction, even if additional working hours are needed to achieve it.
The decision to open the GDCA was made by mid-2004 at the IBM Services Division HQ in New York. Among the elements that were considered to support the decision were: the experience of exporting IT products from the Martínez Plant; the IT infrastructure support, with its Computer Center located there; the recognition of the level of excellence of Argentine professionals; the same time zone as the East Coast of USA; the relative stability of the country, after the economic recovery from the 2001 crisis; and the last, but not least, the hourly costs of argentine professionals measured in dollars, extremely attractive in relation to those of most first world countries.
Reciprocally, the decision of its definitive closure was taken by mid 2010, only 6 years later, but in this case, only the IBM Argentina GM was informed, with an express request to keep silent. Circumstances beyond the GDCA's responsibility had made the last two elements temporarily invalid, generating this absurd decision. The end of the GDCA had already been decided one year and a half before the firing from IBM of its head: me!!
Ironically, at that time, my colleagues and I were preparing the documents to present the GDCA for the Ibero-American Quality Award, which we would end up winning. This mattered very little to those who made the closing decisión. So little did they care that, when they came to visit us... We had to hide it!!! They kept asking us why we had taken so much time to apply, and when we told them we had done it outside our working hours, they thought we were making fun of them. How could anyone in their right mind be late for their own child's birthday because they stayed at the office to work? Of course, that sense of pride and responsibility had always been out of their radar.
During a six years period (2005/2011), it was the first job for many young professionals who had just graduated. In that year it was the second largest IT Services Export Center in size, second only to the one in India, but larger than its equivalents in Brazil, China and other countries. Unlike the other large centers, which used a signifficant quantity of US assignees in their startups and growths, the GDCA managed to do so under the onle direction of its local executives. The export of IT services during 2009/2010 reached Mu$s120/150 yearly, mainly made of the costs of skilled professionals and IT infrastructure. As a reference, the Martinez Plant (1960/1995), at its peak exported less than $100 million yearly of IT products, of which labor was less than half.
GDCA won several national and international awards for its sustained efforts to achieve quality levels in its operations, as one of its main characteristics. These efforts resulted in obtaining the Manuel Sadosky Award from the Argentine Chamber of Software and Computer Services Companies (Cessi); the National Quality Award in our country and, finally, the Ibero-American Quality Award, the highest award to which companies in our region can aspire.
In one of her regular visits to our Unit, an Executive from HQ told my dear manager Carlos Menor and myself, only a year before the debacle began:
"I must confess that I really appreciate all the efforts you are making to train GDCA people in every way, and I cannot say the same about some of the other Centers. It is clear that you are building your house on solid rock, and that is invaluable. I congratulate you”.
I remember his words and the honesty with which she said them, since she had no need to have done so. I also associate it with the fact that with my colleagues we decided to make that great effort, since we could have avoided it and simply limited ourselves to accept or not the work orders we received, according to the availability of suitable resources in our market, which would’ve made our lives easier, but we wouldn’t have been able to train so many young people, nor would our GDCA have grown as it did.
When I am in the midst of this and other questions about what we did well and what we did not, which were the lessons learned and other related conclusions, I dive into the writings of those who influenced the history of mankind. In particular, I want to share three well-known passages, which came to mind immediately upon reflection. They pertain to a tax collector for the invading Roman Empire, named Levi and jewish by birth. Due to his profession, as you can imagined, he was very much frowned upon by his society. He was a cultured man who was fluent in greek, apart from aramaic. But, when he was called by the Lord, he abandoned all his possessions and goods, his profession and relationships and decided to follow him, regardless of his destiny. He became one of his twelve apostles under the name of Matthew, and was the author of one of the four known gospels, to which I now turn.
In three of its passages, referring to Jesus, St. Matthew says:
"Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go in thereat; for strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them: do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Thus every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
"Whoever therefore hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house; and it did not fall, because it was founded on the rock. But whosoever heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, I will liken him unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand, and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it."
I associate the first passage with the fact of having faced the training of young people with so much effort, effort and concern of all of us, each one from the position he held. It was undoubtedly the narrow door through which we all, without exception, decided to go through. I am sure that for Jorge Ober, Guillermo Cascio, Héctor Ortelli, Carlos Menor, Victor Viotto, Jorge Tajes and Eduardo Puópolo, the GDCA has already given them a little push to go through it, and I hope it will do the same for those of us who are left, when the time comes. In the meantime, the HQ executives, intellectual authors of such an outrage and accustomed to travel this world from country to country entering meetings through the broad main door in front of auditoriums that pay obeisance to them, will surely do the same when the time comes, up there. The only difference is that instead of finding genuflection, they will have to deal with something a little more hostile…
Regarding the second paragraph, I see reflected in it also the HQ characters, who did not even try to understand the problems of operating in our country, its restrictions, the needs of the employees to maintain a decent standard of living, the efforts made to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles, the dissemination of IT basics in schools and universities, etc. It was assumed that because of the positions they held, they should’ve had a minimum of knowledge or, at least, acquired it. That way, they could have helped us to better serve the company's customers. But that didn’t happen and they decided to continue making decisions, sitting back in their comfortable New York armchairs. They suddenly burst a Unit, which was perceived in the local and international environment as one of their great assets, in terms of IT knowledge accumulation.
The experience in IBM that those defrauded employees and suppliers brought to the market, after such a great imperfection, is not free and generates long term consequences. IBM has been stigmatized locally and this is difficult to recover.
A simple example: the Foundation for the National Quality Award, which had awarded us its greatest trophy at the Government House just two years ago, was horrified to see the size of the mistake they had made. And I, unfortunately, could not give them any explanation with a minimum of rationality about what had happened. Meanwhile Oracle, Telecom, Accenture, Globant and other similar IT companies in the local market did:
Thank you, IBM, for giving us these critical and qualified resources!
Let us know when you have more!
We promise we'll take care of them like gold dust; and I can attest that they did, seeing the glittering careers many of them have.
Not to mention the GDCs in India, Costa Rica, Poland and Malaysia, among others, where they landed no less than 4,000 jobs!!!!
Some of their executives are still drooling ten years later, except for those in Malaysia, where they repeated the same nonsense of what was done in Argentina.
And the last one is the one that made the most noise to me, does and will continue to do so. As I mentioned earlier in the book, it was the same person at the Head Office who had confessed to Carlos Menor and me that what we were doing was building the GDCA on rocks. A big mistake! It was the same mistake that the two of us were making, without realizing it. We were absolutely sure that the rocks that guaranteed its existence and growth were the individual and collective capacities of our organization, and that is what we embarked on with all our determination and dedication. But there was something that, although we knew it existed, we did not give it due importance, since it was outside our circle of action. It was indeed true that the capabilities of our people were indispensable, but what we overlooked was that they were only a necessary condition, but not sufficient. They alone were not enough. The other condition, out of our reach, and which guaranteed the stability of our construction, was given by our blessed country, Argentina, its political and economic ups and downs, its lack of international credibility, the impossibility of being able to plan in the medium and long term, the continuous changes in the rules of the game.
The rocks were not rocks at all, but only large loose stones, which, moreover, were not set on solid ground, but only rested on shifting sands, which moved at the slightest gust of wind!!!!
And when the storm broke; the wind roared, the sea rose, the waves became immensely high; and the poor scaffolding of the GDCA began to move!
And that was the real beginning of the end. Something planned and executed since 2005 was dismantled in the blink of an eye just 6 years later.
I believe that if I had made the mistake of growing an organization only to eliminate it when it had reached its peak, although of course on a much smaller scale, I would have been kicked out the next day.
But of course, I was not sitting in any of the modern New York offices of our HQ, where those who were there collected juicy commissions for the courageous decision taken.
And now, before ending the chronicle, I want to go back to the beginning, if you allow me, and I want to do it to emphasize the reason for it.
Firstly, because nothing was said about my departure and when this happens, the image of the one who left begins to tarnish, and it is human that this happens.
"If they left, there must have been a reason for it"; "It seems that they had to bring in someone from outside because... (and here the collective imagination begins to fly)"; and so many other rumors fed by the absence of official information from the company.
Well, that is precisely why, at that moment, I made three important decisions for me, which I have maintained at all costs.
To take legal action against my employer, which fortunately have been resolved several years ago, thank God.
To allow a prudent period of 10 years to pass, during which I have proposed to maintain a strict silence, which I have done up to now.
To make known the official version of what happened with the GDCA, in general; and with me, in particular, at the end of it.
I believe I have already said enough about the GDCA, describing the main milestones of its brilliant but brief trajectory.
About me. I will summarize it in the most direct and simple way.
When the decision was made in New York by mid-2010 to close our beloved GDCA, my fate had just been decided. A 4,500 person unit had to be dismantled at the lowest possible cost to the company.
You didn't need to be very smart to realize that the person who had been in charge of its creation, start-up and growth was not going to be the right one, simply because he wouldn't do it, and therefore, they had to find someone else with the will and efficiency to do it.
And me, ..blow me up!!! As simple and straightforward as that.
Then followed all the make-up created to hide the decision, a proof of the surprising lack of expertise of those who took it: my trip to New York, the invention of an internal audit, my friction with Human Resources at the Head Office, etc., etc., etc.
All purely cosmetic!
The reality was that they didn't even dare to show up and explain it to me, and it was a security guard who had to tell me that I could no longer enter into my office.
I do not regret anything I did and I would do it again a thousand times, honoring the request that I received in 2005.
I maintained and will always do my position, absolutely contrary to:
Deactivating employees' badges to inform them of their dismissals, avoiding to show their faces.
Using crude and false excuses to dismiss them, such as leaks of information (btw, forbidding to communicate it!!!), unrelated to them.
Betraying the company's values to young people who are joining the company and for whom it is their first job.
Standardizing tasks (GDF) without considering the value added of professionals and the quality of their services, recognized and requested by clients.
Reduce professional levels (bands) acquired by employees.
Maintain fixed salaries (1% increases) in a context of 30+% inflation.
Disregard cyclical evolutions of countries key cost indicators.
Withdraw country Service Centers due to fair wage claims.
Making employees feel bad to encourage them to look for work in other companies and competitors.
If any or all of the above reasons were the triggers for my sudden departure, I feel honored to know it.
In short, for refusing to participate in this infamy.
That was no longer the company, of which I had its T-shirt on.
I remember that two great Spanish speakers who have given us their personal imprint, have already wisely and at different times, given their opinion on each of the two parties involved in a labor relationship; the employer and the employee:
With respect to the employer, may I mention Pope Francis, our well-known former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who in his Encyclical "Laudato Si" states:
"The economic system is geared to consumption, without concern for the dignity of labor and the protection of the environment. But this is like riding a bicycle with flat tires: it is dangerous!
Dignity and protection are mortified when the worker is considered as a budget line, when the cry of the discarded is ignored.
Public administrations do not escape this logic, when they sign contracts with the criterion of the biggest discount without taking into account the dignity of labor and the environmental and fiscal responsibility of companies.
Believing to achieve savings and efficiency, they end up betraying their own social mission at the service of the community".
Needless to say, after what I have experienced firsthand, I have to agree with Pope Francis on this occasion. Perhaps fifteen years earlier I would have thought otherwise. I was profoundly mistaken!
With regard to the employee, I would like to reflect on some well-known verses by another Francis, in this case Don Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645).
"Mother, I humble myself to gold
He is my lover and my beloved
For purely in love
He walks in continuous yellow
That, doubloon or simple
Does all that I want
Is Don Dinero(Mr Money)".
Here, while I recognize that this may be applicable to many people who worked or still do so in the various companies, I believe that, as in the vineyard of the Lord, there are those who blindly adhere to it in the pursuit of greater power and remuneration; and others who, simply do not let themselves be dazzled by it and, attentive to their ethical restrictions and conscientious objections, do not do so.
I am among the latter and when my conscience sends me signals, warns me or I feel a great charge, I prefer to follow his advice and not adhere to what Don Quevedo points out.
And now, finally, as in the beginning of the Chronicle, I would like to address you again, at the end of the story...
Yes, to you... one of the 4,500 young professionals, to whom I had the pleasure of welcoming you to our beloved GDCA...
... you blindly trusted me and what I promised you, because I was convinced of it and that is why you were able to train, to integrate teams united by the profession and, in many cases, by sincere friendship.
To you, I want to say...
...that I did everything humanly possible on my part and even more, to defend the continuity of the GDCA and to guarantee your job, your fair salary and your professional level within our Unit.
...that I did not mind challenging structures and senior executives bent on a short-sighted vision of the business, from their comfortable New York armchairs.
...that I managed to convince HQ that the most time-critical IT skills could and should be kept in Argentina, which until not long ago was still happening in some cases, and would not have happened if I had not fought the battle.
...that I could’ve been floating around and opened the door for them to enter and destroy as they pleased, without any resistance, but that I did not care that my attitude cost me my job, after 40 years in the company and having had to leave through the window instead of going out through the big door of the same building that housed us at the beginning of our project.
...that I will not allow my image to be tarnished by the absolute complicit silence of the company about my departure, encouraging unfounded or intentionally distorted suspicions about me. I do not deserve it!!!
...that I see that what I did was worthwhile as long as it lives on in the memories and sensations; yours and those of your 4,500 colleagues who passed through there, even 10 years after I left.
...that my directors and those who accompanied me in this project and who are no longer in this world, must be very happy for what we’ve done together, in spite of the bitter end; and when I join them up there in heaven, we’ll celebrate together.
Former colleague, personal friend or occasional reader, whom I do not have the pleasure of knowing; I assure you that I have tried to maintain total objectivity in the description of the facts narrated in this Chronicle.
Only in the final Conclusions I tell my opinion o this unfortunate event, in the eagerness to avoid the repetition of similar situations in other places or moments.
I believe that, above all, the employee is a human being and not simply a number or an element that becomes part of the disposable society, and that should never, ever be forgotten.
I send you a big hug and thank you for the time you took to read this chronicle.
Yesterday's, today's and always's.