Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

The Line At The Door Is Always Long

I’ve had some really poor managers in my career. In roughly 14 years I’ve had 22 different managers. It’s astonishing to me that only 4 of them are what I’d term as great. One of those bosses was Kevin Doohan. I met Kevin when I was working at ConAgra Foods. He was the first manager I had who could bring real world credibility in the interactive space and still be savvy enough to navigate the politics of corporate culture. I usually ended up with a manager who had one of the other, not both. I learned a lot from Kevin. My 3 years working for Kevin accelerated my business management, critical thinking and strategic skill development.

Kevin was always teaching. Every conversation and interaction was a chance for him to share his knowledge. I didn’t necessarily always agree with everything Kevin preached, but that’s what made us successful as a team. There’s two things that always stick with me:

  1. The line at the door is always long. This was Kevin’s perspective, initially on agencies, and eventually on personnel. When agency partners would complain, raise a stink and come across as holier than thou, Kevin would remind them that they aren’t obligated to work with ConAgra Foods. But, they should know, the line of agencies at the door who wanted to work with ConAgra Foods was pretty damn long. I say, eventually personnel, because even when I resigned, Kevin had the same perspective. While he was disappointed in my decision, he wasn’t going to beg me to stay because there was a line of people who could take my job.  In short, you’re replaceable and don’t think you aren’t, because I have 100s of companies and people who want you have.
  2. With a similar subtext, Kevin told me the story of Gamma One, one of the first places he worked at. I don’t remember the time frame, if he worked there before college, during college or right after, but either way, it was early in his career. There was a guy working at the company who felt he was being underpaid and wasn’t getting the “respect” he believed he deserved. They key, by the way, is DESERVED…notice he didn’t feel he had EARNED it. Anyhow, eventually things came to a head, this guy had interviewed for a job at another company and informed his boss he had a GREAT offer and was ready to walk. This guy’s expectation was that his boss would of course match, if not beat the offer on the table, because his position was too valuable to lose. Instead, his boss stated something to the effect of, “Congratulations. That’s great. Gamma One was here before you and it’ll be here after you.” True to form, more than 15 years later, Gamma One is still HERE. In short, you’re not as valuable as you think you are and if you walk in to my office and treat things like a hostage negotiation, you’re going to lose, because I don’t negotiate with terrorists.

I’ve applied a lot of that thinking to the positions I took after ConAgra Foods. I manage my team and my partners with the same philosophy. Heck, I’ve even applied it to friendships and relationships – I won’t chase after people. If you want to leave a relationship, if you want to quit, if you deliver the ultimatums, I’ll let you walk…because the line at the door is long.

But, I’m not silly, myopic or hypocritical. I also know that the same holds true to my own career. If I quit my job at MARC USA tomorrow or were let go, the simple truth is that there’s 100s of people ready to take my job and fill the void. Of course, we always believe our leaving will matter more than it does.  We say things like, “well, when client X here’s what happens, you’ll be kicking yourself in the ass.” Inherently, our pride gets in the way and of course we think, “well they’re screwed now” or “I’ve got leverage, because I have history” – or something to that effect. But, pride is foolish.

We always think we’re more valuable than we are.  But, the truth is we’re all replaceable, because the line at the door is always long.