Volume 41, Issue 8 - August 2006


Musical Chairs
Playing the Job-Change Game in the Industry
by Dez Farnady

The ancient game of musical chairs was thought to have been invented by the Etruscans in the fifth century B.C. It was probably invented for the purpose of trying to make sure that the Romans had no place to sit. As history tells us, it clearly did not work since the Romans sat down and the Etruscans had no chairs so they had to leave, never to return. 

In this modern world, probably because we have more chairs, there is usually a place to sit down. The only limitation is that you really can’t leave the game. For example, if you are in the glass business and you wish to leave your employer, you can do so but your next employer will also most likely be someone else in the glass business. There are a few escapees, but not many. 

Time and Money

I am sure most industries are like ours because it is easier to hire even a competitor’s reject than to try to bring in new blood from outside the business and spend your time and money training them. For small- or medium-size glazing contractors the cost of a trainee—an unproductive body on the payroll—can be prohibitive. A glass house with one estimator would have a difficult time paying a competitive wage to a new body that can’t generate enough business to pay his own way. So, estimators move around because it is easier to play musical chairs and hire an estimator from some other glazing contractor than to try to train a new one. 

Small manufacturers and fabricators are pretty much in the same boat. A new salesperson should cost what, about 4 percent of sales? Does that mean that a new man must sell a million dollars of new business to justify a $40,000 salary? I think those numbers are low. First of all you can’t find a decent glass salesperson who will work for those kinds of dollars and you may not be able to afford to have him or her on the payroll if he or she is not productive during the time spent in training.

Staying in the Game

The reasonable thing to do is to try to find someone already trained by somebody else. That means you have to try on someone who wants to move because they are unhappy where they are, or being rejected from their current employment, or want to relocate, or want to make more money or want to change chairs for any one of a dozen other reasons that all ultimately involve a crap shoot on your part if you are the hiring employer. 

I have been in this business long enough to know a lot of estimators, and salespeople in particular, who have traveled around the industry from one employer to another for decades. Three employers in ten years is fairly common. I know some with as many as five or six in maybe 15 years. I suppose the only thing that saves the game is that the playing field is so small that everyone knows all the players. In other words, when you hire someone else’s employee you have a pretty good idea of what you are getting. Even though you know that people are moving around, it is still strange to pick up the phone on occasion and hear a familiar voice say “Oh, I didn’t know you worked there.” Or, to be on the other side, when calling someone and recognizing a familiar voice out of context because it is a new employee there who you knew from some place else. Most of the changes seem to work out because everyone knows the incompetents and they eventually get re-cycled and have to find work outside the glass business.

Even owning your business may not be all that secure. The volatility of the economy and the vagaries of a business where “estimating” is a profession make it not unusual to see a former business owner turn up somewhere as an employee and vice versa. Many a glazier or estimator has moved from an employer to self employment where only the government is their partner. And sometimes they move back to being an employee once again.

And then, of course, there are the corporate changes when businesses sell, downsize and reorganize, creating additional movement with old faces showing up in new places. I have been fortunate to have only made two changes in the last 30-some odd years. One resulted from the corporate sale of my division of the company and the other a retirement that may have been somewhat premature. I was lucky to recover from both changes and am happy to say that I don’t plan another one ... at the moment anyway, but one never knows.

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