March 23, 1998 Design News
Tips on guiding product development
Richard West, twenty years later
Ted Gautschi, Consultant
Wellesley Hills, MA
We have been tracking Richard West's career since 1976
when he was 29 years old. After a tour of duty in the
U.S. Army, Richard worked as an engineering trainee
for the federal government, but soon realized his opportunities
were limited without an advanced degree. He and wife
decided that he should get the advanced degree. Richard
received the best grades in his class and fine recommendations
from the faculty.
Early challenges. Richard was graduated
during the worst recession since the 1930's. He had
a family, considerable debt, and his former employer
had no openings.Yet, he soon accepted a position with
a fine company in a good location.
The challenges of learning the business and performing
useful, important work were significant after so many
years of preparation, but he soon realized that his
supervisor made the decisions while the other "engineers"
more or less operated as technicians. Eventually, Richard
logged his daily eight hours at work and no more. He
stopped discussing work. He sometimes daydreamed about
opening a restaurant.
Richard's supervisor left the company, and another
took over. When this supervisor treated employees as
responsible professionals, the work environment improved,
and so did Richard's attitude.
By 1980, Richard's outlook changed again. Still with
the same company, he was second in seniority among his
department's 15 engineers. However, he believed that
his income percentage would remain fixed unless something
drastic happened. A 34-year-old engineer with a master's
degree and engineering license, he also had the expenses
incumbent with a family. He was happy in his work, but
he thought he deserved better pay.
Richard moved to a small firm that specialized in his
technical area. He was promoted to project engineer
and then to project manager, where he supervised other
engineers. He enrolled in an MBA program
A few years later, Richard left the company with John,
his partner, to start their own engineering business.
They mortgaged everything they had in the process. The
company broke even financially within the first nine
months, and by the 1990s, they had three engineering
subsidiaries in their group and were were planning to
start a fourth. Richard also completed his MBA.
Though the partnership did well, Richard and John differed
significantly about the business' future. In 1994, John
purchased Richard's share of the business.
Epilogue? Now in 1997, Richard is
faced with a whole new challenge: survival. Richard
had joined a large firm with a division in his specialty.
He enjoyed the stability of work and adequate remuneration.
Then his division was eliminated without warning. With
two children in college and a third in a private high
school, Richard is again facing another employment crisis.
A subsequent article will describe how Richard handles
this situation. Send your responses to Richard's situation
to my attention at Design News. If appropriate,
they may be published in future columns.
Ask the Manager
Q: With some fanfare, I joined my
firm about six months ago. I was led to believe that
my education and previous work experience made me well
qualified to contribute to the organization's goals.
However, many of my efforts have been disrupted and
some of my positive contributions have been negatively
distorted. Even my personal integrity has been questioned.
This is my first major job, but these pressures may
cause me to resign. Do you have any suggestions for
A: Without a great deal more information,
I cannot give you a definitive answer. However, there
is the possibility that you are facing workplace envy.
Dealing with workplace envy can be a challenge for new
employees and old timers alike. Envy occurs when a person
begrudges another for having or receiving something
that he or she does not have. The initial fanfare you
received when you were hired and your strong qualifications
might have caused those who work with you to feel professionally
threatened, especially if in your eagerness to make
a positive contribution, you showed them up in some
Consider these few helpful steps:
Be a strong team player. Respond modestly to praise
or compliments, never boast and downplay your accomplishments.
These suggestions may sound like common sense. Yet,
if you do not practice them, the result could be workplace
problems such as the ones you have described. Good luck.