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Dead Wood Rising

What do you get when you have a staff of 105 employees and you cut 15? You have 90 engineers who will do anything to make sure they’re not in the next 15.

"This economy is lumpy.”


The statement didn’t launch the event with the flash and bang that I had anticipated. Then again, I was a first-timer and had no idea what to expect.


For some reason, as I was munching on food from the journalist trough on the SolidWorks campus, I pictured a press event with musical overtures, pyrotechnics, and a shotgun blast to kick it off. I was terribly mistaken. Pavarotti didn’t sing the national anthem; we didn’t even stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The coffee provided quite the jump-start, but it didn’t prevent a few people from passing notes to one another during the presentation.


I was curious of the note passing. An otherwise juvenile practice reserved for mild study hall flirtation, I no longer feel the rush of emotion when slyly passing a folded half-sheet of paper across a faux-wood table. The heart-shaped checkmark filling the box next to the read-between-the-lines connotation associated with “maybe” never really tripped my trigger. Then again, very little of the note passing in my past has created much trigger tripping for the other parties included.


Regardless, the press event was under way and the bagged eyes of the well-traveled writers peered at Jeff Ray, the chief executive officer of SolidWorks, as he casually noted that the current economy is similar to my brother’s marshmallow-stuffed hot chocolate -- lumpy.


He stated that, in the current economic climate, it remains impossible to make sustainable commitments and predictions. I find it hard to disagree with that analysis. For a company that sold 1.4 million software licenses last year, his predictions may not be sustainable, but it’s hard to imagine a mass implosion that would sink the company’s global revenue stream (37% Americas, 21% Asia Pacific, 42% EMEA).


The company did pull $30 million of spending out of the business, but according to CFO David Stott, it increased R&D investment from 2008.


“We did not want to undermine the intellectual capital that we have in the business,” Stott said. While the company fought through the recession without employee layoffs, it did experience a “headcount change.”


Ah, the sweet changes the recession has brought to this nation. With all the restructuring, fat-trimming, productivity increasing, and headcount changing, it’s hard to believe that anyone was ever fired or laid off.


If you fail to read between some of the candy-coated lines (some headlines are devoid of any candy shell), you’d be flummoxed when you attempted to diagnose the nation’s unemployment stats. Given the upcoming elections, it’s much easier to throw the blame blanket over President Obama and those highfalutin fat cats in Washington. 


The leaner, the better. Right? What do you get when you have a staff of 105 employees and you cut 15? You have 90 engineers who will do anything to make sure they’re not in the next 15. It’s easier to produce more with less in the short run, but I question the longevity of such problem-solving methods.


The latest surveys ask, “How low did you go without losses?” I’m waiting for the follow-up, “How low did you go before the subsequent flameouts, burnouts, and nervous breakdowns?” I suppose, without losses, the latter survey warrants less fiscal interests.  


A recent survey by The Zweig Letter, a “weekly management advisor for principals and managers,” yielded a provocative response from Aravind Batra, principal with the CA-based engineering consulting firm PS2 Engineering: “[PS2 Engineering] cleared our dead wood a few months back without affecting our productivity,” Batra said.


Interesting association, Mr. Batra, and it worked. When we think of dead wood, we will always think termites before we think family.


How do you take your economy, with one lump or two? Voice opinions on petrified timber and all other associated dried lumber to [email protected].