This letter has been a long time coming.
But let me start by saying that I like you, always have and probably always will. I never got to know you, I don’t think I ever said more than hello or good morning or the occasional thank you, but for some reason I always liked you. I always thought you were a good guy and I still do. That why I’m writing this letter. Sometimes when I think back to the good ol’ AT days and then think what the company is like now I get this vision of you tossing and turning in your bed wondering what happened, where did it go wrong, why is everyone leaving? And that makes me sad. So I’m writing you this letter to tell you, from a laypersons point of view what went wrong, why people are no longer staying at what used to be “the place to work”.
For me and I think a lot of other people, it all started when you began selling off the company to the people that worked for you. A long time ago AT was you. You were the “captain, my captain”. You were the “wind beneath our wings”. You were THE guy. Everyone else was simply “everyone else”; we were all the workers trying to create great advertising. And then one day you became just one of the guys. There were 2 owners, then 3, then 4 and now God only knows how many owners there are. But that’s okay. I’m not sure why you did that but it was your company so who am I to judge, right? Maybe you were being magnificently generous. Maybe you were afraid people would leave so you offered them a piece of the pie. Maybe you simply wanted more money, I don’t know and I honestly don’t care. It’s done and over.
With that decision you turned artists and accountants into managers and business owners. With that decision the simple mentality of “everyone else” turned into those that have and those that do not, those that own and cannot be displaced and those that are expendable, those that make the rules and those that follow them. You created a class structure within your own utopia. I’m sure that was not your intent. The company was growing fast and something had to be done, right? The problem with that is that it goes against everything you created the company to be. It goes against your mentality of a working environment that everyone loves, that nobody wants to leave.
And then we moved. We went from that wonderful old building on the river to the dark canyon of Monroe Street. Everything changed. We went from fabulous open views and sunshine to long dark shadows and claustrophobia. We went from a lack of style and glitz to only style and glitz. It was a flashy new look that perfectly represented the new flashy, young attitude of the company. And with it came the egos. Fights over corner offices and hurt feelings ran wild. And through it all came the endless accolades for a job well done. Not a day went by that wasn’t greeted with an email or announcement congratulating the usual group of owners for creating such a fabulous new workplace that we all should love.
I can’t speak for the rest of the workers but for me that’s when everything started to change, that’s when it all went into the toilet. Your wonderful speeches where you preached to us the virtues of a 9-5 workday, nobody stuck late into the night or weekends were replaced with expectations of 40-50 billable hours a week. Timesheets and productivity became more important and vital than creating good art. The process of creating art even changed. It was no longer a group effort, results and rewards were now completely dependent on getting through the “haves” and very rarely came out untouched or uncredited to somebody else. Artists that at one time strove to do their best, strove to create something new and exciting now churned out whatever they thought their bosses wanted to see. Nobody creates anymore, they don’t dream, they don’t reach for the stars, they simply collect a paycheck. If you’re wondering why the company no longer wins the big awards, why your name is no longer bounced around in the advertising publications it’s because the work is no longer great. Your wonder boy and the rest of your staff are not creating art anymore; they’re simply running a corporation. Your “town-hall” meetings are not cute, social get-togethers where everyone shares ideas and talks about what’s new. They are simply a time for the haves to push their own agendas, to sell their philosophies on what the “company” is doing and where the “company” is going and nobody but the “haves” give a shit. Nobody asks questions because everyone is afraid. It has been proven to them over and over again that everyone is expendable. Everyone has a price. Make too much and you could be gone. Get too old and you could be gone. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid and you could be gone, or demoted. It’s starting to feel like the episode from Twilight Zone where all the town people simply pretend to be happy and tell each other that “it’s good, yeah it’s good”, no matter how horrible it becomes.
You used to make fun of the companies that ran their business like a sweat shop. You used to proudly say how your company did not work for assholes. And you were right. AT was that exception to the rule. It was the place to work, nobody ever wanted to leave. You gave us free lunches on Friday and fantastic Christmas parties but the best thing you gave us was a great place to work. You paid us well and treated us like family and in return we worked hard and we stayed. We were loyal. We loved you and we loved coming to work. I am so thankful for my years there and all the great times and people I met and still call friends. But that was then and this is now.
The good ol’ boy mentality is gone. It has been for more than a decade. AT is a corporation now. It’s a machine. I certainly wouldn’t call it a sweatshop but it’s definitely not the home away from home that it used to be. The characters are all gone. The fun is gone. And unfortunately it appears that the creativity and art is gone also. Dale, people are leaving because there’s no reason not to leave. It’s no better than anywhere else. Granted, it’s no worse either. AT is simply just another place to work, just another company, just another corporation.
When I was let go, after more than 20 years, I was a little pissed off. I wrote a few things out of frustration and disappointment. I’m not mad anymore because I get it now, I understand that it was only business. Get rid of three old guys that make a decent salary and replace them with younger, cheaper guys that have better tech skills. It makes good business sense. It’s what a company would do, what a corporation would do. Don’t worry about loyalty or families, it’s about the bottom line, I get it. And when I tried to get freelance work from AT and you issued a memo stating that nobody in the company could use me, ever, I understood that too. Don’t think about a person trying to support their family, don’t think about the twenty years of service they put in or that they’re actually good at what they do, don’t think about any of that because corporations simply don’t think that way. Loyalty, compassion and understanding are not important to a corporation.
So Dale you no longer have to wonder why people are leaving. You no longer have to wonder why 95% of the Glassdoor reviews say nothing good about the company except for the free snacks. I like you so I spelled it out for you. Of course you could have asked any one of your employees but I doubt they would have told you the truth. I have a feeling they would have told you that “it’s good, yeah it’s really good”.