Road to Seattle: leaving Capital Newspapers

On April 26, 2009, five years ago this week, I arrived in Seattle, ready to start my new job as Online Marketing Manager at GameHouse (part of RealNetworks) on Monday, April 27. This is the story of how I got there…

On March 2, 2007, someone in the Capital Newspapers HR department informed me that it was my 10 year anniversary. I never had any plan to be at the newspaper more than 5 years. The only reason I stayed that long is because I kept getting promotions, raises and new opportunities. But by my 10th year, I could see it was time to go.

So upon hearing the news of my 10 year anniversary, I set about trying to leave.

Leading up to my anniversary date, Jim Hopson, the Publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal for the prior five years had “retired” so he could walk across the United States – from Maryland to California. He was a real mentor to me and taught me, among many other things, how to build, facilitate, orchestrate and lead an effective company-wide strategic plan (learnings I’ve applied many times since then in other professional settings).

Jim had been replaced by Bill Johnston, who came to us from a newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska. Bill brought with him two things that made me resolute in my decision to leave, a) the notion that Lincoln was just like Madison and everything they did there would work in Madison, and b) Todd Sears, who replaced one of the most effective leaders in the building, Mary DeNiro. Todd was brought in to enforce Bill’s one-size-fits-all notion.

(Although, he did look strikingly similar to the Gerber baby, so that was something…)

1d73afeAt this point, I had lived in Madison for over 10 years and wasn’t quite sure what opportunities were out there that would interest me. I knew enough about the city to know that there were plenty of opportunities in bio-tech/healthcare, insurance and banking. And I knew enough to know I really wasn’t interested in any of those areas. So I set out to find out what else was going on.

My method was fairly simple: I was going to meet with all of my local LinkedIn contacts and try and build a network from there. I spent the next four months taking all of my contacts to lunch to talk to them about what they do for a living, tell them what I’m interested in and hear their perspectives on what they think my next move should be.

The actionable goal of these meetings was to walk away with a new person to contact and meet – preferably someone I’d not heard of or met before. The exercise went very well. I ended up meeting with over 60 people from April through July of 2007.

The most memorable meeting was with Bill Bass, the co-founder of Fair Indigo, a Middleton, WI clothing company. He’s a very active and successful entreprenuer, and nearly everything he said made a lasting impression.

Two things he said, in particular, have stuck with me in informing my decisions. He was the only person I’ve ever heard use the phrase “psychic income,” which was a term he used to quantify not just the amount of money that came with an opportunity, but how much happiness and mental challenge an opportunity would present to him. It was very important to him to be challenged and to learn something that was truly of interest to him. But it was also important to be truly happy doing whatever it was he was doing. If an opportunity didn’t bring him happiness, he wouldn’t do it, no matter how much money it paid.

The other thing he said to me that stuck is when he described his career as “a leaf blowing in the wind.” He never set out with a particular interest or goal. In fact, he said if he could just fly helicopters all day, he would. (He had flown helicopters in the Army.) The only reason he stopped is because his wife wanted to. But his point was that he just pursued opportunities as they presented themselves (or as he created them). He never had a grand plan other than to do things that interested him and try something new.

Those two ideas are ones that strongly resonated. I’m not sure they were necessarily new ideas to me, but they certainly put to words ideas that were otherwise just core guiding principles that I’d never really articulated.

All of my meetings that summer led to two job opportunities: Head of Marketing for the Madison Chamber of Commerce and Director of Marketing for Broadjam.

It was a tough call. The money was the same for both, so that wasn’t an issue. The Chamber job would have allowed me to build my network even more and meet business leaders across the area. But the Broadjam job would have allowed me to finally work in a start-up environment in which anything was possible.

After 10 years of working at a traditional corporation, and in the “dying” industry of newspapers, as well, I decided in August to take the Broadjam opportunity.

As I was pursing my next job that summer, Bill Johnston had started slowing laying off many of the existing department leaders at the newspaper. I had a feeling my number might come up, so it was fortituous that I found another opportunity.

When I locked in and confirmed my Broadjam job, I went to the other Publisher who had been there for about 10 years at this point (Capital Newspapers has two newspapers, each with their own Publisher). I had worked with him my entire career there, and so I asked him if he could tell me if I was going to be laid off. I told him that if I were, I would prefer it just happened right away so I didn’t have to live with the uncertainty.

He came to me later that day and told me I was definitely going to be laid off. And sure enough, the next day, I received an email from Bill Johnston telling me to meet him at 3pm in his office.

With my Broadjam job in hand, I happily went in and graciously accepted my layoff and the severance package that went with it.

And with my Capital Newspapers-sponsored signing bonus in hand, I started my job at Broadjam the next week.

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5 Responses to Road to Seattle: leaving Capital Newspapers

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