March 26, 2021
Note: Blog post subject matter is discussed in more detail on the Athalonz Podcast.
I have been fired twice in my career. Both times it sucked and seemed to come at the worst time for me and my family. The first time I was fired, it was September of 1988. I was 26 and working as an electrical engineer designing power supplies for a start-up company. In August of 1988 I started law school and a few months earlier we bought our first real house.
Being fired was embarrassing, it hurt, and was frightening. What made it worse was that I didn’t receive a severance package. We were living paycheck to paycheck, so I had to find a new job and fast. But, with just started law school, I didn’t really want another engineering job, I wanted something in patent law. I applied for a variety of engineering jobs just to be safe and sent my resume to several patent law firms and to Motorola hoping that I could get a job drafting the figures for patents. I had worked my way through engineering school as a draftsman and was pretty good at it.
I was rejected by every law firm, but Motorola gave me an interview. They had asked me to bring a writing sample. As an engineer, I didn’t write much, but I did write a letter to the CEO of the startup requesting that a loan from the company be forgiven as my severance. He did not agree. I brought that letter as my writing sample.
At Motorola, I interviewed with several attorneys and the head of the patent department. The head of patent department seemed to be going through the motions of an interview. As we were ending, I showed him my letter to the CEO. He got excited. Not because of how well it was written, but because the CEO was an ex-Motorola employee that they had recently sued for stealing Motorola trade secrets.
He took me around and introduced me to others in the department who weren’t on the interview list. He would tell them that I was just fired by the CEO of the startup; like it was some kind of badge of honor. Two weeks later on October 31, 1988, I started as a patent engineer in Motorola’s patent department.
So, being fired sucks, then not so much. It opened a door that I didn’t even think was possible three weeks into law school. But for being fired, who knows where my patent law career would have gone.
The second time was in December of 1999. I was working for another startup; this time as their general counsel. In the late 90’s, tech company IPO’s were huge; making billionaires out of their founders. Our CEO got caught up in making the company the next big tech IPO and him a billionaire.
He was convinced that a specific communication technology was the key to the company’s future success. Like all communication technology, this one included a hardware component and a software component. We were a hardware company and we partnered with a software company.
About a year into the partnership, a new and better communication technology came along that left little market share for the communication technology we were working on. As such, the software company withdrew from the partnership.
Our CEO did not change his commitment to the specific communication technology, so he created a software department and hired about 70 software engineers in a six month period. At the time, we had about 35 total people in the company.
In the summer of 1999, the company raised $24 Million from its existing investors, who indicated that this would be their last investment. In early October 1999 and after we received the funding, the CFO of the company came into my office and said, “I don’t know who to tell this to, so I’m telling you”, which made since because I was the company’s general counsel.
What the CFO told me was, that at the pace we were spending money and the limited revenue potential for the specific communication technology, we would burn through the $24 M in about 6 months. Not what I wanted to hear. But I had to do something, so I had a meeting with the other VPs of the company without the CEO to discuss the situation. I also met with our outside corporate counsel.
We formed a plan to ask the CEO to reconsider the commitment to the specific communication technology or to resign. I was elected to lead the discussion. Needless to say, the CEO did not take our recommendation well. So, we implemented the second part of the plan, which was to inform the Board of Directors.
When we informed the Board, they did not believe it. At the time the CEO was also the Chairman of the Board. As such, he positioned our concerns as a coupe to take over the company just when it was poised to takeoff. He won, we lost, and I got fired on December 21, 1999. Again, no severance package.
In early January of 2000, I formed the law firm of Garlick & Markison with my law partner Bruce Garlick. We have been together since and we’ve accomplished a great deal. Things that I never would have accomplished had I stayed with the company. I also ended up making more money. So, again, being fired sucks; then not so much.
As for the company, the CEO was fired in February 2000, two months after me. The Board did investigate what we told them and confirmed everything we said. The company cancelled the specific communication technology project and went on to have a moderately successful IPO with a different technology. A story for another day.
I am the CEO and Founder of Athalonz, LLC., I am a founding partner of the patent boutique law firm of Garlick & Markison, I am a survivor of child abuse, and I am an inventor on over 300 patents.
Athalonz is a technology company based on Mesa, AZ. It develops and sells athletic footwear, which incorporates its patented technology that leverages the laws of physics to improve athletic performance. Website: athalonz.com
Garlick & Markison is a patent law boutique firm that assists clients in building a patent business within their business using proprietary tools and techniques. Website: texaspatents.com
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