Note: Blog post subject matter is discussed in more detail on the Athalonz Podcast.
Before getting into the doughnuts, I need to provide a little background.
I was fortunate to start my patent law career at Motorola. They had a very good patent attorney training program and, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Motorola was extremely profitable. This was the rise of the cellphone market and Motorola owned it.
In addition, Motorola implemented initiatives for 10X cycle time reduction and 6-Sigma quality. Basically, do everything better and faster. The initiatives started in manufacturing and they worked. The company was producing product better and faster. In fact, it worked so well that Motorola expanded the initiatives for all departments; including the patent department.
At the time, I was still in law school and only a few years into my career. So, I was basically a newbie. Even so, I could write a good patent application and my boss encouraged me to experiment with writing patents better and faster. I did and I found a technique that worked.
Part of the 10X cycle time reduction and 6-Sigma quality initiatives was to institutionalize the improvements. As mandated by the executive VP of our department, I was to train all attorney in the department on how to write patents better and faster using my technique.
Needless to say, I was not well received by most attorneys; especially those that had significantly more experience than me. It wasn’t long into my training sessions when I was given the nickname “golden boy”. It was not meant as a compliment.
While most attorneys didn’t like the process, senior management did and they enter my idea in Motorola’s annual Total Customer Satisfaction (TCS) competition. The competition pitted ideas from the entire company against each other to find the ones that had the most positive impact on the company. In this competition, there were over 10,000 ideas submitted and my idea was one of the eight best and it was the only one from a corporate department.
As a perk, I was offered a promotion and transfer to Motorola’s patent department in Austin Texas. I took both and moved my family to Austin in the summer of 1994. I loved Austin and quickly grew to hate my job. My bosses went out of their way to make my life hell.
Ok, now on to the doughnut story. As part of my promotion, I was made a senior patent attorney and was assigned a division of Motorola as my client. I worked very closely with my client, which my bosses didn’t like because it made the rest of the department look indifferent towards their clients.
On the doughnut day, I held a meeting in the morning with my client to review a new product they were developing to identify patentable ideas. The meeting went very well and we finished an hour earlier than anticipated. As was custom for longer meetings, my admin ordered doughnuts and coffee for the meeting.
When the meeting ended, there were left over doughnuts and coffee. I asked my admin to email the Austin patent department to let them know there was doughnuts and coffee in the conference room. Not five minutes later, my immediate boss comes into my office and asked, “who gave you the authority to order doughnuts”.
I was shocked. As a senior patent attorney, I was authorized to spend thousands of dollars on patent matters as I saw fit. I didn’t even think about doughnuts. I responded, “I didn’t think I needed permission”.
He left my office and came back with his boss, the head of the Austin patent department. My bosses’ boss asked about why I thought I had the authority to order doughnuts. I again responded, “I didn’t know I needed permission.” Then I added, “If it’s a money issue, I’ll pay for the doughnuts myself”, as I pulled a twenty out of my wallet and offered it in his direction.
To which, he waived off the money and said, “It’s not about the money, it about you following policy and procedure”. I was pissed and fighting to keep my cool. I said, with an attitude, “I haven’t seen the doughnut policy, perhaps you could forward me a copy”.
I don’t specially recall what happened next, but this all happened shortly before lunch. At about 2 PM that afternoon, I get a call from the VP in charge of the Austin department and others. It was about the doughnuts. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. It was twenty dollars’ worth of doughnut and the three of you have spent how many hours discussing whether I have the authority to order doughnuts?” That seem to make him think and the conversation ended.
At 4:30 PM that afternoon, my bosses’ boss walks into my office and starts to close the door. I lost it. I said through clenched teeth, “If this is about the doughnuts, get the f*** out of my office”. He didn’t say a word, he turn and left my office.
I quit three month’s later. I would have quit sooner, but I needed to stay for a year or I would have to pay Motorola back for my moving expenses.
I share this story because its sadly funny and because it highlights an issue with many larger companies. That issue is mid-management. Most people in mid-management are average performers, complacent, and risk avoiders. They’ve plodded along 10, 15, 20 years to rise to mid-management. They do not like high level performers working for them. They are a threat.
So, like for me, the mid-managers make work-life difficult so the talented employees leave. So, the company loses it up and coming talent and is left with the plodders of mid-management. I don’t have a solution for this other than to not work for a large company and to make sure you have authority to order doughnuts before you do.
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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