How Did You End Up Here? - Part 1
Updated: Jan 3
I have decided to break this blog topic into 2 parts. Part One is related to my career and the logistical side of this topic and in part two I will share some of the more personal aspects of this topic.
How Did You End Up Here? Over the past 8 ½ years of living in Germany, this is a question that I have been asked many times. What is an American doing living in this little town in Bavaria? To be fair, I don’t really consider Landshut to be such a little town. (my English pronunciation = land suit, it is very common for an American to pronounce this as land-shoot or land shut) It has a population of over 70,000 people (per Wikipedia). But it is small in comparison to Munich, Berlin or Stuttgart, where you might be more prone to find an American working and living.
Since I have been here, I often get the chance to meet other Americans or foreigners who are visiting Landshut. Many of these meetings are with the colleagues of my buddy Tim, who works for a division of an American aerospace company. Sometimes, when he has colleagues or customers in town from America or other faraway places, he invites me to tag along with them (I am not sure if he is simply giving me the opportunity to interact with some folks from my homeland or if he is using me as a distraction so he doesn’t have to deal with them on his own…..hmmmm).
During the last week, I met one of Tim’s colleagues from Brazil and then I met a man from Syracuse, New York, who was a guest at a birthday party I attended. Over the weekend as I reflected on these two recent encounters, I noted that the conversations I have had with these visitors from other lands over the years have come to be quite similar and always at some point in the conversation the question comes up, “how did you end up here?”
Typically, these conversations go like this:
Visitor: How did you end up here?
Me: I was transferred here for work
Visitor: How long have you been here?
Me: 8 years
Visitor: What do you do?
Me: Sell software
Visitor: Why Landshut?
Me: My job required me to be somewhere in Germany, as this is where most of our customers are and I have an engineer that I work with that lives here.
This is about where the conversation ends. After having this same conversation again on Saturday night, I thought to myself, actually, there is a bit more to the story (both logistically and personally).
The chain of events that led me to find myself in Germany actually started back in 2007. I was the General Manager of Sales Operations at a Japanese software company, located in Detroit, which developed and sold software technologies similar to the software I still sell today. By the year 2007, I had been working there for four years and we were having a very successful year in sales.
In the end, it seems we may have been having too successful of a year. Our sales team had exceeded our sales targets and I achieved my managerial objectives for that year, to only be told by the company’s management that they would not be able to honor (not pay) the bonuses they had included in my employment agreement for that year. I was told they had made a mistake with my plan and with these bonuses I would have earned more than the CEO. (my immediate thought….and so what?) I would assume most CEO’s would be pleased if their sales team were out-earning themselves, in that most all sales positions are commissioned, or performance-based. Big commissions mean there have been big sales, which means there has been big revenues for the company.
No, I did not do the typical American thing and sue the company. I actually tried to get over their unprofessional conduct and stay with the company. Unfortunately, I could not get over it. So I did what any good sales manager or salesman would do, I took a job as the Vice President of Sales with their primary competitor (as a believer in Karma, I decided I would let Karma deal with them and perhaps I would help Karma along just a bit by outselling them in the open marketplace).
The new company I joined was a software company headquartered in Jerusalem, Israel (hey if it was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for me). The company was ventured capital funded and when they hired me, they were quite open about the fact they had “burnt” a lot of that funding. Hence my role was (2) fold. (1) They call it “reducing the burn”, which simply means reducing how much money you are spending (burning) and (2) to work with the sales team to sell as much software as possible to keep the cash flowing in while the management tried to sell the company.
In the software business, the primary costs are related to the employees. The unfortunate part of role #1 was during my first year with the company, I had to terminate a lot of people (never a nice task). I also had to shut down or downsize several of their offices. By the way it is quite common that venture funded companies spend excessive amounts of cash trying to create an illusion that they are bigger that they are, in an effort to sell the company at an inflated price to the benefit of their investors.
After 2 years with this company, the investors had reached their investment limit and they were going to shut it down (which included bankrupting the company in Israel). As this was going down, and I noted that the President of our company, who was in charge of selling the company, basically couldn’t close a door, let alone close a deal. I decided to intervene (well because I needed a job) and I contacted the company I work for now.
I told them the situation with the Israeli company and that they had the opportunity to pick up our software intellect at a very good price and, in the process, could retain some of the key employees. They contacted the President of the Israeli company and they cut a deal. In the process of acquiring the technology, my new company asked me what employees they should retain. (well obviously, I said me) I provided them with a list of the team we needed (by the way the list I provided, did not include the failed President of the company).
At they had acquired our technology, I was offered a job with the new company and they told me there was not a Vice-President of sales position available. They offered me a manager of sales (globally) position for the software technology they had acquired. My job at that time was to transition all our clients in North American to the existing sales staff of the new company and to support their new sales opportunities. Additionally, I would handle direct sales of our technology and manage our clients in Europe.
Germany represented the largest portion of our client base globally. Due to the fact, we had shut down the former companies’ offices in Munich, it meant I would be spending a lot of time in Germany. In the process of closing the Munich offices, we retained one employee (Jakob). He was the main technical expert for our software in Europe and guess where he lived? Yep, Landshut!
My official start date with the new company was July 1, 2009, and just a week or so later I made my first trip to Landshut. Jakob and I were to embark on a several month process of meeting all our existing clients and some new ones, to transition them to the new company.
It was my first time in Germany. Jakob picked me up at the airport and took me to my hotel. This was the smallest room and oldest hotel I had stayed at in my life. A twin bed!!! Really? I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. Where was the town?
Later I learned, that my visit came at the same time the town was having a huge festival. No other hotels in town were available, and the hotel I stayed in was close to Jakob’s house. When he told me it was a festival, I had no idea it was one of the largest historical pageants in the world and this would explain the people dressed up in medieval clothing playing music in the garden of my hotel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landshut_Wedding
The next day we went to the festival and I was hit with a large dose of culture shock. First of all, the city looked like Disneyland. There was a castle looking over the town (this is the one on the cover of my blog page, the one I see from my window every day). Keep in mind the only castle this American boy had ever seen before was the one at Disneyland. The largest party I had ever seen in my life was going on and thousands of people were drinking beer out of mugs the size of a glass pitcher.
July 2009 was the beginning of a 2-year commute working in Germany. My standard routine was to travel to Germany for 4 weeks (living in a hotel), travel throughout all of Europe (mostly Germany), meeting with our existing customers and selling software to new customers, then return to the USA for 4 weeks to support our North American sales team, then do it again and again and again.
It was great to see all the major cities in Germany and to visit The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England, Austria and Switzerland, but the travel was taking a toll on me. Nonetheless, all the work was paying off. Our business in Europe grew and the U.S. sales team was fully transitioned to sell and support our technology. Hence my stays in Europe became longer.
The costs of having a U.S. based employee flying round trip 6 or more times a year to Europe and housing me in a hotel was expensive and it was determined that obtaining housing (an apartment) would be more cost-effective than a hotel. In April 2011, I got what was supposed to be my temporary living space and over the years my time in Germany shifted to full time.
So, this is how this American boy ended up in Landshut. Isn’t it interesting how a few events that occur to us along our life’s journey, that take us to places we could have never imagined? Perhaps it’s life’s way of taking us to the place we are supposed to be.
I will post more of the personal and emotional view of this story soon.