Saturday, January 29, 2005

Thanking God for unanswered prayers

It's hard to understand what the WorldCom scandal meant to Mississippi personally if you're not from here. Obviously, it affected all investors worldwide, but I suspect it's kind of like 9/11 - you have a much different, more personal perspective if you live in New York City.

I have many friends who invested early and often in WorldCom back when Ebbers' only big client was USM, my alma mater. I have several friends and acquaintances that worked at WorldCom and some that still do. Most have now safely landed somewhere else, but it was a scary experience.

But all of that is secondary to the fact that Mississippians were very proud to have WorldCom headquarters in our backyard. We were finally on the news for something positive once in a while. And WorldCom convinced some of us that we didn't have to move to Atlanta or Dallas or Houston to make a decent living as a professional.

When the bubble burst here, it was much more than financial. It was like someone had died. It was shock, remorse, grief and anger.

And when it happened, I personally had one of those "Thank the Lord" moments. Years ago, before I accepted the job I have had for four years now, a job came open at WorldCom for a director of investor relations. For the first time in my life, I wanted THIS job - not a job, THIS job. And this was when WorldCom was (supposedly) at the top of its game. Being hired by WorldCom was an honor.

Besides sounding like a hell of a lot of fun, I suspected this job experience could open doors for me on a national level. (Where else in Mississippi could you find a PR job concentrating on investor relations?)

So I went to work. I researched the company. I made mock Flash applications for WorldCom investors showing how I could bring the company's IR program into the 21st century. (It was 1999, remember.) I e-mailed the examples to Scott Hamilton, who was hiring for the position.

And they called. I got an interview. But it was just with an HR generalist who didn't understand any of the acronyms on my resume (HTML, PERL, etc.). Not to be disheartened, I went to work trying to sell skills to someone who never quite got what I was talking about. I did not get a second interview and was very disappointed. (It physically felt like the rejection you would feel if you went no-holds-barred after a man who rebuffed your advances.)

But I got over it. And now consider myself EXTREMELY lucky for not landing a second interview or the job. I would have been the one taking all the phone calls from the Wall Street Journal asking for copies of financial statements. I would have been the one dealing with irate investors.

Moral of the story: Sometimes we should be thankful for unanswered prayers. Looking back over life, sometimes the things that aren't handed on us are just as important as the things that are.

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