No Guarantees In Life


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A SANYO R227 Internet Radio, produced by the company I worked for nearly 20 years. A great product, but a pity it was released at the wrong time. Picture from Digital Trends website, where the R227 was reviewed favourably.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE

(Note: While every effort was made to write this post with as much fact and objectivity as possible, it should not be considered THE truth of the day. Read this as an analytical commentary of the current state of chronic unemployment and lack of affordable housing and not as a critique of the company from a former SANYO Canada employee)

One of the arguments made by proponents of the minimalist government model — those who believe there should be no social assistance programs and everyone should take care of themselves — is that the business world has the ability to ensure everyone is financially self reliant through employment. In other words, it’s the fault of the unemployed for being where they are, because they don’t want to work.  Lazy bastards and bitches, the lot of them. Find a job, you have rent and food. Simple, simple.

The problem with that reasoning is that the collective employment potential of the business world is far from being able to guarantee that.

There are many reasons for this. One reason I’ve already mentioned is the hit song, “Do More With Less! Downsize! Downsize!” that Corporate Canada dances to in order to make a profit. I’ve also mentioned technological unemployment where automation is doing away with jobs without provisions being made for retraining those being let go. Since they were already covered before, I won’t expand on either any further.

What I DO want to discuss today has something to do with the company I worked for. I never mentioned my last full time job by name because I wanted to wait seven years after the day of my departure and the expiration of the terms of my exit strategy before talking about it. Now that I’ve reached that point in time, I can talk about the company within the context of the topic of this blog post.

I started with SANYO Canada back in 1991 as a temp employee of Universal Support Systems. I worked as a night-shift computer operator. This went on for two years until SANYO Canada offered me a full-time position.

On the day that happened, I was on Cloud Nine.  It was busy, but not breakneck stressful. It was an awesome place to work for. I had a great boss who praised me for my good work but — on thankfully very rare occasions —  was also not afraid to tell me when I made a mistake.

Because the company was very close to where I lived, I was able to walk to work, even on crappy weather days. We had enough staff in our I.T. department to cover for vacationing employees. We even had our own secretary.

It was a great job I enjoyed doing. That enjoyment brought forth good employee performance. I was promoted from night shift computer operations to programming and then later to applications developer.

I received paid-for company training for things involving my work, attended lavish Christmas parties, enjoyed company BBQs, and went on trips on the SANYO blimp.

Nothing lasts forever, however. Over the next 15 years that followed, my dream career began to unravel.

When I was a kid, you had an appliance that served a specific purpose: TVs for television shows, phones for telephone calls, stereos and radios for news and music. A this for that in other words.

All of that can now be done on either a smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Very convenient, very portable, and consumers in general love portability and convenience.

Companies that adapted to this changing consumer landscape (such as SONY, Samsung, and Apple) weathered the storm. Companies that couldn’t…? Well, let me continue with the story.

SANYO Canada and its parent company could have made products (like smart phones) that rode on the convergence trend. It didn’t. It decided to get out of the business of making cell-phones in 2008 and go for gimmicky niche products instead.

The R227 (shown above) played news and music over the Internet but had a nostalgic look with the chrome and knobs. I was one of two I.T. guys who had the pleasure of working with the initial prototype. I tested out some of the features and sent a short report to Marketing that reported any issues with the product design. The R227 was a great product, but in the mid-2000’s it was already out of favour before it hit the store shelves. We were living in an on-demand world at that point, with streaming audio and video already available on devices that were smaller and more affordable.

Consumer marketing gambles that backfired were not just limited to the R227.  In a time when people were ditching their landlines (including cordless phones), SANYO thought making cordless phones where you could change the colour of the handset’s faceplate was a solution to bolster the product line’s sagging sales. It didn’t work. In fact, nothing meant to improve the consumer side of SANYO’s business worked. The company was in trouble and that’s when the austerity cuts to the company began.

It started with the frills. Gone were the lavish Christmas parties, to be replaced with Christmas office pot lucks. No more expensive company lunches and outdoor BBQs.

Next came evaluating the operational costs.

Our I.T. infrastructure was moved to our head office in San Diego after the first wave of staff cuts in my department began. We could not implement any software or hardware solution that directly plugged into our core business processes unless San Diego approved and most of the time they refused. VPN access for employees who wanted to work from home was only permitted if we used the client software we were told to use, not what we needed. In the end, having our head office host our I.T. infrastructure crippled SANYO Canada’s ability to adapt to the changing B2B and B2C needs of our customers.

The corporate tree was flattened, and the  I.T. department merged with the Finance department. The position of I.T. manager was removed with the staff reporting directly to the head of  Finance, who had the designation of Vice-President.

As my department shrank, my workload increased. I went from being just a developer to also wearing the hat of systems administrator, security officer and first level backup for EDI and PC support. My pay didn’t increase in proportion with my new duties but my blood pressure and stress level sure did. My weight ballooned to a very unhealthy 200 pounds.

SANYO Canada moved out of Toronto to Vaughan to reduce rent and business tax expenses. My commute went from a delightful walk to a daily round trip of 4 hours by transit.  I left my apartment at 6:30 a.m. in the morning, and did not come home until between 8 and 9 in the evening. On nights where I worked late, that trip became downright dangerous when transit stopped running.

The move out of Toronto didn’t just affect employee commute times. It also made it damned inconvenient for customers needing servicing for their products. The Toronto location was pretty easy to get to both by transit and car, since it was smack in the middle of a high-density residential area. Its new home in Vaughan placed it in an area surrounded mostly by light commercial and industrial businesses, served only by a single transit line that ran once every 30 minutes out of rush-hour, and reachable only by the highway.

Our warehouses were outsourced to a third party logistics company. The staff who worked in those warehouses lost their seniority after becoming employees of that third party company.

 

By the time the Great Recession was in full swing, SANYO had endured many cuts and departmental restructuring, but that was not enough to save it. It became a subsidiary of Panasonic with all staff relocated to work at its Mississauga office. The office we moved into from Toronto — which was specifically built for us and was trumpeted in fanfare as an example of businesses moving to Vaughan — was vacated and sold to another company.

Any product lines bearing SANYO’s logo are now being grandfathered out. I was already long gone at that point, with the company and the job I had nothing more than awesome memories of what was.

What was the point of sharing all of this, you ask? To show that there is no such thing as job security any more. You can still do all the right things at work. You can be a stellar employee with a dream career but shit can still happen.

Your financial stability and security can be taken away at any time, without warning and out of your control.

This is something the minimalists need to understand. This is why businesses cannot be expected to be the white knights against unemployment. This is why we need a social safety net to catch people when they fall in this Age Of Austerity and The Jobless Recovery.

Thanks for reading!

David.

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