Remember when this kind of thing was all part of a company picnic?
Sales manager Jim and Comptroller Eric enjoyed the dunking pool back in the carefree ‘90s.
I hate meetings.
I’m consistently late. I say stupid stuff that always sounds better before I hear it outside my own head. I can’t concentrate for being distracted by the subtle facial tics of staff that reveal what they’re really thinking while they’re politely nodding agreement. I use the discussion time that I think is irrelevant to my own agenda to lob back the endless stream of incoming emails from the iPhone hidden beneath the desk, then blubber an Alzheimeric “huh?” when interrupted for an opinion on an argument I only half heard.
But last Friday’s meeting was different. In fact, recently a lot of them have been different. Lately we’ve had to talk about stuff that it’s hard to snooze through. Things like:
“Is it worse to cut back on the 401K benefits or to terminate 2.4 more people?”
“If sales drop another 5%, are we going to have to reduce our medical benefits package?
“Can we really afford to run an art gallery in this economy?”
“How can we justify spending money on research that is generically educational?”
Only six months ago, these were questions that either didn’t need to be asked or, if asked, didn’t have to be debated within the context of the company’s survival.
We’ve always worked to provide our people with wages that were in line with our marketplace, and benefits that were as good as or better than most. We’ve always had a strong educational mission; we’ve often given precedence to arts support over profits; and we’ve believed that research is the cornerstone of longevity. But we thought and talked about those things within the context of a company that in 34 years of operation had never had a year when sales were less in the current year than the prior one.
Today we’re like a lot of other companies in America. Our meetings are about survival. Period. And mostly they are about the survival of our people, about lay offs, wage freezes, benefits, and morale (which, I am heartened to see as high as it is in such unnerving times.)
Recently we’ve been meeting a lot about the people inside Bullseye. Friday’s meeting was – at least on the surface – about long-range marketing plans. But it was, in fact, again about people – this time the people outside Bullseye.
To backtrack: Bullseye is largely the company it is because of its users. We’ve had a successful and – we hope mutually – rewarding relationship for over three decades with a global community of artists, hobbyists, teachers, students, resellers and studio operators who have explored with us on the leading edge of studio glass – in both making and working.
A lot of the programs that support those relationships are now threatened. How do we pay for an educational program when profits have shriveled? How do we support museum and gallery exhibitions that promote our field and the artists who work in it when we’re turning off furnaces to save fuel?
As gritty as those questions are, the tougher one is this: how do we be who we are if we cut back on all that defines us? No one ever said it quite like that in Friday’s meeting. But in the fast and furious debates over which projects to cut and which to fight for, I saw a team of people whose determination to keep art and education afloat through the storm made me immeasurably proud of this company.
Like the rest of you, we’ll most likely be giving up a lot in the months ahead, but coming out of that meeting last week, I knew that at the end of this thing we’ll still be Bullseye. Smaller maybe, leaner for sure, but still committed to the art, the education and the community who has shared these values with us for so many years.