A Note to the Employees of Bear Stearns (BSC)

March 17, 2008: 11:36 AM ET

300px-grizzlybear55.jpgI'm sure your eyes goggled when you saw it too. JP Morgan (JPM) paid a couple or three hundred million for a company worth incalculably more. It's stunning. And while one may wonder about the executive competence of those who engineering this catastrophe, those who simply showed up every day to do what was expected of them are now faced with an uncertain fate, one that has afflicted working people since the first Etruscans noticed a large group of Romans heading over the hill, and probably before.

Guys, you were once a nation. Now you are a duchy under a much larger corporate flag. Soon there will be fewer of you, and those of you who survive to wear the new colors will have obeyed certain rules, rules that will not guarantee your success but will enhance your somewhat slender chances. Here are a few suggestions from one who has been through it a few thousand times:

Know the lay of the land. It is possible that the world has moved on so completely that acquisitors no longer even feign collegiality. When I was a kid, when a company took you over they paid a lot of lip service to how great things were going to be for everybody. I know, because I was in the lip service department. "We have two great cultures here and together one plus one will equal four!" That kind of thing. These protestations were often accompanied by word the expenses would be "rationalized," but such warnings also went hand-in-hand with assurances that resulting merged departments would be "stocked with the best both companies have to offer." This is hogwash. When Rome wins, Romans take over. So get ready to become one or die as a lowly Briton.

Total merger may not be inevitable, however. Your colony may be permitted to exist under its own name, with its own government loyal to the Czar across the street. This will go better for you, since you can easily transform yourself into part of the transitional team that's helping to deliver everybody to their individual fate. Either way, as of this morning you will need to eradicate your persona as a Bear guy and begin the transformation into a true Morganian.

Believe nothing you read. Accept no assurances. You are in a fight for your life and must now play by your own rules. Wolves -- solitary, smart and predatory -- do better than dogs.

How do they dress? What time do they come in to the office? Where do they eat for lunch? Think about these things. If you're not executed in the first mass action, you may need these kinds of insights.

Who do you know that's doing well in Rome? You've been in the game for a while. There must be somebody. Reach out and touch them. Make yourself known. Let it be perceived that if the new guys need a hand, you've got two, and are not encumbered by sentiment, prior loyalty or grief. You are ready to move on and are looking for ways to do it that are congenial to the new world order.

If you have a major project that even a blind man can see will be worthwhile, redouble your efforts. I am certain that, even as it bubbles under the water, the continent of Bear Stearns had things going on that could still make money for somebody. If your little island of productivity is bobbing on top of the water when the victors come around looking for survivors, so much the better for you.

Look for a new boss. Your new boss may be the same as your old boss, by the way. In my experience, your superior officers will be necessary for a while, so don't assume that every one of them is toasted. But keep your eyes open and your heart empty.

Finally: Wait. Be very patient. And have courage. It is difficult to merge two gigantic entities. Your new masters will need your firm to perform, and will be looking for guys who can keep things going while they decide who shall live and who shall enter the land of decruitment.

Be cool. Calm. Acutely aware of opportunities and pitfalls. When they do move on you all, they will probably begin by offering packages of some kind to those of a certain level whose jobs once meant something to somebody. Those packages can often be negotiated by those willing to be a pain in the infrastructure. Do not leap before you look.

And each morning as you wake up, and remember that your country is no more, also keep in mind that many city states have fallen before yours, that survivors of defunct cultures now populate a host of brave new worlds.

Just ask the guys who used to work for Netscape. Many of them are doing quite well, I hear.

Posted in:
Join the Conversation
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.