War Stories is a series dedicated to the tales of young professionals in the trenches of corporate America. All stories are true and all names have been changed to protect the innocent. If you have a War Story to share, shoot us a note at email@example.com with “War Story” in the subject.
Remember that time I sent one firm all of its competitor’s pricing? Yeah, me too.
It was my second month on a new job at a fancy, large consulting firm. I was as green as I was wide-eyed – go getting was still kinda my thing. I jumped on every project I and could smell middle management. Ahh, success.
One of my first large projects was consulting for a firm you are all probably pretty familiar with. Like, really familiar with. It was the kinda project that your mom could be proud of because she actually understood what you were “consulting” on … had you not signed an NDA.
After about 3 weeks of being balls deep down in what was still a 65k-line-limit Excel, the Managing Director on the project asked if I’d like to take on more of a project management role. My pants got a bit tight.
I had no idea what exactly that meant but you can bet your ass I went out to happy hour to celebrate this “promotion.”
Of course I quickly learned that being a project manager roughly equated to being a glorified admin: scheduling meetings, responding to emails and printing decks for meetings I wasn’t allowed to attend. For fucks sake, is this what my $150k in student debt and a degree from a top(ish) ranked northeastern university got me?
Not up in here I thought
I need to grab my career by the horns and show my Business Management 101 chops. Just not today, because today is Monday and on Mondays we regret the weekend and surpass our quota of free snacks and Vitamin Water.
I laid low, avoiding eye contact and interaction with anyone above my pay grade, even successfully getting from my office to bathroom to dry heave twice without even a “how was your weekend?”
Then 3:30 hit. Right in the last furlong of this god forsaken rat race.
MD to me: “Mind shooting [client] that email we discussed Friday?”
Me to MD: (with a shit eating grin) “Absolutely!”
Flipping through my notes revealed what appeared to be the feeble beginnings of what resembled notes from Friday: the date, then a drawing of what appeared to be a peach with crossbones through it that had been lit on fire. Rummaging through my brain was like asking the old lady in the Notebook who the president was at the end of the movie. Crickets.
So using context clues and one vague follow up to my MD I threw up a Hail Mary. What’s the worst that could happen I thought?
MD to me via IM: “Great email – forgot attachment”
NBD. I quickly hustled to get it out. Sent.
The next day I came in to an email from one of the clients copied on the email, a lowly Analyst.
Did you mean to send this?
Scrambling I checked what I sent.
*crying Jordan face*
Instead of sending the client the “PricingforProject.xls” I send “CompetitorPricingINTERNAL.xls.” I had sent one firm all of its competitors pricing.
My first thought was to recall. Have you ever tried to use recall on Outlook? It works about as well as Vitamin C works on AIDS. So my next step was ask the person who brought this to my attention, analyst-a-analyst to squash this. No such luck.
The analyst didn’t respond but the SVP of sales who up until this point had been a courtesy CC responded in the scariest email tone I have ever read:
“Hello (who the fuck starts out with hello?),
We have received your email and attachment and due to its proprietary nature, has been sent to the office of the Corporate Secretary for review.
Best, (yea, best of luck finding a job)”
After I cleaned up the proverbial shit from my pants I had to look up “proprietary” and “Corporate Secretary” (“secret” and “head lawyer” for the record. Did I mention that no one else in my organization knew what was going on?
At this point, short of breaking into our client’s Corporate HQ server room a la Mission Impossible I needed to tell my MD.
So I put on my big boy pants
I told myself not to get misty eyed and walked into my MD’s office: “Can we uhh talk for a minute?”
He wasn’t mad, he wasn’t even disappointed … he was having a fucking nuclear meltdown. Maybe it was because of high blood pressure or because he was a closet alcoholic but his face went from office-tan transparent to Kool-Aid man faster than I could say:
“I’m really sorry.”
After I left there were a series of meetings, slamming doors and audible sighs among the local team. But no signs of firing squad yet. It was the longest day of my life. No updates. I waited for my MD to leave.
As he was walking out of his office he muttered:
“Be here at 7 tomorrow, and wear a suit … we’re meeting with Katie in NYC”
Katie, the motherf*cking corporate equivalent of a fire jumper, who was part PR mastermind, part company hype man and lawyer by trade who was put on this earth to rectify these sorts of situations. I had never met her but heard she had a trap door do the corporate dungeon in her office.
Needless to say, all the 12-year-old scotch in the world couldn’t get me to sleep that night. The train ride in with my MD was silent and awkward. You could cut the tension with a goddamn knife. After a painfully packed subway ride, so close in fact that I could tell what brand cereal he had for breakfast, we arrived.
Katie got right to the point, spitting out corporate jargon and legalese that far surpassed my pay grade. She ripped apart my Managing Director for his lack of oversight. She tore into his lackadaisical controls. Fucking great, not only was I going to get fired, but I was going to be pushed in front of an oncoming subway car on the wat home. But right before she brought him to tears, she gazed deep into my soul.
“I’m only going to tell you this once. You are the luckiest man in this company right now. The [industry] changes their pricing in Q3 so this data breach in non-material. Your managing director has vouched for you so we have decided not to put you on a management plan (corporate America’s minor leagues for unemployment). I think you owe [Managing Director’s name] a beer …. Best of luck in your career.”
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