March 01, 2007

Leaving Eddie Bauer

Last week, I talked about the last days of my tenure at Lands' End. Things ended differently at Eddie Bauer.

Eddie Bauer was a profitable business in the late 1990s. Following a bad year in 1998, our catalog team was able to drive all-time record levels of profit in 1999.

By the end of 1999, the online channel had captured the imagination of Eddie Bauer customers, and the imagination of employees all across the Seattle metropolitan area. New online businesses were springing up right and left, offering employees stock options loaded with potential for significant wealth.

At Eddie Bauer, I was willing to settle for a new computer. My personal computer could not handle the volume of data I wished to analyze. It worked, but not to the level of performance I desired.

Acquisition of a new personal computer (if you already had a working personal computer) required the signed authorization of your Divisional Vice President, as well as a Finance Director and an Information Technology Director.

For whatever the reason, my personal computer request was denied. Repeatedly. Big Company + Red Tape = One Frustrated Employee!

Meanwhile, all around me, people were becoming paper millionaires. I couldn't order a new personal computer, while paper millionaires were playing Foosball at internet startups. It was time for a change.

A former Eddie Bauer employee worked at an internet startup called 'Avenue A', and recommended I speak to the founder about an analytics leadership position. I interviewed for a position, and ultimately accepted an offer that included stock options, an office, a high-speed personal computer, and budget for research and hardware as needed. Sign me up!!!

I resigned from Eddie Bauer. In my final week at the heralded multichannel retailer, Avenue A celebrated its IPO. My shares, granted to me at $8, were valued at nearly $79 on Day One!

With great excitement, I embraced my employment opportunity at Avenue A. My first day was an orientation day.

I showed up early for the start of day two, arriving at 7:50am. At 7:55am, my boss (not one of the founders, whom I am very fond of) informed me that I would not have an office. I would share my office space with at least three individuals. I would not have budget for research and hardware. In fact, the job I accepted did not exist. I would be assigned to large clients, responsible for helping them with their online analytical needs. I would be responsible for developing analytical products and services.

I reminded my boss that this is not what I signed up for. My boss reminded me that this was an internet startup, and that it was important to be flexible.

Five minutes into my sceond day at my new job, I realized I was in for an interesting ride.

Over the next ten months, the value of a share of Avenue A stock would decrease from nearly $79, to around $1 a share.

If there is anything I learned from that experience, it is the importance of running "to" something, as opposed to running "from" something. Because I became frustrated by the red-tape at a large, established retailer, I chose to run from it. Having something great to run to may have benefited my career.

Next week represents seven years since I left Eddie Bauer. Eddie Bauer has struggled since 2000. Avenue A became aQuantive, and became one of the most successful of the internet startups of the late 1990s, generating profit since 2002.


  1. Anonymous10:07 PM

    Apropos your frustration at a slow computer---an interesting topic is how the pace of technology still barely keeps up with the amount of data. Obviously storage ceased to be an issue, but processing still is. Even with the fastest computers out there today, access to all types of information leaves a computer gasping trying to sort through it all.

    Also, in reality just because we CAN access a far wider variety of information, the question remains how much is actually necessary to predict demand and determine production? Data analysis is more like panning for gold rather than mining for it(your analogy), as you have to sift through tons of brown stuff to come up with enough grains to make effort worthwhile.
    Your thoughts?

  2. To me, data analysis is probably like fishing.

    Those who fish intuitively know the lures to use, where to park their boat, time of day, tide situation, you name it.

    Their conditions always change, yet they have an intuition to know what they need to do to be successful.

    Analyzing data, to me, is similar. If a person doesn't have the intuition, they can still do a good job. The person who has the intuition can be great.


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