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Looking for a boss who cared, some became their own

By L.M. Sixel

Looking for a boss who cared, some became their own
  • September 27, 2002
Brian Greul said he came to feel like a commodity.
He was a senior consultant for a software consulting firm, which meant he had to travel a lot. That wasn't so bad, but when the company started trimming expenses, it forced consultants like Greul to schedule cheaper flights with long airport layovers and Friday and Saturday stay-overs.

Many weekends, Greul said, he'd be home only 14 hours, just enough time to wash his clothes and riffle through the mail.

As those irritations built, Greul said, it became increasingly obvious the company didn't care about him. It just cared about its numbers for the quarter.


Employers just don't value their employees, said Greul, who recalled a co-worker who took a week off because his grandmother was on her deathbed and was fired when he returned.

So Greul did what a growing number of unhappy workers are doing: He started his own company because he never wanted to be a corporate pawn again.

Greul put his computer skills to work and launched Texas Shirt Co., a Web-based T-shirt printing company this spring. He advertises on the Web and has surprised himself by the big orders he's received from churches, schools and other organizations.

The outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin has seen a significant increase of interest in entrepreneurial ventures, with clients focusing on what skills they have that can transfer to their own business, according to Lynda Doty, senior account executive.

In fact, the workshop On The Road to Entrepreneurship is so popular that it has a waiting list and Drake Beam Morin is considering adding a second session.

Tony Pannagl, managing partner of IS&T, a computer consulting and contract staffing firm in Houston, has seen the same phenomenon.

But it's not really that surprising, he said, as more and more companies refer to their employees as "human capital." How different is that from a machine?

The move to starting a business for yourself is perhaps a natural reaction to the mounting stress from the past decade, as companies have downsized and rightsized their way to efficiency. Many employees find themselves having to do more with fewer resources and, at some breaking moment, throw up their hands and vow to go it alone.

Of course, ironically, many new entrepreneurs find themselves working longer hours for themselves than when they worked for someone else. But at least they're captains of their own ships.

Another version of the entrepreneurship phenomenon has been going on for several years with women who got tired of bumping into the glass ceiling.

Frustrated that they couldn't use their talents and move up the corporate ladder, many women have hung out their own shingles.

That's what happened to Maria Fee six years ago when she felt topped out in her career at a Texas-based airline. The logical next promotion was to vice president but she figured that would never happen because the airline would never make a technical writer a vice president.

"I felt I outgrew my job, meeting or exceeding expectations," said Fee, recalling the time when she was in her mid-20s and had a staff of 43 writers and trainers. "I was doing what I was supposed to do, year in and year out, and the idea of doing that for the next 40 years was not appealing."

Fee tried to sell the airline on the idea of turning the documentation and training department into a profit center. But the executives couldn't see it and didn't want it, so Fee started her own company.

Now, she's president and CEO of Kitba Consulting Services in Houston, a company with 120 consultants that handles technical and proposal writing and produces multimedia presentations and videos.

And how is she doing as far as income?

Fee laughed politely. "It doesn't even compare to what it was," she said.

Nor does the freedom. "The thing that's nice is that you have choices: how you live your life, how hard you work, where you work."

And so far, life as an entrepreneur is going well for Greul. He did $5,000 in business in April and reports he is on track to do $360,000 in sales during the next 12 months.

Greul figures it will take a couple of years to earn his old $100,000 annual salary.

But on the positive side, Greul figures that his salary potential is limitless, unlike the compensation ceiling he hit as a software consultant.

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