From a Home in Cranberry, PA, to the Homewood Suites
Greetings from our humble abode at the Homewood Suites in Laurel, Maryland! This has been our home (temporarily) since November 19, when the 60 days of temporary housing that my new company paid for expired. We were put up in a newer 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom furnished apartment that quite honestly, was way more than what we needed, and at a cost of $4,500 per month, wasn’t something that we thought was good use of our money. So, we packed up our stuff, primarily clothing and things that the relocation company wouldn’t move like alcohol, cleaning supplies, and bathroom items, and we moved into a roughly 400 sq ft hotel suite for nine weeks until our new house in Maryland is finished being built. It’s not ideal, but we are making the most of it. The staff is friendly, the housekeepers swap out towels and sheets every other day, the gym is very functional with treadmills, ellipticals, dumbbells, benches, and even a lat machine, and we get free breakfast every day. Can’t beat that!
Scott and I at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland.
It’s truly hard to believe that there are only fifteen days left in 2018. My life today, on the surface, hardly resembles what my life looked like in January. Scott had just got hired with a small accounting firm in Cranberry, I was enjoying my relatively new (six months in) role as Production Control Manager at one of Arconic’s plants, and we were starting to feel more at home in the Pittsburgh area, so much so that we were exploring the housing market to buy. Later that month, I accepted a promotion to Plant Manager, seemingly solidifying our stay in the Pittsburgh area for a while. In February, we put in an offer on a modest, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home in Cranberry. It wasn’t our dream house, but it was a house we could see ourselves starting a family in while achieving some of our financial goals before then (We want to be done with student loans and interest auto loans before kids come into the picture.).
We closed at the end of March and moved into the house in early April. In my new role, I was working just over 60 hours a week trying to get up-to-speed on some of the areas I was less familiar with like our maintenance systems, capital plans, EHS programs, permits, and regulations, quality systems, and a myriad of HR topics while also trying to apply a lot of what I had learned in my MBA program regarding leading a broad organization and dissecting financials. The plant leadership team, comprised of our general manager, commercial manager, controller, HR manager, and me, were focused on how we could develop an overall business strategy for the plant and improve our operational and financial performance. I felt like I was in a real-life business case like so many of the ones I had studied in my MBA. We made some truly incredible improvements, breaking multiple operational and financial records over a four month period.
At a higher level within Arconic overall, though, the pressure was heating up and rumors were starting to swirl. Arconic had significantly underperformed in the stock market since its split from Alcoa in November, 2016, and its activist investor group had had enough. Arconic had a new CEO who was doing a portfolio review, typical of a new CEO, but it doesn’t take a CEO to figure out that a building and constructions division embedded in a company that markets itself as an aerospace and automotive pioneer doesn’t fit. I kept my head down when the rumors initially started, focusing instead on the mission I had signed up for to help turn the plant around.
By mid-July though, there was at least an article per week from Bloomberg, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, or some other media source citing credible facts regarding potential buy-outs from both private equity firms and other companies. At the end of July, Arconic announced it was putting the Building and Construction Services division up for sale. I am a person who likes to have options, especially professionally. I don’t like to feel pigeon holed or like someone has put Shelly in a corner (cue Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing). Part of this is because I am the lead career person in our marriage. There are a lot of things that money cannot buy, but it is a means to a certain standard of living that Scott and I had become accustomed to. We like to travel, taking both weekend trips and longer getaways to places near and far. We are both foodies and enjoy trying new restaurants, craft breweries and wineries. As sports enthusiasts, we jump at the opportunity to go to high profile games or low profile games at new arenas, stadiums, and venues.
I thought through what the best and worst case scenarios were. Best case scenario, I continued in my current role and our team was able to make steady incremental improvements. Would I be happy doing this forever? Could I see a longer-term future with Arconic? The answer to both questions was a resounding “no.” I was content for the moment because I had moved roles quickly in the company and with each move, was taking on a more challenging assignment with higher exposure and higher impact. But at the end of the day, did I love the metals and building and construction industry? No. Did I love refining and chemicals when I was with Exxon? Yes! Just ask Scott, as I used to and sometimes still routinely talk about some of the refinery units I used to run in my sleep!
Worst case scenario was I stayed the course and did nothing before the company was potentially sold. I could be in a position where I’d get a severance package and have to find something new. I didn’t want to feel pressured to take whatever job I could get in the area. I wanted my
terms, and like the type A person I am, I wanted to stay in control of my career.
So what did I do? I updated my resume and applied for three positions that I thought would be good fits for me with three companies that were in the industry I wanted and had values that coincided with mine. One was to a smaller company in the Pittsburgh area, one was to Royal Dutch Shell, an oil and gas company who is building a steam cracker plant just outside of Pittsburgh, and the other was to W.R. Grace, a company that makes catalyst for the refining and chemicals industry, in Columbia, Maryland.
Long story short, I was invited down to Columbia for an on-site interview with W.R. Grace two weeks later. Sh*t got real when I hung up the phone and said out loud to Scott, “They want me to come to Columbia for an on-site.” This was literally four months after we had bought a house in Cranberry! That I was even considering a position in Maryland, with a new company, that would require another job transition for Scott and take us away from my family seemed absolutely insane. Complicating matters was the fact that my brother Pug had just accepted the Assistant Athletic Director at Seneca Valley High School, which was the school district our house was zoned to. Pug had a house in Bradford that he needed to sell, and until it sold, he was planning on bunking with big Sis and brother-in-law.
Two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, Scott and I set out for Columbia. My interview was on Monday morning, but we elected to drive down Saturday morning to scope out the area. I wanted Scott and I prepared to decide if this could be our future home, should I get an offer. As a true engineer, I wanted us both to have the “data” we needed to evaluate what a life in Maryland could look like. We spent the weekend driving through neighborhoods, researching schools, bopping in and out of grocery stores to compare prices, exploring parts of Baltimore, and getting a feel for the area. I interviewed Monday with four different people in the company, including the person I would be reporting to. As I climbed into the passenger’s seat when Scott picked me up that afternoon, I had a big smile on my face. Scott looked at me and said, “You nailed it didn’t you?”
Obviously, I accepted the role and we are in the midst of relocating. The decision wasn’t an easy one, but I know it was the right one for us. Next post, I’ll share some of the factors we considered and how we broke the news to family, friends, and our employers and employees.