[Life Back West] October 2009 – “Moving Day”

Boxes weren’t packed but files had been saved and addresses were changed: it was moving day at BackWest.com earlier this month.

Gone was the former hosting company Dotster, whose spotty reliability made visiting the Back West website a hit and miss proposition. “New” was web hosting company JustHost.com, (#2 on this ratings recap here ). The few bells and whistles from the old hosting shop made way to greater flexibility (and hopefully dependability) with the JustHost folks.

But like any move, things sometimes don’t go egg-zactly as you’d hoped: the middle of the night shift to avoid disruption got delayed due to an emergency on my web guru’s side, making the move from off-hours to prime time. The swap from the old, clumsy URL of backwest.com/wordpress.backwest.com to a cleaner, simpler http://backwest.com took longer than anticipated as the new address percolated through the Internet.

Other people have had their own moving days as well, and like me the shifts are in part due to changes at their old shops and sometimes the opportunity of something better. In each case the changes could have been anticipated as people move to what they think are better places to fit their skills and interests or they run out of choices at their current shop.

At Barclays Global Investors, employees have been leaving before and during the BlackRock acquisition of the San Francisco-based asset management firm [Disclosure: I worked at BGI]. BlackRock bought BGI this past June, and the transaction is expected to close December 1, 2009. Apart from a change of name to BlackRock from BGI, culture has been moving as well to reflect culture of the acquiring firm.

BGI Managing Directors Ernie Chow and Jonathan Howe, along with former BGI’er Meme Scherr, moved to form their own firm, Sensato Capital Management, an Asian-focused quantitative fund. BGI MD Rhonda Vitanye, who worked in the same Active Equities unit as Ernie and Jonathan,  left to take some time off and work part-time consulting to financial services firms. Greg Holcombe moved from BGI to take a post as Technology General Manager at Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund.

Chow [Disclosure: Ernie and I sit on a non-profit board of trustees together] and Howe’s move is a case of people gaining experience and brand at one place, along with the ability to go out and set up their own firm. Vitanye’s move seems to be a case of someone who has worked hard and well and can choose where and what she wants to do next. Bridgewater’s pick-off of Holcombe is a great example of a competitor taking advantage of organizational uncertainty (e.g. what will I be doing – if I have a job –  in the newly merged firm?).

Each of the BGI cases are examples of people moving because they can: good talent frequently can find a way to generate options when they want.

And it’s great to have those types of options – except when it’s not.

And that’s what appears to be happening at Genentech as the Roche integration moves through part-by-part of the organization. While some non-research Genentech employees such as David Ebersman and Ian Clark have made some great moves outside and within the organization, sharp elbows are reported out and in use as the game of integration / reorganization plays out in South San Francisco and at other of the firm’s locations. It’s a brutal scrimmage, and at its worst it pits peer against peer for the fewer jobs that will exist when the new organization emerges.

Unlike the financial services world, where things are starting to thaw, the biotech world appears to be still in a freeze.  Smaller biotech companies – the types of places where many Genentech folks might land – have been in cash / funding scramble this past year with the drop in the equities and funding markets.  Moving day in some  Genentech employees will be a matter of boxing stuff up to take home and hope, rather than an identified path to a new opportunity.

The lessons of moving day, though, are the same for all of us since moving is fundamentally about change and transition: do your homework, plan well, hope for the best, and build in time and patience for the worst.