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(re: A question for Ken – Sierra after move to Coarsegold/Oakhurst) “…I assume that in Sierra’s golden age you did not need to try hard to find people who wanted to work for you. But in the beginning, was it difficult to convince your early employees to make the move out to Oakhurst? What was your method of finding them in the first place? And how did you screen them to make sure they were really the people who could do the job you wanted? Obviously, if you convinced someone to pull up their roots and move to a place where there aren’t many other job prospects, and ended up having to let them go, there would be bad blood all around. Sorry for the barrage of questions, I just think it’s unique that you could build up Sierra to the size you did given its location….”

Recruiting staff was a major battle..

And, as you noted, it was also difficult to let people go. It is always painful when someone doesn’t work out in a job, but in a large city, when it isn’t working, the employee looks for another job, and within a month or two – they find a situation that fits them better. At Sierra, if someone had quit a job in the big city, relocated to Oakhurst, and then they, or we, decided it was time to part company – it was a major trauma for them and their family. There were no other jobs around. You either worked for Sierra or moved back to the big city.

Sierra’s relocation to Seattle caused major problems for our employees in Seattle. Property values plummeted. Even if an employee wanted to make the move, they really couldn’t, because there was no way to sell their home. It was not a fun time.

I had to make a lot of tough decisions, but got through it by constantly reminding myself that if I made good decisions, Sierra would someday employ 10’s of thousands of employees, and if I made dumb business decisions, no one would have a job. I used to say “I want to build a company that my grandchildren can enjoy.” Each decision was made based on my belief in its impact over a multi-year period. Were I to compromise the future prospects of the company by not making tough decisions when they had to be made, we would have all been looking for work.

Ultimately, it all ended poorly, but I still feel I made the right decision, based on the information I had at the time. Sierra was acquired in 1996. Apart from the immediate value this brought to shareholders, I felt there were long-term reasons for the merger. My view of the future was that scale was everything. The acquisition allowed us to merge with two strong competitors; Blizzard and Davidson (who was #1 in education at the time). There were discussions of rolling in several other competitors and creating a company that was dominant. I had concerns about Sierra being able to retain its creativity within a larger corporation, but was able to negotiate a position for myself, and Sierra, within the larger organization that I thought would assure our continued success.

Unfortunately, I thought I was dealing with honorable people, and instead, the company that acquired us had major problems that they were concealing. Their management team is facing criminal prosecution as I type this, and may soon be in jail.


-Ken W