Great question furry. My reply has two parts: external and internal.
Here is the writing-on-the-wall, from an external viewpoint. At heart, no one is suprised when the business they support is in trouble. Underneath, they all know. Suppose long-term volume growth is flat, as it is for Dow, and there is no really new R&D going on for new markets. Eventually, the company will follow standard tactics to improve profits, namely consolidation to move to an oligopoly market and reduction of GS&A. Both mean headcount cuts.
And, writing-on-the-wall, from internal perspective. Suppose there is no real harmony for you in your job, with your boss, or with your co-workers. For quite some time, an employee will rationalize staying, based upon mortgage payments, healthcare, new family, tuition, etc. But eventually, the spirit fades. Something in them dies. And at work, most folks can tell.
Then, there are perfect storms, when external and internal forces combine. That happened to me, luckily at the very first stages. I liked the incredible range of technology at Dow; it was fun. Also, I liked the flatness of the organization. You could call anybody in the world and get needed information to solve a problem. I loved that. From loading dock to high tech materials testing labs, the path was easy to traverse.
But, the warning signs were there. First, the chemical industry was at war with the public; not the industry's fault, just fate and history. Second, and really important, was bad management. Dow decided to effectively kill any hope of new products in new markets by requiring R&D to pursue development of in mature, low-growth markets. This was a recipe for failure. Sure, a couple good products could come out of that (the new polyethylene), but never enough with sufficiently fat profits to justify the investment. Everyone could tell that. And anything "new tech" was managed by guys that really were looking for short-term, quick result imitations of previous work (optoelectronics). There was little that was legitimately new; most was imitation.
All this came from aligning R&D with the operating businesses. The business management was an anchor around R&D's neck, as they would come in with their low beta (0.5 to 1.1) projects to an R&D operation that needed much higher returns (beta = 3 to 4) to justify the expenditure. Can you imagine trying to make the cash flow from a specialty polymer business (beta = 1-2) after the R&D expenditure with a risk at 3-4? Pure insanity. And, we had the incredible financial luxury of debt financing to boot! Anyway, it was all about corporate power politics, not business. Damn few managers in the first three levels of R&D had a clue about money. But they really knew power politics. What a mess.
Anyway, I moved to Dow manufacturing for a few years (enjoyed it thoroughly), and then left the company with the very first package offered. The writing was on the wall.
I talked to someone today who thinks his job is not in danger, short term, and one Friday who thinks his job is in imminent danger. Both had the same sentiments about leaving.
I kept waiting for one of them to pull out a guitar and sing It Was Good To Be Young Then, ala Davy Crockett at the Alamo. They dont seem to care if they go in the next round or not. They are putting in time until something happens and hoping that it is not too painful.
Employee loyalty is hard to find in todays current business environment. Look for the joy in the economic recovery among the folks at Dow. Corporate has seen a major windfall, Employee salaries have dropped precipitously.
When millionaires sign a petition to say that they aren't having to pay their fair share, you might want to listen.
<<February 15, 2001 | Stand back: Opponents of President Bush's gargantuan $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut have finally mobilized a fearsome political counterattack. As befits our neo-Gilded Age, however, so far the big guns aren't Democratic politicians, they're wealthy businessmen. Somehow it's fallen to Warren Buffett and William H. Gates Sr. to fight a major part of Bush's tax-cut package, his proposed repeal of the estate tax, and they're doing it with language that the GOP would blast as class warfare -- if it wasn't coming from rich white guys.
Gates has gotten at least 120 millionaires to sign a petition opposing Bush's estate-tax repeal, on the grounds that it would "enrich the heirs of America's millionaires and billionaires, while hurting families who struggle to make ends meet." Buffett didn't sign Gates' petition, however -- because he doesn't think it goes far enough in denouncing Bush's Robin Hood-in-reverse tax plan.>> <<That proposal, which gives a staggering 43 percent of its largess to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans (though they pay less than a quarter of the taxes), is the foundation of his new world order, a bold attempt to shape the nation's social, economic and political dynamics on behalf of wealthy conservatives for many years to come. Republicans have wailed and gnashed their teeth in the wilderness for almost a decade now, watching as President Clinton made Democrats the party of fiscal responsibility and economic vitality. Clinton paid down the Reagan-Bush deficit by raising taxes slightly on the top brackets, while slowly but steadily (even a little stealthily) expanding programs for the poor, working and middle class, delivering almost $70 billion over five years with such programs as the expanded earned income tax credit, new child health programs and extra subsidies and tax breaks for college tuition. >> http://dir.salon.com/politics/feature/2001/02/15/buffett/index.html
<They dont seem to care if they go in the next round or not. They are putting in time until something happens and hoping that it is not too painful.>
I can confirm these sentiments as well. Old and new employees alike really dont care anymore and Dow is just a paycheck.
The mood at work is somber at best. People are walking around like Zombies, even stiffer than usual. This is hard to accomplish as most are usually so uptight you could shove a piece of coal where the sun dont shine a they'd hand you back a diamond.
The reason many millionaires are against the estate tax sunset proposal is the eventual cost to their taxable heirs, not the fairness issue. The current law front-ends tax payments on the estate and gives a stepped up basis to the assets given to the beneficiaries.
Were the estate tax to end in 2010, the heirs receive the assets of the deceased at the same tax basis as the deceased and must pay mega-taxes to sell them, even if to only diversify the inherent risks. This is the real reason most don't want the estate tax to end. They don't feel there heirs can manage that much money without paying huge taxes plus it messes up all the plans laid to avoid/minimize both their income and estate taxes. That's the real reason, IMHO.