35 Years – With An Asterisk

This week, the company I work for, Kimberly-Clark, will recognize me for 35 years of employment.

Some may wonder, “How can you work for the same company for 35 years?” In fact, that same question showed up in a friend’s Facebook conversation not too long ago about someone working 25 years somewhere.

But the truth is, it’s not 35 continuous years, and not really with the same corporation. The HR miracle of “restored service” and the business reality of mergers and acquisitions are part of the formula.

Here’s the short story: I was an engineering co-op with Scott Paper Company (not to be confused with the Michael Scott Paper Company) for 3 months. I joined them following graduation. I did three different roles there, and then quit because I wanted to live somewhere else, doing something else. My new employer (Crown Zellerbach) was acquired by someone who took them apart piece by piece, and Scott invited me back. Later Scott was acquired by Kimberly-Clark. Now, 37 years, later, I am celebrating my 35th year of employment with the “same” company.

The long story is far more complicated. I’ve worked in 9 different locations, moved myself six times, and my family three times.And I would say I have had 14 different roles and three different careers.

Change is change. When you work for a large corporation, you have opportunities to essentially change jobs without changing employers. But it is still a challenge.

My careers were in Engineering, Operations, and HR. I can tell you that I was reluctant about joining HR. If I had listened better to my early mentors, I might have joined HR earlier. At the same time, the experiences I had in operations were key in preparing me for my current role.

So here are a few tidbits that this kind of time has taught me:

  1. Experience is not just about time, it is about WHAT you have done. I’ve had several bosses with less experience than I have, but who taught me a lot because they had done something different.
  2. If you aren’t part of making change happen, you are setting yourself up to be a victim. Change and growth are inevitable. The longer you hold on to “the way we do things” the less likely you are learning about the next steps.
  3. Talent is everywhere. Some people have the capability to grow it themselves, but most need some prodding, some encouragement, and occasionally a kick in the seat. I’ve been on both ends of those kicks, and they are pretty productive.

No matter what year or work experience you may be celebrating this year, I encourage you to think about it in terms of your whole life. Are you marking time, or are you making a difference?



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