Last week, Kate and I had the enjoyable time of having lunch with some of our old co-workers. Longer time readers of this site will know that Kate and I were laid off from Washington Mutual about a year and a half ago and, subsequently, late in 2008, Washington Mutual was taken over by JPMorgan Chase. We’ve moved on, of course, but the people still working on the transition from WaMu to Chase are still plugging away until their end dates.
But, for us, walking back into the WaMu headquarters building in downtown Seattle was like walking into a modern (built in 2005-2006) mausoleum. The building is named the WaMu Center — in stone. The lobby has WaMu built right into the wall.
Yet, all of the artwork that used to hang in the halls on the 40+ floors is gone — auctioned off to the highest bidder. Interestingly, none of the employees of WaMu working there was able to bid on the artwork that used to surround them; you would think that offering them to employees would make sense. Stodgy Bankers, those bankers from JPMorgan Chase are, and proud of it.
Walking the halls visiting some of our friends, it felt like walking in a dead place. Companies die all the time, of course, but their eg0-driven monuments remain long after they are gone.
I admire the people still working at WaMu’s headquarters, knowing that their time will end this year. They push forward to complete a transition that will render their jobs useless. On the one hand, one of my friends told me, it’s like wanting it all to end by ripping off the band-aid and getting it over with. On the other hand, the longer the transition, the better off financially they will be and the further along into the end of the recession (we hope) they will be.
It is a powerful conundrum, working in a dead building and yet wanting to do good work. I admire them even while thinking of the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley that talks about the egos of (corporate) kings:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Have you ever worked in a building that was built for a now dead company? How did it feel?