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How To Fall Off The Corporate Ladder And Thrive


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HOW TO FALL OFF THE CORPORATE LADDER--AND THRIVE

For more than a decade, Michael and Paula Harries raced up the corporate ladder at Prime Computer Inc. in Natick, Mass. Michael, 41, had risen to a job managing 30 employees as head of product planning. And Paula, 43, oversaw market research at the $1.5 billion minicomputer company. High pay, overseas travel, a live-in nanny--they had it all.

Until 1989, that is, when Prime went private in a leveraged buyout and shed 4,000 employees. Within three months of one another, Michael and Paula lost their jobs, victims of a restructuring they never imagined would eliminate two highly qualified strivers such as themselves.

Now, the Harrieses are partners with two other professionals in a small consulting firm, The Carlyle Group Inc., which specializes in market positioning and research for computer companies. And Michael Harries is projecting sales this year of $1 million--double 1990's revenues.

Despite the lack of steady paychecks and corporate perks, Michael and Paula say they're thrilled to be out on their own. Michael savors the direct financial impact of his day-to-day activities. "Working in a big company, it's very difficult to see what you did" at the end of the day, he says. "It's a great feeling to know that if we succeed, we did it ourselves. And if we fail, we did it all, too."

SEASON OF THE PINCH. The Harries' family life has improved as well. True, instead of counting stock options, they are pinching pennies to get the business rolling. Michael used to replace the car every two years. Today, he's looking forward to finishing the loan payments on his 1988 Nissan Pathfinder, which he plans to keep driving. And dining out has become a truly special event. "We used to go out to dinner without thinking," says Michael.

On the plus side, Paula has time to sing in a community choral group and visit their daughter's elementary school. She also plans many more family outings, such as trips to Boston's Museum of Science. "We've more flexibility with our schedule--even if we work longer hours," she says.

Paula sometimes looks back fondly on the days when her hard work was rewarded with regular raises and promotions. At Prime, she recalls, "If I felt my career wasn't moving ahead in one position, I could transfer and move up from there." But with choir practice to attend and a business to care for, she doesn't have much time for such regrets.Gary McWilliams in Boston


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