So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

To my colleagues and friends at Merck and on the Internet,

Due to a corporate realignment, my last day with Merck is the 9th of May.  I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my career at Merck.  In the over sixteen years at the company, I have grown, both professionally as well as personally.  To those who are reading this blog post, whose paths have crossed with mine in real life, there is no doubt that I learned at least one thing from you.  When I started at Merck I was a mere twenty six years old and realized that there is a lot to be learned.  Starting at the old Technology Support Center (TSC) I got to meet some great people who have become more than co-workers, but friends as well.  Working at Merck has been a truly wonderful experience for me.  Professionally, I learned so many great skills.  I learned about proper help desk methodologies in an industry that was still young and developing.  I’ll never forget the “tap taps” I’d get from Cathy Wilson when I misclassified a ticket in Vantive.  Who can ever forget the evening staff meetings after working a long 8 or 10 hour shift?  Merck was not always about work.  I remember playing indoor golf or video games as part of our weekly team building events.  The beeps of the SYMON board when the queue got high will forever be ingrained in my brain as well as how quiet the phones got on September 11, 2001.  Christmas at the help desk was always a fun time.  We had the support team of Cohen and Bernstein (yes, it does sound like a law firm) waiting for the phone to ring.  This gave us practice for Y2K when absolutely nothing happened and I mean nothing.  I think we were on “ready” for 90 minutes before a call came in and it was a minor issue with some obscure Oracle database in China.

I developed so many new skills and found ways to make good ideas better.  I remember how David Wilson‘s Techtionary (aka “technical dictionary”) was a giant, 100 page Word document that was printed out every few weeks.  Oh, how I would frantically flip through that thing to find out what app the customer/client/end-user was calling about just so that I can sound reassuring on the phone that I knew what they were talking about.  I then made it easier by introducing the new Techtionary and as a result, my skills in MS Access, IIS, Oracle (and thanks to Jason Victor‘s expertise), JSP grew.  I admit, that it was one of my greatest “claims to fame” at Merck.  Yes, at this point I was still not known as the “Outlook guy.”

Not all of my development at Merck was technical.  There were a lot of personal growth and “new chapters” in my life.  In 2005 I took a major leap of faith and bought my first home (well, a condo) and went through all the stress of construction delays, lawyers, inspections, mortgage approvals, etc.  In April 2006, I became true to myself, my family and my co-workers and told them I am gay (see my post about that here).  Thanks to a supportive family, friends and co-workers, this opened up a whole new world for me and I embraced my true self wholeheartedly.  With the encouragement of my family and my best friend Neil, who is like a brother to me, I became a member of GLEAM, legacy Merck’s LGBT employee resource group.  This opened up a whole new world of Merck people in my life.  I got the opportunity to get out of my “IT silo” at Merck and work with other people from the business side of the company.  As a result of this, I made some new friends like Shari Johnson, Brian Bernstein (no relation), Eric Thalasinos (via Schering), Dean Hancock, Kar-Chan (Casey) Choong, Alex Kelly, Rachel Feller and countless others.  Thinking to myself that GLEAM’S web site could use some work, I decided to run in a contested election for the Technology Chair.  To my complete surprise, I won the election and became a member of their Steering Committee.  It was the only time I ever won a contested election.

2005 was also an interesting year in my Merck career.  I remember getting a call from Lorraine DeBrodi on Valentine’s Day.  I knew something important was going on because a director never calls me, much less at home on a weekend.  Apparently a VIP was having a remote connectivity issue.  This led to the establishment of the Expert Help Desk (EHD).  Without so much as an interview, thus began my second job at Merck.  Being a founding member of the EHD brought new challenges and new experiences.  I now wasn’t so tied to phone metrics and was afforded the flexibility to be on new and interesting projects.  I handled the tough tickets and got those we could not resolve to the right folks who could.  I got to interview people for the first time.  This was new for me, after all, I have had lots of experience being the “interviewee.”  My role at the EHD allowed for some personal growth and adventure as well.  I flew by myself for the first time and it was an international trip to Canada.  I got to provide in-person EHD support to the Australia help desk located at Ajilon in Montréal.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Schering-Plough.  While I am considered a legacy Merck employee, my career started at Schering-Plough, first in Union and then in Kenilworth as an intern doing deskside support.  The merger was an interesting and exciting time for me.  Despite the world becoming smaller with the Internet and social networking, seeing “long lost” Schering colleagues was a bit like a high school reunion.  I don’t know what they got in the water over at S-P, but I swear none of them aged in the intervening years.  This merger gave me the opportunity to be involved in integration activities.  I got to be part of “day 1” hyper care support.  I remember needing to test “Merck Today” with a corporate vice-president to see if it worked with people at various levels of the company but I was a little afraid to “annoy” a VP with a “friend request.”  Luckily George Llado was sitting next to me and I got to “annoy” him with my friend request.  The merger also allowed me to take my first trip to Mexico and meet some truly wonderful, dedicated and hardworking analysts of the Americas Help Desk (AHD).  I had the opportunity to provide integration support for when the AHD started providing support for our new co-workers from Schering-Plough.

The merger afforded me the opportunity to work with new colleagues from the Rainbow Alliance Network (RAN), Schering’s LGBT employee resource group.  Due to my role as Technology Chair, I got to work on integration activities as we merged GLEAM and RAN to form the Merck Rainbow Alliance (MRA).  A new web site was created using SharePoint which allowed for prospective members to electronically join the group, plus each chapter got its own web site which allowed for more member engagement.  Eventually I would go on to be the New Jersey co-chair of the group, which allowed me to have new opportunities.  I got to learn leadership skills, organization, and planning.  I got to meet new colleagues from other companies and industries thanks to participating in the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Los Angeles, Dallas, Baltimore and Minneapolis.

The merger brought new management for the Expert Help Desk with Mike Landsman.  His new way of doing things lead to a more engaged and cohesive group.  The mix of Merck and Schering cultures had a good synergy that made our team a successful one.  As we moved away from Expert Services and the Hands on Helpdesk, I got a new job (again without so much as an interview) as I learned Service Management.  My role evolved from being an incident manager, to a problem manager.  This is where my ITIL certification and Six Sigma Yellow Belt training really came into play.  I got to learn how to find solutions to prevent them from happening in the first place, sort of like putting out the fires before the first spark.  I got to learn a new way of thinking and analyzing and as result; my skills with PivotTables have never been stronger.

As I look back at my career at Merck, I also look forward.  No one can predict the future.  Who knows, perhaps my path will someday intersect with Merck again.  My Merck experience has truly been a wonderful time in my life.  I know there are lots of people I didn’t mention who have been so influential in my Merck career, but they’re playing the music and it’s time for me to get off the stage.  I have often wondered what I would write, when the time came for Merck and I to part ways, though Markella Saliaris mentioned it first and wrote about it in her own farewell statement, the video below pretty much is how I feel.  Be positive!  Always look on the bright side of life!  Most importantly, be well.

Contact me at mbernste at gmail dot com
LinkedIn:  http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelbernstein72/

Out & Equal 2011

I didn’t want this blog to turn into a “Mike’s illness” blog, so I figure I’d post the trip report I had sent to my management from this year’s Out & Equal 2011 Workplace Summit.  The trip report is below this video album I created (a very talented member of the Merck Rainbow Alliance took the photos) featuring some of my fellow attendees from the MRA, plenary speakers and one or two from Eli Lilly (mostly because they had Merck alumnus, Kar-Chan “Casey” Choong) are included as well.  If you want to find out more about employee diversity at Merck, check out this link.



Out & Equal 2011 Trip Report
October 24-28, 2011

From October 24, 2011-October 28, 2011 I attended the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Dallas, TX at the Hilton Anatole.  There were over 2,600 attendees representing the majority of the Fortune 100 companies.  Merck had its largest representation yet with 23 members, including two from the sales force and one from TeleRX.  While there, I attended several workshops such as, “Coming out in Faith:  Four generations’ Experiences”, “The Impact of Healthcare Reform On The LGBT Community”, “Who is LGBT? and how do we measure the closet?”, “LGBT Support in the fight against HIV/AIDS”, “Identifying, building and developing an LGBT pipeline of rising stars” and “Understanding the New Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Coming to the Internet, Including .Gay.”  This year, our executive sponsor, Mike Thien (SVP Global Science) attended the last two days of the conference.

On October 25th, the opening plenary featured Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy who discussed President Obama’s policy advances for not only the LGBTQ community, but for those with disabilities.  After Ms. Martinez, Sander van’t Noordende who is the Group Chief Executive of Accenture spoke about coming out at work.  One takeaway from his speech is to find a mentor to connect with, take a risk at least once a week, but go at your own pace.  He also reminded everyone that diversity and equality go together.  Next Andy Cohen who does the programming at Bravo TV discussed the growing number of characters who are LGBTQ as well as the many actors who are comfortable with whom they are.  Andy then interviewed Candis Cayne, one of the first transgender actors to come out and discuss her transition.  She then sang I Am A Woman (I recorded a small snippet found at http://youtu.be/Q-bA_NCpLKg).  I then attended a workshop, “Coming out in Faith:  Four generations’ Experiences” conducted by Dr. Susan Gore.  The workshop examined how different generations dealt with coming out as LGBTQ or as an Ally.  Participants from the four generations (Baby Boomer, Generation X, Generation Y and Millennial) discussed their experience.  Dr. Gore also discussed the “movable middle” which may initially be against the idea of equality and rights for LGBTQ until better educated on the issue.  The next seminar I attended was, “The Impact of Healthcare Reform On The LGBT Community.”  This seminar basically reviewed the national healthcare plan and briefly discussed that it is still legal in twenty-nine states to fire someone because of their sexual orientation.  They also mentioned that due to a reluctance to answer research questions about same-sex sexual behavior, it is hard to get an understanding of the health needs of the LGBTQ population.  That evening Merck, Pfizer, Genentech and Bristol-Meyers Squibb sponsored a well-attended pharmaceutical networking event at the Radisson.  This event allowed for a cross-pollination of how the different pharmaceuticals operate their ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) in an informal setting.

October 26th, the plenary featured Rick Welts, who is the president of the Golden State Warriors.  Rick discussed what it was like to come out in a field that is generally hostile to those who are LGBTQ.  He explained that he was very surprised at the positive response he got from his co-workers before the story broke in the New York Times.  After Rick’s speech, actress Meredith Baxter (from “Family Ties”) spoke.  She discussed what it was like to come out on national television on the Today Show.  After the plenary I attended two seminars.  The first, entitled, “Who is LGBT? And how do we measure the closet?”  This was a panel discussion featuring Masen Davis from the Transgender Law Center, Gary Gates who is a Williams Distinguished Scholar and Brian McNaught who is an author and corporate diversity trainer focusing on LGBTQ issues.  The panel discussed that we will never really know the true percentage of LGBTQ people because there are a lot of places such as Iran who would never feel comfortable coming forth to tell.  Based on surveys and other research, the general consensus is that between 5-10% of the population is LGBTQ, however, the average American thinks that 25% of the population is LGBTQ.  The estimated population is somewhere between 9-26 million Americans.  Age eleven is the mean age of recognition for sexual orientation awareness.  Orientation, behavior, and identity are the three components of sexuality.  Homosexuality exists in every species of mammal.  The panel then proceeded to go over a lot of other statistics based on surveys and research.  I then attended, “LGBT Support in the fight against HIV/AIDS” which was conducted by four people in which two of them were from Merck (Mike Perillo, HR Leader, Finance and Kevin Fannin, Manager, Portfolio Management MRL).  The panel discussed the “four pillars” which are perspective, power, purpose, and people.  This was an interactive workshop in which statements were put up on the walls and you picked one and explained how the four pillars affected you.  The one I picked had to do with that HIV/AIDS was no longer a concern since it’s not in the news.  With my recent diagnosis, I explained how my perspective has changed as recently as a few weeks ago.  This workshop was probably the one I got the most out of and led me to post a very personal entry on my personal blog and Facebook (using the pillar of audience “power”), which can be classified under the “purpose and people” pillars in the hopes that it changes the perspective of others (you can find the posting at http://starthan.net/blog/index.php/2011/10/28/how-we-have-progressed/).  I wrote this post while still at Out & Equal.

October 27th began with our seminar sessions.  The first seminar I attended was, “Identifying, building and developing an LGBT pipeline of rising stars” which discussed recruiting diverse employees into your organization.  One point made is that you want to have a social environment to attract members, but it has to be a good mix, not just centered on bars and drinking.  You should have family friendly events so that you can have more inclusive events.  Another suggestion was that coming out day could also be about coming out as an ally. One thing that can be done is passing out cards in coffee rooms and break rooms about coming out as an ally.  With support and sustainability, you have to understand the culture and needs of the individual, business and ERGs. Rewards should be optimized in all of their forms.  Another thing to keep in mind is that not everyone is out in every circumstance.  You may be out at work, but not necessarily with a client.  The final seminar I attended was, “Understanding the New Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Coming to the Internet, Including .Gay.”  The discussion focused on the many new TLDs that are being created (an example of a TLD is .com or .edu) and .gay is in the review process by ICANN.  There are approximately 300-500 new TLDs coming in the next few months.  The company who will own the .gay domain, is a for-profit company, however, 67% of the profits will go back to the GLBT community.  One of the hurdles in getting the domain is religious groups objecting.  As part of the “objection” process, there is a fee of $15,000 for both the objector and the defendant.  There will be clear guidelines as far as who can use the .gay domain.  For example, anti-gay groups will not be allowed to use it nor will adult sites.  The idea behind the domain is to give the community a unified voice on the internet.  Large corporations would also benefit from the domain because they can use it for targeted web sites and marketing that would be focused on the community (think crixivan.merck.gay), which can allow for more accurate metrics for the products or message that they are trying to convey.  The domains themselves would be inexpensive at $100 a year.  The afternoon plenary featured the outgoing chairman of JC Penney who discussed the importance of diversity within his organization.  Following him, Donna Brazille, who is one of the leaders of the Democratic party, spoke on how things have changed but how you need to continue to defend those changes since there are those who wish to turn back the clock on change.  On the evening of the 27th was the gala awards dinner.  It started off with a fashion show from JC Penney.  The dinner’s Master of Ceremonies was comedienne Kate Clinton.  Among the speakers that evening was Wes Bush, the CEO of Northrop Grumman and Ft. Worth City Councilman, Joel Burns.  Prior to dinner, a highlight video, which featured some Merck people, was played on the big convention monitors (video can be found at the following link and I can be found at 0:19 and 0:22–http://youtu.be/OcwADtdeffQ).  Following dinner, comedienne Margaret Cho performed as did actor Wilson Cruz.

Our final day in Dallas, October 28th featured a morning MRA meeting on the 27th floor of the Hilton.  In attendance was Mike Thien, our executive sponsor.  Topics discussed were our “It Gets Better” video, how the Steering Committee can better engage its membership and how our executive sponsor can be a better liaison between the ERG and the company as well as be a voice in the business justification of the MRA.

Like last year, I found the convention to be both educational and enlightening.  What I enjoyed the most was talking to individuals from other companies and getting their viewpoints and how their ERGs operate.  Since this year I was fortunate to meet some individuals from our sales force, it allowed me to further develop a greater non-IT network of Merck people, plus catch up with people whom I may have not spoken to in over a year.