24. Meet John
For a while, I worked as a web designer in a small ad agency serving a very niche industry. Previously, the design team had no creative lead and were all sort of operating independently across varying clients.
We decided to hire a creative director to fill that gap, and I was given the task of sorting through and giving first-round interviews to find the person who would later become my supervisor.
Two candidates, in particular, stood out from the rest for very different reasons. One was exceptionally talented, an all-around nice guy, and somebody who generally would have been great for the role.
The other, let’s call him John, had mediocre talent, came across as insufferable and arrogant but had previous experience working within the niche industry that we serviced. He also had contacts within that industry that could lead to new business.
Despite my strong recommendation to not hire John, his relationships in the industry were too compelling for our agency’s leadership to pass up, and they hired him. It didn’t take long before the entire company started to realize John was a huge burden. He had virtually zero experience in anything related to digital design.
Design for apps, websites, mobile, etc., were all completely and utterly beyond his grasp, but he used his position of relative power to make decisions on those projects that the entire design team refused to support, most of which came back to bite the company in the ass later. The design team hated him because fixing and working around his screw-ups became part of our daily routine.
The sales team hated him because he’d claim it took him unbelievably exaggerated amounts of time to complete even the most trivial of tasks (ex: 4 days to design a business card template), so they wouldn’t even assign him projects anymore. Work that was clearly his responsibility started to rapidly trickle down to the rest of the design team.
We’d be working late nights 4 out of 5 days a week because all of his projects that were in danger of missing deadlines would be re-assigned to us. Meanwhile, he’d be the first to walk out the door every day, right at 5 PM, without fail.
On top of all that, the guy was absolutely, without a doubt, the biggest tool I’ve ever met. Always right about everything, completely unbending on his idiotic opinions, and completely clueless that literally, every person in the building wished he would get hit by a truck.
I genuinely tried to work with him for about a year until I decided that the job had become intolerable because of him and wasn’t going to change any time soon, so I turned in my two-week notice.
About a month after I left, I heard that he had been let go from the job. Shortly after that, I noticed that he had changed his LinkedIn status to show that he was working for a new agency I had never heard of, also servicing that same niche industry. I looked them up and quickly figured out that he had started his own agency… a primarily digital agency… when he had NO experience in digital or interactive design and had literally effed up every digital/interactive project he’d ever been on (I know because most of them were reassigned to me when he proved incapable of doing them himself).
I looked at the portfolio on his website and found literally project after project of my work. He was using my work from the ad agency as examples of the work his agency could produce. I briefly considered contacting him and requesting he remove my work from his portfolio for ethical reasons.
But I could already hear his reply in my head. ‘As creative lead, all work done by my team is an extension of my creative direction.’ He’d used similar lines in the past to insert himself into receiving credit on successful projects he’d had zero involvement on.
So instead, I sent an email to one of the partners of the agency we had both worked for, saying something along the lines of, ‘Hey, not sure if you’ve noticed this, but it looks like John is using your company’s intellectual property to directly compete against you. If I had to guess, I’d assume his next step would be to make a move at your client list.’
The reply was short and sweet: ‘Thanks for bringing this to my attention. He’ll be hearing from our attorney in the morning.’ John’s website was brought down less than 24 hours later.