On her first day at Countrywide Financial Corp., Cynder Niemela gave a talk to a gathering of her new colleagues. Every company, she said, has its own culture. Each is a tribe with its own rituals and myths.
Niemela, a management guru who’d worked for Boeing and other big employers, told the group of executives that research showed it took 16 months for a worker to become fully part of a corporate “tribe.” That time would allow her, she added, to offer a fresh perspective on how things were done at Countrywide.
Afterwards, she recalls, one of her new colleagues introduced himself and, with a knowing smile, said, “I can’t wait to see if you’re here 16 months from now.”
She lasted 16 months, but not much longer.
Countrywide fired her, Niemela claimed, after she raised questions about fraud against customers and employee discontent with top management.
The last straw, she alleged in an arbitration claim, came after she complained that higher-ups had revised and distorted one of her PowerPoint presentations in an effort to obscure the company’s problems with employee dissatisfaction and turnover.
Niemela’s account of her struggles at Countrywide provides another perspective on the culture inside what was once the nation’s largest home lender.
Many other ex-employees who claimed they were mistreated by the company were mid- and low-level workers who worked deep inside Countrywide’s mortgage-lending machine. Niemela, by contrast, was a high-level tactician who dealt with the big picture of how Countrywide treated its employees and what that said about the ...