He still draws President Bush with that scrunched-up nose, those small, beady eyes, and the big ears that jut out like satellite dishes. But Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher's newest work comes with a few more bells and whistles. No longer is "Dubya" relegated to the black-and-white world of newspapers. Now he's 3-D and in living color.
These days, Kallaugher spends his days, inside a studio at UMBC, sketching out the future of political cartoons. "I've always been preaching that the future is in the moving image," he says. "Political cartoons need to move into the Internet and television if they're going to move into the next century."
Until last January, Kallaugher didn't have the time to join that movement. He worked as the full-time political cartoonist for The Sun and moonlighted as a freelancer for The Economist. But in late 2005, The Sun, like the rest of the newspaper industry, was facing declining readership and advertising revenue, and decided to offer a round of employee buyouts. Kallaugher took the paper up on the offer.
He's not alone: In the past several years, buyouts have become one of the weapons of choice for large companies to unload staff and reduce costs in the long term, without the ill will of layoffs. And Baltimore companies have been part of the trend.
Buyouts are by no means new. But they have gained some renewed attention, thanks to Detroit's slumping auto industry. In September, Ford, in one of the largest such offers in U.S. history, gave each of its nearly 75,000 hourly employees the chance to leave.
A buyout can seem a lot like winning the lottery. You get money for doing absolutely nothing. Of course, with the buyout, there's a catch: You have to quit your job. But still.
There's the obvious inherent uncertainty when you lose a secure paycheck with benefits. But then there's also the chance that if you don't take the buyout, you could lose your job anyway if a struggling company opts for layoffs. Which is why many Baltimoreans have found it a perfect opportunity to do something new.
For Donna Crivello, the love of her life was cooking. She came from an Italian family and grew up in a kitchen where there was always something on the stove. Partly from nurture, partly from nature, Crivello developed into quite the cook. When a mutual friend needed her wedding catered, she called Crivello. Soon after, she got calls from others, hoping she might be available to do some catering for them. And before she knew it, thanks to word-of-mouth, Crivello had her own business on the side.
But she also had a full-time job. During the week, Crivello was the art director at The Sun, overseeing the layout and design of the paper's pages. She wanted to open up her own café, but that was a little tough without a financial cushion. Then in 1986, Times-Mirror bought The Sun and, shortly thereafter, began offering buyouts.
"The buyout was the push I needed," Crivello says. "If it hadn't been for the buyout, I probably wouldn't have left my job."
Crivello used her package as seed money, found a partner in ex-City Paper owner Alan Hirsch, and set about making her foray into the restaurant business. The first Donna's resembled a European-style café, a place where patrons could enjoy coffee, salads, and sandwiches. Today, there are five Donna's scattered throughout the area, and a sixth just opened in New Jersey.
Crivello loves the creativity that comes with her job. When she was at The Sun, she spent a lot of her time managing staff, leaving her with not enough time to do design work. Sure, she still has management responsibilities at Donna's, but now she has the freedom to come up with the menu and teach cooking classes.
"Some days are great and some days are filled with a lot of stress," Crivello says, "but I'm in control of what I do."
Doug Howard was never offered a buyout. He asked for one. Six years ago, Howard worked as a VP of finance at Sylvan Learning Centers. The pay was great, but he wanted to do something more entreprenurial, and the long hours were preventing Howard from coaching his son's baseball team.
"I know that if I had asked Sylvan, they would've let me do it," he says. "But I would've felt guilty about leaving early while people under me were still working."
Nevertheless, Howard was burned out. He was 40 at the time and he began to think about what he wanted from life. He knew he certainly didn't want to crunch numbers year after year. He wanted to make a contribution. "I guess you can call it a mid-life crisis," he says.
Sylvan didn't want to get rid of him, but the company was gracious enough to include him in a round of buyouts in 2000. He took the money and bought the master franchise rights for Drama Kids, an international company that offers acting lessons. Unlike other drama programs, which strictly teach craft, this one, designed by renowned acting coach Helen O'Grady, helps kids build self-confidence and develop their social, acting, and speaking skills.
He had plenty of experience with franchises from his finance days, making it an easy transition. He's found the program a great fit for his own three kids, and for him. His work schedule is more flexible, allowing plenty of time for baseball. He commutes to the company's Ellicott City headquarters three times a week, and works from home the rest of the time.
Drama Kids has opened 38 franchises in 22 states, not bad for a company less than three years old. But he says it hasn't been easy. He's working more hours than ever before, and is only starting to make his money back.
He remembers telling a guy who runs a successful construction firm about a three-year vision he had for the company. The guy looked at him like he was nuts. "There's no such thing as an overnight success," he says. "I'll be lucky if I accomplish my three-year plan in five."
Alex Fisher may be a workaholic, but it's a word he hates to use. "I avoid that label like the plague," he says.
Fisher, 59, is the type of guy who cringes at the thought of retiring. He's also the type of guy who's most likely to get a buyout offer. Fisher was a vice chairman at Mercantile and had been with the company for almost two decades. The combination of job title and seniority meant he was raking in big bucks and would be entitled to a hefty pension check when he left. (And it would get heftier each year he stayed on.) He was also getting older, which meant his health-care premiums were rising too.
Companies love buying out people like Fisher because of all the money they save. The reality is they lose a lot too, argues Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School of Business and the director of its Center for Human Resources. Veteran employees have institutional knowledge and have proven their loyalty.
Regardless, Fisher didn't want to take a risk. He made a preemptive move, took early retirement, and along with Glenn Ross, a former Mercantile colleague, started his own financial management firm, Archstone Portfolio Solutions.
Meantime, Archstone, which advises foundations on their portfolios, nonprofits, and individuals with over $20 million, has signed up a dozen clients with assets of over $600 million. Unlike a lot of big institutions, which tend to hawk their own financial products, Archstone is an independent financial consulting firm. "The response I'm getting from attorneys and investors is very favorable," he says. "It's terrific reinforcement for my plan."
Buyouts have not just been a tool for private corporations: President Clinton signed a law in 1994 allowing federal agencies to offer them, and the state of Maryland has experimented with a form of buyout as well to wean Maryland farmers off the tobacco crop.
The 1990's were a tough time for Maryland's tobacco farmers. Unlike Big Tobacco, no one gave farmers a hard time for trying to make a living. But that didn't mean tobacco farmers were having an easy time getting by. Labor costs were rising and tobacco sales were slowing.
So in 1999, Maryland decided it wanted to help farmers phase out the growing of tobacco in the state. And it had the money to do so: Just a year earlier, Maryland had settled a lawsuit with Big Tobacco for $4.5 billion. Gov. Parris Glendening decided that 5 percent of those funds would be used to find Maryland's farmers some new crops. Starting in 2001, the funds went to pay reformed farmers $1 for every pound of tobacco they used to produce per year, every year for 10 years.
Accepting it and moving on was hard. Buddy Hance was one of the tobacco farmers who took the buyout—88 percent overall ended up taking it. Growing up in Port Republic, he was part of a strong tradition of Southern Maryland tobacco farmers. (He was a fourth generation tobacco farmer himself.)
"It wasn't easy," says Hance, who's also a past president of the Maryland Farm Bureau.
Hance replaced the tobacco crops on his 350-acre farm with greenhouses. He now sells flowers and plants to a distributor who in turn sells them to The Home Depot. He says he's not making as much money as he used to, but he's getting there.
"Farming isn't a career. It's a way of life," he says. "We're always looking for something a little different to do. Flowers, crops are all the same to me. I just have to learn a few new things."
The "Dubya" of transplanted political cartoonist Kallaugher is basically a virtual puppet that can be operated in real time. Have the operator move his joystick and Bush's mouth moves too. Have the operator say something and it comes out of Bush's mouth.
Kallaugher hopes "Dubya" can bridge the gap between television and political cartoons. Before Kallaugher's puppet, it was nearly impossible to produce a high-quality animated cartoon of any length in a day. Thanks to the digital reincarnation of our 43rd president, animators can now design three minute sketches in a matter of hours, allowing the cartoons to be topical. Or the puppet could go live.
"You could do a press conference, where readers could submit questions, or you could do a set piece," Kallaugher says. "There is a way to do both web and broadcast."
The nice thing, Kallaugher says, about working on a college campus is the optimism. "You have people who believe the future is going to be better in 10 years," he says. "Newspapers are full of curmudgeonly, hardnosed characters who think the world was better 10 years ago than it was today."
If Kallaugher's puppet succeeds, maybe today's journalists will change their tune.