Swayed by an Outdated Stereotype

Michael Ray
Michael Ray

One of the most unsettling things about Orange County is we tend to believe our own bad PR.  We tend to believe we are “the sticks.” We are backward. The most intelligent, well-educated, successful people do not live here. They live in New York, London, Paris, Silicon Valley, Tokyo, Boston, Singapore, Washington or anywhere but here.

If you are hiring someone for a top position, you hire from one of those cities. You want the best and they are there.  That is our mindset.

I see this constantly in the non-profit world.  When a critical position needs to be filled, what do they do?   They hire a national search firm, which then conducts a national search for the most well qualified applicants.  It costs a bloody fortune and because it costs so much, the results are believed to be worth the cost.

The search firm is smart. It understands the mindset.  Nah, it encourages it. Feeds it. You people in Orange County are pretty damn smart, but not as smart, experienced or well connected as our candidates in The Big City.   In the meantime, the search firm makes a fortune off our insecurities.

The search takes months.   It means finding someone willing to leave the Big City and relocate to the OC. Even the candidates believe the mythology. Their driving factor is to use the position in the OC as a steppingstone to another Big City position. They will take the dive down to our poor prosperity, our dearth of culture, our deadly no-nothing politics; they will take that dive only because they believe it will be temporary.

Worse, they are available for the job because things are not going so well in their current position.  They do not see a good future at their current position. They will trade-down in location for a trade-up in title.

Then they get here. Their spouses and children hate it. All their friends and sense of normality are back home. There are no seasons. The surf culture seems to dominate everything. That, and plastic surgery. It is the land of the false face and false body. It is everything they should hate.

So the New Guy has to contend with his own negative psychology and unhappy family even before he starts.

Then there is the job itself.  The New Guy was brought in, obviously, to shake things up. That means rooting out the incompetents and firing them. So, the New Guy fires the locals and hires other New Guys from big cities.

Soon, people functionally hostile to the locals staff the organization.    They tolerate us because they must, but it seeps through all their actions and infects the organization’s atmosphere.

In a non-profit, the main job of the executive director is to raise money.  This means intensely socializing with the rich locals and plucking cash from their bank accounts. This means he must understand the local society scene very, very well. It means understanding all the rivalries, changes of fortune, ambitions and dreams.  It means understanding their families and how they work.

You cannot do this in six months or even in two years, or three. The society is too complex. There are too many players.

Remember, the county’s population is 3.4 million. Our GDP is $200 billion, the 50th largest in the world. We are teeming with not just possibility, but delivery thereof. We are a melting pot. New people and cultures are a boiling cauldron here. For the America of Tomorrow, the OC is it.

And guess what? OC’s surf culture dominates the world. When foreigners think of America, they no longer think of the New York skyline. They think of beautiful beaches and tanned beauties. They think of OC.

The talent is here already in spades. The institutions that hire from the outside screw it up before they start. The Big City New Guys almost always fail because the whole situation is rigged against them, including themselves.

I have seen it so many times it is a joke.   But hey, what do I know?   I was born here.

And one last thing. After the New Guy and his family have been here for a few years, they do not want to leave.   They are not stupid.  The OC, hey whisper it, is paradise.

Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach.  He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.




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  1. Sr. Michael Ray, lo felicito por su opiniòn y quiero comentarle que el problema es universal y que aquì, al otro extremo de Amèrica, y con otra realidad econòmica totalmente distinta tambièn ocurre.
    Mi pequeña ciudad se llama Coronda (Santa Fe, Argentina.
    Un gran abrazo.

  2. Mr. Michael Ray, I congratulate you for your review and I want to comment that the problem here is universal and at the other end of America, and other cheap also occurs entirely different reality.
    My little town called Coronda (Santa Fe, Argentina).
    A big hug.

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