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Lost job, lost girlfriend. And all on my birthday!
July 31, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: Twice a month Shawn Brown will write a column that will, in his words, ‘engage the reader on a journey of (business) discovery’ by using his real world experiences from the beginning of his corporate career to his transition to entrepreneur and business owner. Each column will eventually be a chapter of his book Rules of Behaviour. The book will be available in 2013.
It was a Friday afternoon, and the Cowboy asked me to stay after work so we could talk. I of course agreed, assuming we were going to do some type of year end review of my performance and talk about the future moving forward.
He asked me to sit down and got straight to the point. ‘Shawn, as you have seen, there have been some changes to the industry this past year, ones that have had significant impact on our company, and I’m afraid we can’t afford to keep you on any longer’. Wham! If I was going to bet a dollar on what that conversation was going to be, that was the very last topic I would have bet on. He went on to explain what had happened, a lot of which had not even been told to the staff yet, and said it was in no way a performance issue at all. In fact, quite the opposite. This was strictly a financial situation. He said they would support me in every way possible, but by the end of the year, that was it.
I drove home that night completely dumb-founded. I was keenly aware of his reference about the industry dynamics changing, but I did not know the full extent of it, and just how badly the company had been affected. What he was referring to was the beginning of a major industry shift, one that was seeing the retail head offices centralize in Alberta, meaning that all purchasing decisions would be made there as well. Companies with no formal representation, or at very least affiliation there, especially in Calgary, were becoming redundant, and quickly.
My company was Saskatchewan-based only. Years before my arrival, they had expanded into Manitoba, and the outcome was not good: it almost bankrupted them. And even though the owners knew what was happening with the centralization initiatives, and had already started to lose some (major) clients because they had no representation in Calgary, the old adage of ‘once bitten, twice shy’ reigned supreme.
It was an amazing change in less than one year. Having left the security of a corporate career that was laid out for me, following my heart and gut, to have this happen within a single year stunned me. It was the first time I had ever really faced a setback, or adversity.
I got home and decided to tell my girlfriend everything. After I had told her the whole story, she comforted me by telling me that she was moving to Calgary herself as she had accepted a great position there. Wham – Part II! The best part was that that day was my birthday.
Thinking at that point that the only two people left who probably wouldn’t make my birthday any worse was my parents, I phoned them, and told them I thought I would come home for the weekend. They thought that would be a great idea. And it was. We talked through everything, and when I drove back to Saskatoon that Sunday night, I was focused on moving forward.
My dad had strongly suggested that, as a safety net, I apply for unemployment insurance, just in case. I certainly didn’t like the idea, but reluctantly agreed to do so. I went to EI office the following day, after our regular Monday morning meeting. Again, Saskatchewan at that time was not teeming with opportunity, and it was the right thing to do. As I approached the building, I just didn’t feel right. And after standing in line for 10 minutes, I just knew I couldn’t go through with it. I left, determined to move forward, and not let this set-back affect me any more than it had.
When I got back to the office, my friend and colleague Rob Press took me aside and said ‘there’s more going on here than anyone knows. Don’t worry, I think you are going to be fine’. Of course, I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I found out soon enough. One of our largest clients, one that he spent most of his time working on, was moving to a direct sales force and had asked him to work directly for them when they left the firm. The Cowboy, upon learning this, was trying to force Rob’s hand into staying, and using me as leverage. In the end, his efforts were futile. The company in question made Rob an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he resigned from our firm two weeks later.
The Cowboy summoned me to his office the following Friday afternoon. And I will never forget this conversation either. ‘Shawn, as you know, Rob has accepted the position with Company ‘X’ and is moving on. So, you’re back in’. There was no apology for what he tried to do (although, in all honesty, given the same situation, especially after my time in business as of today, I might have tried to do the same type of thing. Rob was an all-star, and I was a rookie. It was that simple). But past that, he didn’t even ask me if I had found anything else, or if I even wanted to come back! He just told me I was back in!
But the days of my business innocence had most definitely been shattered.
Shawn Brown is the Founder and President of Forest For the Trees, a boutique business advisory service headquartered in Edmonton, AB. http://www.forestnow.com/
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