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A step-by-step guide to destroying a company

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.

December 15, 2012

Brown-ShawnLOGOEDMONTON, AB, Dec. 15, 2012/ Troy Media/ – I had accepted every challenge, every obstacle, and every new responsibility given to me over the course of the first six years of the development of our mega company in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry.

I worked hard and effortlessly, day and night, at minimum six days per week. I worked even harder at developing relationships within my company, and of course externally at my accounts. And the results were showing, in spades.

Advertising and promotions programs at any retail account are expensive, and typically only the biggest manufacturers can afford them. This meant they could continually ‘spend’ their way into maintaining their dominant market share.

At the urging of Senior Executives at my largest account, Horne and Pitfield, I developed a revolutionary program that combined the overall strength of all of our clients and that levelled the playing field substantially for our smaller clients, allowing them to compete on a much more even basis. The program brought further accolades to our company for designing a program that took us way outside ‘the box’ in the traditional brokerage industry.

I developed a close relationship with the family-owned and -run Italian Centre Shop, and actually increased Unico’s business there.

Doors that had remained closed for years were now wide open. Relations were strong, in every capacity. And, along the way, I had earned a strong reputation and respect from the senior management team and partners of my firm.

Around my 4th year in Edmonton, they started to ask if I would be interested in taking the next step and move to Calgary to become part of the senior management team, with intonations of partnership included.

On the surface, I couldn’t have been more proud. Despite the incredibly heavy work load, and personal sacrifice, it was so gratifying to see the results, and to know that my efforts were noticed, appreciated, and not in vain.

The problem was, I was very close to the four partners from my original company, two of whom had made the move to Calgary as part of the original merger. And as I started to deliver the results and earn their trust, they started to share more and more about what was going on internally at the company. And it wasn’t pretty.

The first sign that things might not have been all that we thought they were initially occurred when the company from B.C. that was part of the initial merger, ‘un-merged’ with us about a year in. While our CEO painted a picture that portrayed them as not worthy of our time or effort, there were always lingering questions as to what really happened. But as the years progressed, it became apparent why. As well, things were not good with the remaining partners.

I am sure the reader can appreciate I simply can’t disclose much more than that. But suffice it to say that the one majority shareholder had created an atmosphere within the partnership that was so completely toxic that I knew a move to Calgary would be completely pointless. After all, if he was going to treat his current partners that way, why would I be any different?

After being asked repeated times, and after watching the deterioration of our company from the top, which permeated throughout it, I knew it was time to move on.

When I was asked to attend what seemed to me to be my 10, 000 meeting in Calgary, I knew it needed to be the last one. I asked our CEO for a private meeting after that meeting. To be honest, I was scared. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I had accomplished all that I could, and there certainly was no way I was going to get involved at a higher level knowing what I did. I thanked him sincerely for the opportunity, and for the vote of confidence in taking the next step, but I was going to pursue a new path completely.

To this day, I don’t know if he was expecting that conversation or not: he told me that he couldn’t accept my resignation. ‘Shawn, you have given everything you have to our company and the cause, and have asked for very little in return. I can’t let you go. It is your turn to tell us what you want, and in doing so, we will do everything possible to accommodate you. Go back to Edmonton, take a few days, and come back to me with what you would describe as the perfect position and situation for you. I will do everything possible to make that happen for you’.

I was stunned. I wasn’t expecting that didn’t know what to say. I told him that I was truly honored, but didn’t think anything was possible at this point. But I would oblige him.

Little did I know that he was about to send me on my first true path of entrepreneurial freedom . . .

Shawn Brown is the Founder and President of Forest For the Trees, a boutique business advisory service headquartered in Edmonton, AB.

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