Crisis Needn’t Spell Disaster

| April 1, 2009
April 2009 Topic of the Month

Losing your job can precipitate a personal crisis, but it is possible to turn it into a career opportunity.  

In the months since November ‘08 many international companies have downsized their Australian offices, typically to consolidate their local operations with larger Asian headquarters. As a result of this trend I personally know of a number of excellent people who now find themselves in the unexpected situation of looking for work.

Australian subsidiaries of these multinational corporations are loosing their best senior executives, and when the business climate improves, their local experience will be sorely missed. It’s uncertain how many of them will still be available when that time comes. The best of them will have found better solutions to their problems by then.

A crisis is a relatively abstract concept when it is something happening to the economy at large. For individuals who have lost their incomes, the crisis is experienced in a real and acute sense. It’s in all our interests to make sure their talent is not wasted. We need to focus on what we can do to help them.

It runs the risk of sounding trite and simplistic, but sometimes such disasters can be the catalyst for a positive change. I hope I may be able to offer some comfort.

In late 1970 I myself was in the same situation. The stock-market had just crashed and the company I was working for, Mineral Securities, had just announced they had no more jobs for us. None of us felt particularly optimistic about our futures.

April 2009 Topic of the MonthMy father played a pivotal role in encouraging my colleagues and I to organise ourselves.  We began TCG with a simple premise; everybody had to bring 3 months worth of billable work to the table to be in the partnership.

In 1993 a TCG company was publicly floated on the Australia Stock Exchange as TechComm Group Limited (now called Utility Computer Services UXC). A former TCG company was floated on the New York Exchange in November 1997 for US$600M, making it the largest technology company to be established in Australia until that time. Today we are still growing and building new businesses, such as First 5000. 

Before the crash, I was comfortable and satisfied. Without the impetus being forced upon me I may never have taken the risk to start a company and my life would have been very different. At the time it felt crushing, but fortunately with the hindsight of almost 40 years I can now describe that period as formative.

I wrote at greater length about these experiences in my book The Possible Dream.  

Don’t despair. It is possible to turn a career crisis around. It helps a lot to have someone who genuinely has your interests at heart offering you good advice, and you need to be smart enough to listen to them. I was extremely lucky to have the guidance of my father and mother, along with the support of my colleagues. Surround yourself with good people and talk to them about your plans.

For highly skilled and experienced professionals there are still plenty of business opportunities, although there is no question they are harder to find.  Individuals long accustomed to evaluating offers as they come to them may have to learn to knock on doors and sell their ideas, and this can be an enormously challenging change to get one’s mind around, and do not discount the idea of starting your own business.