Ego Integrity: 6/8 On running a business


This is the sixth in a series of eight “old age” reflections on this period of my life. (The process and place of such reflections is described in the final paragraph.) It conjures up the words, despair, determination, integrity, introversion, introspection, independence, benevolence, insight. I hope you can recognise them from this period of my life.

You will have read in a previous post that I was made redundant after a corporate takeover, and this was just one year after our son Michael had died. It suited me fine, as I had found it increasingly difficult to follow the day to day regimen of employed life and had been planning for a while to become self employed, freelance, or run a business with other consultants working for me. One week later, a friend of mine who was a Partner in one of the UKs Big Five accountancy firms asked me to come and see him in London. He offered me a job, and with a 6 figure salary plus all expenses for travelling to or living in London during the week. (By now as a family we had a small apartment in Richmond). I thought he was going to pass out when I turned it down! But I wasn’t negotiating or playing hard to get, I just wanted to work for myself. So, he then offered me something different which was to be self employed but to work exclusively for them 5 days per week. I turned that down as well! After some manoeuvring we agreed I would work for them 3 days per week on a daily pro rata related to the £100k he’d offered me to be full time. This left me with two days per week to find and work on projects with other clients. Within 6 months he had trebled the daily fee rate as I was also needed to work with clients in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the US which matched my fees with other clients of my own, and I had two self employed associates working with me on my own larger projects. My daughter was doing some telephone marketing for me too, naturally on a paid basis, during university holidays.


After 4 years we had paid off both mortgages and had investments such that we could retire at 55 without needing to touch our pensions, so I decided to take my “Gap Year”! I handed over projects and clients to my associates and plotted what to do with myself. Briefly here, I did 3 things; took courses and exams to become a fitness coach; learned how to use and manipulate the Linux Operating System; and upgraded my mountaineering skills to include ice climbing! (More on this one and its outcome in another episode).

Then one day, sitting with Dr Cs youngest brother in his Kathmandu garden, he said to me “Why do you only have two speeds, flat out or full stop?”. It got me thinking as we discussed the possibility of only working 2-3 days per week for large fees on other peoples clients so there was no marketing hassle, then, using some of that income to do aid work in Nepal. I pondered this for some time, then decided to contact a couple of my ex clients and one close friend who had formerly worked for me but now had a much larger business with 100 associate consultants of his own working in the financial services industry. Within a couple of weeks I was now working again, but freelance, working with two former colleagues who wanted me to be part of THEIR teams providing specialist organisational change inputs to their projects. To give this work some context it was just before the recent financial services crash and we were working with a couple of organisations for departments headed by people who could see the crash coming, one of who went on to become quite a famous whistleblower on what had happened and who caused it despite warnings! It was exciting times for me, but very scary for these people employed by the companies who were being ignored or suppressed! By 2007, I was “suppressed” too, metaphorically speaking, in that these organisations decided they “no longer needed/wanted my services”. What happened next is history, but a lot of people lost a lot of money and the taxpayer had to bail out a number of banks to ensure their survival. A lot of it was caused by selling mortgages to people who could never pay back the loans, as well as companies breaching their “capital adequacy” regulations, but there were other things too. It was about a year later I was called upon to make a statement in support of the original whistleblower who had lost his job and was suing the company for a very large sum of money. It seemed that as a person who was NOT a financial services expert but who had very wide experience of organisational dynamics in different types of industry, my opinion carried some weight! My statement was written on only one side of paper, showed the 4 main elements of any organisational system (Business Strategy, Organisation Structure & Systems, People, Culture), how these provided Direction, Control, Capability, Commitment for the organisation……. and which bits were missing or abused. Shortly afterwards they capitulated and my whistleblower friend had his reputation restored and a big fat cheque!

I had definitely had enough of corporate life now, time to definitely call it a day and move on to something different, something new, and something in which we could help others far less fortunate than ourselves. Time to go back to Nepal and work out where we could most have an impact with our personal skills as well as our values and what had contributed most to our own lives.


{The type of reflection in this post was described by Erik Erikson who was a psychologist and existential philosopher! One of his most significant pieces of work was to propose a series of life stages we all go through from birth, with the final stage being labelled as “Maturity”. Nothing very significant in that. But …… he postulated that each stage triggered a conflict within us, a tension between two polar opposites, which for Maturity as a stage is the battle between Despair and Ego Integrity. In simple terms Ego Integrity would be having satisfaction with your past and what you have done, and feeling a sense of wholeness. Despair would be having disappointment in oneself and having regrets. My earlier post Reflections on Old Age explained this in more detail and now I am publishing a series of posts on my own Ego Integrity reflections}


 

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